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Salesforce.com Announces They Mean Business

November 5, 2008 Leave a comment

I had some business to take care of in downtown San Francisco this morning, and on my way to my destination, I strolled past Moscone Center, the site of this year’s Dreamforce conference. The news coming out of that conference had peaked my interest a day earlier–I’ll get to that in a minute–but when I saw the graphics and catch phrase of the conference, I had to laugh. Not in mockery, mind you; it was just ironic.

There, spanning the vast entrances of both Moscone North and South was nothing but blue skies and fluffy white…wait for it…clouds. In other words, the single theme of the conference visuals was, I can only assume, cloud computing. Not CRM, not “making your business better”, but an implementation mechanism; a way of doing IT. That’s the irony, in my mind; that in this amazing month or so of cloud computing history, one of the companies most aggressively associating themselves with cloud computing was a CRM company, not a compute capacity or storage provider.

Except, Salesforce.com was already blurring the lines between PaaS and SaaS, even as they open the door to their partners and customers taking advantage of IaaS where it makes sense. Even before Marc Benioff’s keynote yesterday, it was clear that force.com was far more than a way to simply customize the core CRM offering. Granted, most applications launched there took advantage of Salesforce.com data or services in one way or another, but there was clear evidence that the SF gang were targeting a PaaS platform that stood alone, even as it provided the easiest way to draw customers into the CRM application.

The core of the new announcement, Sites, appears to simply be an extension of this. The idea behind Sites is to provide a web site framework that allows customers to address both Intranet and Internet applications without needing to run any infrastructure on-premises. Of course, if you find the built in SF integration makes adopting the CRM platform easier, then SF would be happy to help. Their goal, you see, is summed up in the conference catch phrase: “The End of Software”. (Of course, let’s just ignore the fact that force.com is a software development platform, any way you cut it.)

Skeptical that you can get what you need from a single PaaS offering? Here’s where the genius part of the day’s announcements come in; simply utilize Amazon for the computing and storage needs that force.com was unable to provide. Heck, yeah.

Allow me to observe something important, here. First, note that Salesforce does not have an existing packages software model; thus, there is no incentive whatsoever to offer an on-premesis alternative. Touche, Microsoft. Second, note that Salesforce.com has no problem whatsoever with partnering with someone who does something better than them. En guarde, Google. Finally, pay attention to the fact Salesforce.com is expanding its business offerings in a way that both serves existing customers in increasingly powerful ways, while inviting new, non CRM customers to use productive tools that just happen to include integration with the core offering. PaaS as a marketing hook, not necessarily a business model in and of itself. (If it succeeds on its own, that’s icing on the cake.)

In a three week period that has seen some of the most revolutionary cloud computing announcements, Salesforce.com managed to not only keep themselves relevant, but further managed to make a grab for significant cloud mindshare. Fluffy, white, cloud mindshare.

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What the hell is going on with the Cloud Computing group on Google?

September 17, 2008 Leave a comment

Update: There is some counter evidence to Sam’s claim that he is the number 3 poster on the Google Groups Cloud Computing group, so I edited this post to reflect what is actually confirmed at this point.

Update 2: Sam points out below that he measured his ranking based on the last month, not all time. I’ll leave the text the way it is, as I can’t verify that (though I have no reason to doubt it), and the text is still accurate. If anyone in the group can verify Sam’s claim, I’ll change the text back and qualify it better.

One of the great resources for cloud computing fans and foes alike has been the Google Groups Cloud Computing online community. Started by Reuven Cohen at Enomaly in Toronto, and promoted by many of us participating in its discussions, it has quickly grown from 0 to over 3500 members. It is generally pretty active (though it ranks as “low activity” according to Google), but the sweet spot has been the frank and open discussions on threads that were incredibly informative and civil.

Normally one would praise moderation for keeping the riff raff out, but yesterday Sam Johnston told a story that has me very, very concerned. In the midst of a rant about the Enomalism as “vaporware” (which I won’t discuss here), Sam describes an exchange that, if true, indicates abuse and self-serving censorship of the kind that undermines the credibility of the group as an open forum.

