Salesforce.com gave third-party developers access to its internal programming language last week in an effort to expand its customer base by relying on partners to customize its customer relationship management (CRM) product.
The new development tool could allow consultants and integrators to helping clients sort through, build or customize specialized CRM applications powered by Salesforce.com. New York-based Bluewolf Group has already used Apex to develop MediaTrak, a verticalized CRM product for media companies.
The release of the Apex Code language to developers, part of the Salesforce.com Winter 2007 release, is the next step in the San Francisco-based company's shift from providing Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM directly to hosting a platform on top of which other companies develop their own software.
It's part of the company's progress toward the "democratization of software," according to Bobby Napiltonia, senior vice president of worldwide channels and alliances for Salesforce.com.
VARs, integrators and other third parties will be able to build and sell a variety of applications "powered by Salesforce.com" tucked away on the screen, which would appeal to more customers and give Salesforce.com a channel full of motivated resellers.
"I want them all," Napiltonia said of the type of channel company Salesforce.com wants to recruit. "I sell into a lot of markets. I want channel partners that range from two-to-four person consultancies all the way down to Accenture or IBM."
The more developers use the Salesforce.com platform to get into niche or verticalized markets, the more the comapny will benefit – since it takes a cut of the proceeds, said Martin Schneider, an analyst with The 451 Group. As it looks for new ways to grow, Salesforce.com may learn the benefit of licensing – taking a smaller percentage of each sale within a vastly larger base of customers.
"It's letting outside developers and businesses take their platform and run with it [so a channel partner can] become the Salesforce.com of pharmaceuticals marketing or something," Schneider said.
Salesforce.com already offers more than 500 add-ons to its CRM software through its AppExchange directory. In the past, third-party developers could only create tools using Apex Builder – which has a limited set of features – and the Apex API, through which Salesforce.com could supply a program with information from the CRM, but left the rest to that program.
Apex Code applications, by contrast, can be anything that can be developed using a programming language, they run directly on the Salesforce.com software and can call on its functions. Such applications were available on AppExchange before this release, but only Salesforce.com's own programmers were able to write them. Now, anyone can.
"What they're doing is basically creating a development environment for the Web for business people, and their AppExchange environment allows individuals to share pieces and parts of the capabilities that we all need – and do it in a way that's very easily plugged into your application," said Mike Paradis, founder and CEO of BenNevis, Inc., an IT consulting firm in Wayzata, Minn.
But the danger, he said, is that not all of those third parties will build tools as robust as Salesforce.com's. The more the company gets involved with making sure its developing partners make good products, the better, Paradis said. Napiltonia said the company will not get very involved in that aspect, but will instead leave it to the market to decide which Apex applications work and which don't.