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Salesforce.com aims social collaboration tool at financial firms

Rosemary Cafasso, Associate News and Site Editor

Salesforce.com plans to release a new data audit tool for Chatter in an effort to make the social collaboration software more appealing to financial services and other highly regulated companies with strict storage and archiving requirements.

Officials with the hosted CRM giant hope the new auditing tool, which is due out by year's end, will serve to further solidify Chatter's position as the overall leader in the social collaboration market. 

Currently, if Chatter customers want to store and archive data and manage searches to meet regulatory requirements, they need to turn to a handful of third-party products, such as the Software as a Service-based offering from LiveOffice LLC in Torrance, Calif. LiveOffice is a well-known e-mail archiving company that also has been selling a Chatter archiving product since last December.

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The Salesforce.com Chatter Audit product, which will be available for free on the Salesforce.com AppExchange, will allow users to archive Chatter posts and provide a user interface for searching Chatter data, said Scott Holden, a senior director of product marketing at Salesforce.com. The software will also enable a company to set up separate compliance tables that can be populated with Chatter Data. In addition, the Audit tool will provide a search function that covers all Chatter data, including deleted posts, a company spokeswoman added.  

Salesforce.com initially marketed Chatter, which is similar to Facebook, as internal social collaboration software. But the company is making a huge push now to position Chatter as an internal and external network for creating communities around products.

By extending the appeal of Chatter to regulated companies, Salesforce.com could shore up its lead in the increasingly competitive social CRM marketplace. In recent weeks, both Oracle and Microsoft have made plays for this enterprise collaboration market with the introduction of their own Facebook-like functions for their CRM offerings.

To archive, Brinker Capital picks LiveOffice
Salesforce.com customer Brinker Capital of Berwyn, Pa., would not have been able to use Chatter without an auditing and storage product. It selected LiveOffice when it decided to license the Salesforce.com CRM software. Brendan McConnell, vice president of business administration, explained that the company is required to save all customer-related data, including email and internal social network data, for several years. Further, the data storage must adhere to specific standards, such as the write-one-read-many (WORM) format.

“From talking to our account guy at Salesforce, we heard a lot of financial services companies weren’t installing Chatter because of the archiving issues,” McConnell said. “They said several tech companies were working on it. When we asked, they recommended LiveOffice.”

 The company went live with the CRM applications and Chatter earlier this year. Without the LiveOffice product, “we would have had to have turned Chatter off,” McConnell said.

 “We were comfortable that it met the WORM definition and it would be compliant from a storage perspective.” McConnell added. “The Chatter posts are now all viewable from that [LiveOffice] portal.”

Although Microsoft and Oracle are now targeting the social collaboration market, Salesforce.com has a big lead, analysts said. At its Dreamforce user conference in August, the company made a big deal of big-name Chatter users, such as Dell, Avon and Burberry, while several smaller companies expressed an interest in the collaboration tool as well.

Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with Nucleus Research Inc. in Boston, said Salesforce.com claims to have 18 large Chatter installations of several hundred or more users, and while she cannot confirm that number, she has spoken with a few companies who are ramping up Chatter usage.

“Taking that [Salesforce number] with a generous grain of salt still gives us a pretty big number,” Wettemann said. She said she is aware of a biotechnology company with 1,600 users and a software company with 800 users.

Chatter can replace meetings and emails
Chatter users are finding that the collaboration software is helping them manage projects and increase productivity by reducing the number of emails and meetings.

The IT group of Qualcomm Inc., for example, is using Chatter as a portfolio management tool, said Mark Silber, an IT architect at the telecommunications firm. He said Chatter has replaced weekly project review meetings and he likes that team members can stay in the loop about projects by checking Chatter instead of searching through email updates.

With Chatter, team members post updates and attach documents, such as Excel spreadsheets, to keep everyone apprised of progress.

 “It definitely saves time, and before you wouldn’t know what was going on unless someone sent you an email,” Silber said.

Other organizations are reporting less quantifiable results.

 “It is tough to measure,” said Jonathan Maher, a system administrator at Fresno Pacific University, which has a Chatter installation of a few dozen people from various departments.  “For sure, there have been connections made, ideas floated and adopted that would not have happened without Chatter.”

 


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