Here is what Sam had to say:

It’s worth mentioning that I had good reason to do some background research. My recent post (cached copy) to one of the larger cloud computing Google Groups announcing Cloud User Shell (cush) (a free, open source prototype and the first cloud computing shell) made it through the invisible moderation net but information about its mailing lists was silently redacted and an off-list invitation for “Moderator ” (later found to be Khazret Sapenov, Director of R&D at Enomaly) to participate in the list management rudely rejected. When I requested that he “please add a few of the other active community members to [help] administer it” citing that “long blackouts are extremely disruptive” he childishly and silently evicted me from the group, deleted me from the member list, updated the FAQ to read ‘This group is moderated…at moderators personal discretion‘, and worst of all, silently and inexplicably deleted the announcement from the archives. Furthermore, in a stunning display of hubris they have hidden the member list even from members and infringed copyright by retrospectively relicensed the group posts under a Creative Commons license with neither notification nor permission!

Repeated requests to rejoin were denied and as the #3 poster at the time I reached out to Reuven, calling for “an unfettered communications channel which is open for anyone to join and post, and which is not dependent on (nor able to be held hostage by) any one person“. Reuven conceded that Khazret was his employee and that this “rather fascist approach to its moderation” was a “recurring theme“, adding that he “would love to have [me] involved in [his!?!] cloud book“. He promised to take care of it the following week (but didn’t) and repeated calls for them to open up the community have gone unanswered. Of course they claim this is an extracurricular activity but it’s hardly a basket weaving group, rather a massive conflict of interest directly related to their core [in]competency. Did this heated debate about the private cloud oxymoron really end here for example?”

Reuven and Khazret need the opportunity to respond, and I offer this post as a neutral venue to do so. Assuming they respond with a family friendly response, I will update this post to reflect it. Reuven took the initiative to found the group, as well as CloudCamp, and has an excellent blog, so I’d like to think this is all a big misunderstanding. I find it likely that Sam said something controversial about Enomalism or something, but unlikely that he did anything that justified being expelled.

I also think, however, that the Google Groups group needs to ask the Enomaly guys what their moderation policy is. The group’s home page says, “[M]oderation of comments is necessary to prevent spam, personal attacks, profanity, or off-topic commentary.” However, it is very hard to see how the Cust post could be seen as clearly falling in any of these categories. Is Reuven looking for independent moderators? If so, he should ask for them via a post in the group, and perhaps cite this controversy as a driving need for someone to step up. Out of 3500+ members, I am sure he would find two or three qualified people to help out.

In fact, perhaps moderation needs to move to a balanced team of, say, 3 people–no two of which work at the same company.

At the very least, transparency MUST be better than it has been in this case; having the number 3 poster a top 2% poster–one with that often forced you to think hard about your positions–cut without announcement or explanation is not acceptable. I, for one, am going to lose trust in the openness of the forum unless transparency and accountability improve.

Categories: blogs, cloud computing, Web X.0

Is the Future of Global Services "Work From Home"?

September 12, 2008 Leave a comment

Software consulting is a heck of a fun gig. However, one of the downsides to this…well…lifestyle, really, is that the big money jobs almost always require a willingness to travel–a lot. There is good reason for this; consultants are expected to be deep experts on specific technologies or processes, and the market for each of those specifics is limited in any one city. However, nation-wide there is plenty of business in most mature markets.

I always loved the job of consulting, but the lifestyle beat me up pretty bad. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t be married with two lovely kids today if I had stayed on the road. I’m just not good at maintaining distance relationships, and I had to get off the road to meet and spend time with the perfect woman before she would agree to marry me. (OK, enough of that schmaltz.)

Something intriguing occurred to me while researching cloud vendors for Alfresco, however. What if the “network centric” nature of the cloud actually creates an opportunity to change the lifestyle of software consulting? What if consultants didn’t have to travel for every billable hour, but could do a significant portion–if not all–of their work from a local office, or even from home?

First, think about the possibility. How should, for instance, vendor services be handled when the software is delivered in the cloud?

  • If most of the work of the consultant is assisting in planning and reviews, does every engagement need to be face to face, even if neither the hardware nor the network is owned by the client?
  • For longer term engagements, given the collaboration tools that are now (and will soon be showing up) on the Web, do teams really need to sit in the same building to be effective?
  • If the cost of travel (air and lodging) can be eliminated from the overall cost of using vendor services, would clients be more likely to use the service or less?

