Salesforce.com to let users extend its software

Salesforce.com will announce agreements to let customers build extensions to its hosted CRM software, SearchCRM.com has learned.

Next month, Salesforce.com is expected to announce partnerships with several technology heavyweights that are designed to give users the ability to build extensions to their hosted CRM software, a source said.

Initially dubbed the Application Utility Framework, the initiative with Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Borland Software Corp. and BEA Systems Inc. will enable customers and other software firms to integrate Salesforce.com applications with other software.

Developers would be able to create modules or extensions to their Salesforce.com CRM service. For instance, companies could integrate CRM with proposal or billing systems, the source told SearchCRM.com.

San Francisco-based Salesforce.com is slated to detail its plans and these partnerships during the first week of June.

"Salesforce.com is clearly trying to break down barriers to the ASP approach by eliminating objections of IT departments and building pipelines into existing systems," said Scott Nelson, a vice president and research director with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. He also said the move is a response to criticism that Salesforce.com is not easily customized.

Mary Wardley, vice president of CRM technology for International Data Corp., said that extending these development capabilities raises the question of the viability of packaged applications. "People want to automate sales force or CRM [software] with other applications that they've developed internally and don't want to rip out proposal or fulfillment systems," she said.

Salesforce.com customers such as Athena Health, a Waltham, Mass.-based provider of physician automation software, would welcome new development capabilities.

"That's where my interest lies right now," said Deirdre Fenick, Athena's director of sales operations. "How do we take the next step and integrate all of our operations?"

Meantime, at a customer meeting in Boston, Salesforce.com confirmed that it will dip its toe into the ERP waters with a contract management module it plans to pilot later this year. While the company has no timetable for a release, it is currently evaluating early testers.

"Our ultimate goal is to give front-office users a view into the back office," said Kaiser Mulla-Feroze, Salesforce.com's director of product marketing.

Following the release of the contract management module, Salesforce.com plans invoice presentation and collection management applications.

Salesforce.com has not finalized pricing or packaging of the new ERP offering, Mulla-Feroze said. The functionality will, however, be offered as modules similar to the way Salesforce.com currently provides campaign management.

Late next month, Salesforce.com will also upgrade its Team, Professional and Enterprise Editions, featuring new integration with Microsoft Outlook, among other additions.

SearchCRM.com news writer Matt Hines contributed to this report.

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