I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions. But I think the requirements for consulting services are significantly different in the cloud, especially when it comes to what you can do for your client when and from where. I’d be interested in what others think about that.

I do know that there are certain services that will always be face-to-face; workshop facilitation, for instance; or certain kinds of project reviews. However, open source has taught us a lot about how “network organized” teams can work, and I think more and more consulting will look like open source contribution and less “on-site guru”. Then, maybe..just maybe…I can be a big time consultant and still tuck my kids into bed every night…

The Social Enterprise Opportunity

March 19, 2008 2 comments

I want to begin today with a quick shout-out to my fellow bloggers at Data Center Knowledge. In a recent post, they identified me as one of the bloggers they follow for cloud and utility computing, and I’m honored to me included among such a strong list of bloggers. (Rich Miller, who posted the list, is no slouch himself.) Update: I violated the cardinal rule of Internet social networking: assuming a given name applies to one person. Rich Miller from Data Center Knowledge is not the same Rich Miller that writes Telematique. My apologies to both.

One of those bloggers is Phil Wainwright, whose Software as Services blog is one of my regular reads. He is the most aggressive, forward thinker in the SaaS space, and he is very often sees opportunity that most of us miss. (Phil’s blog is also a great way to stay on top of the companies and technologies that specifically support the SaaS market.)

Phil recently wrote an interesting post about SaaS and Web 2.0 concepts, titled “Enter the socialprise”, in which he points out that the very nature of an “enterprise” is changing thanks to the Internet and cloud computing concepts. He notes that loyalty between individuals is replacing corporate loyalty, and that social networking on the Internet is creating a new work economy for individual knowledge workers.

He then goes on to challenge enterprise computing models:

But enterprise computing is still designed for the old, stovepipe model in which every transaction took place within the same firm. There’s no connection with the social automation that’s happening between individuals. Many enterprises even resist talking about social networking. And even when an application vendor adds some kind of social networking features, there’s always the suspicion that they’re just painting social lipstick on a stovepipe pig.

This yawning chasm is an opportunity for a new class of applications to emerge that can harness the social networks between individuals and make them relevant to the enterprise. Or perhaps reinvent a new kind of enterprise, better suited to the low-friction reality of the connected Web. Enter the socialprise.

The example he gives of a company leveraging this is InsideView, which is creating a very cool sales intelligence application that integrates with major SaaS CRM vendor products to aggregate information from a variety of online sources into a single prospect activity dashboard. This is an incredibly cool example of how rich data about individuals within and across firms can be used at an enterprise level.

Another product that is similar that struck me was JobScience, which is one of the companies whose blog is in the Data Center Knowledge list referenced above. JobScience is using force.com to create a rich social intelligence engine for Salesforce.com customers. Their product, aptly called Genius, is an excellent example of what they are able to do. Read the post for all the features, but my favorite is:

The Genius Tracker. Not only does the tracker pop up to tell me an email recipient has just opened my email, or is visiting my web site, but the more important intelligence this gives me is that this prospect is is online and engaged with our solution. If a sales rep can call 40 people in a day, and a blast to 5000 prospects shows me that 40 of those prospects are online and engaged, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who to call. That rep’s going to have a much more productive day calling people who they know are in the office. Less voicemails, less brushoffs, less calls to people who don’t work there anymore.

Bordering on privacy issues, I know, but an amazing level of detail, and invaluable if used wisely. More importantly, it goes to show what is possible in a stable, shared application environment.

By the way, this direct integration with a given CRM platform by a “value added extender” is an interesting twist to the dependency issues that Bob Warfield writes about on the SmoothSpan blog. JobScience’s products are services that become a feature of the destination both visually as well as functionally. Bob’s point about being a component provider to the actual product is well taken, and I wonder if the only exit strategy for these guys is acquisition by Salesforce. What else can they hope for as a company dependent on force.com? Talk about cloud lock-in.

Update on Dataportability.org activities from the source

Interesting interview of Chris Saad and Frank Arrigo (Chris is organizing dataportability.org, and Frank is a Microsoft employee that is somehow related) by Robert Scoble.

http://qik.com/player.swf?streamname=4be811faef6f4cd0846de59376de4b4b&vid=31756&playback=false&polling=false&user=scobleizer&userlock=true&islive=&username=anonymous

Interesting in here is the update on what dataportability.org is focusing on right now–standard “best practices” for open data, and a “logo” to indicate standards are followed–plus the discussion of Silverlight, etc.

The importance of operations to online services customers

February 7, 2008 Leave a comment

I hadn’t caught up on Gabriel Morgan’s blog in a while, so I’m a week or so late in seeing his interesting post on the importance of operations features in a SaaS product offering. Gabriel works at Microsoft on the team that is looking at the Software plus Services offerings introduced by Ray Ozzie a few months ago. According to Gabriel, being a software product company, Microsoft has occasionally been slow to learn a key lesson in the online services game:

In the traditional packaged software business, product features define what a product is but Customer 2.0 expects to have direct access to operational features within the Service Offering itself.

Take for example Microsoft Word. Product Features such as Import/Export, Mail Merge, Rich Editing, HTML support, Charts and Graphs and Templates are the types of features that Customer 1.0 values most in a product. SaaS Products are much different because Customer 2.0 demands it. Not only must a product include traditional product features, it must also include operational features such as Configure Service, Manage Service SLA, Manage Add-On Features, Monitor Service Usage Statistics, Self-Service Incident Resolution as well. In traditional packaged software products, these features were either supported manually, didn’t exist or were change requests to a supporting IT department.

In other words “Service Offering = (Product Features) + (Operational Features)”.

Wow. What a simple way to state something I’ve been concerned about for some time now: as you move your enterprise into the cloud, will your service providers (be it SaaS, HaaS, PaaS or others) provide you with the tools and data you need to successfully operate your business? How will you be able to interact with both the service provider’s software and personel to make sure those operations run a) according to your wishes, and b) with no negative impact on your business?

Gabriel goes on:

Guess who builds and supports these Operational Features? Your friendly neighborhood IT department in conjunction with the Operations and Service Offering product group. This raises the quality bar for your traditional IT shop.

Heck, yeah. And guess what? Should a business do something crazy–oh, say, select SaaS products from more than one vendor to integrate into their varied business processes–they will need not only to build solid operational ties with each vendor, but integrate those operational features across vendors. Think about that.

How best to do that? You shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that a key element of the solution is SLAuto under the control of the business. Managing SaaS systems to business-defined service levels will be a critical role of IT in the cloud-scape of tomorrow.

7 Businesses to Start in 2008

January 8, 2008 4 comments

Rather than offer a list of predictions for 2008, I thought I’d have some fun suggesting some businesses that could make you money in 2008 or the few years following.

  1. SaaSEnterprise data conversion practice: All those existing enterprise apps will need to have their data migrated to that trendy new SaaS tool; and should anyone actually decide they hate their first vendor, they’ll be spending that money again to convert to the next choice. Perhaps they’ll even get fed up and return to traditional enterprise software. Easy money.
  2. Enterprise Integration as a Service: No matter how much functionality one SaaS vendor will provide, it will never be enough. Integration will always be necessary, but where/how will it be delivered? Go for the gold with a browser based integration option. Just figure out how to do it better/cheaper/faster than force.com, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, etc…
  3. SaaS meter consolidation service: Given the problem stated in 2 above, who wants 5 or 6 bills where its impossible to trace the cost of a transaction across vendors? Provide a single billing service that consolidates the charges of the vendor stable and provides additional analytic capabilities to break down where costs and revenues come from. Then get ready to defend yourself against the data ownership walls put up by those same vendors (see 4 below).
  4. SaaS/HaaS Customer litigation practice: Given the example of Scoble’s experience with Facebook, there are clearly a lot of sticky legal issues to be worked out about “who owns what”. Ride that gravy train with litigation expertise in data ownership, vendor contractual obligations and the role of code as law.
  5. SaaS industry (or SaaS customer) data ownership rights lobbyist: Given 4 above, each industry player is going to want their voice in congress to protect/promote their interest. Drive the next set of legislation that screws up online equality and individual rights.
  6. Sys Admin retraining specialist: All those sys admins who will be out of work thanks to cloud computing are going to need to be retrained to monitor SLAs across external vendor properties, and to get good at waiting on hold for customer service representatives.
  7. Handset recycling services: The rate at which “specialized” hardware will evolve will raise the rate of obsolescence to a new high. Somebody is going to make a killing from all those barely used precious metals, silicon and LCD screens going to waste. Why not you?