Salesforce.com is offering developers and resellers another base on which to build business applications by decoupling the software-as-a-service (SaaS) functions of its application from the customer relationship management (CRM) piece for which it was designed
Rather than a new technology or application, the new Salesforce Platform Edition offers bare-bones access to the Salesforce.com Apex platform, which customers and channel partners can use to run custom applications built to run on the platform, or subscribe to new ones and sold through the company's AppExchange site.
The license is available at the Enterprise or Unlimited level and costs $50 and $100 per user per month, respectively. That's about 60% less than the cost of the CRM-enabled editions at the same levels, according to Ariel Kelman, Salesforce.com's senior director of platform program marketing.
At the Enterprise level, customers can run up to 10 AppExchange applications, 20 custom tabs and 200 custom objects -- the Salesforce.com equivalent of database tables. At the Unlimited level customers can run any number of applications and tabs, and 2,000 custom objects.
Kelman said the new edition is designed for customers who want applications written for the Apex platform and sold on AppExchange but don't need to use -- or want to pay for -- CRM.
"Right now, a majority of the applications on AppExchange are geared towards CRM, but we're seeing the non-CRM numbers growing," he said.
Potential non-CRM customers fall into two categories, Kelman said: those who work at companies where Salesforce.com is used but who don't need CRM themselves -- like support staff -- and companies that have not used Salesforce.com at all.
One of the latter category is CRC Health Group, a Cupertino, Calif.-based company that runs a hotline and clinics to help people with substance abuse problems.
CRC needed to give hotline operators better access to data on available spots in clinics and the scheduling of other resources as well as information on abuse-related issues that those operators could use to help customers immediately over the phone.
Salesforce.com consultancy Appirio Inc. in San Francisco suggested a SaaS model could keep down the cost of development -- which would require the construction of a virtual private network (VPN) to connect the clinics before work on the functional aspects of the system could even start.
But CRC's needs were different enough from a standard business-to-business operation that Salesforce.com's CRM application didn't fit, according to Appirio founder Narinder Singh. Instead, Appirio built a program for CRC on Apex, which the company now runs on the platform edition.
With that edition now publicly available, Singh said, Appirio could see more business from customers like CRC. While Salesforce.com's core CRM application is still the main attraction for many clients, Singh said the lower barrier to entry could make projects viable that previously would have not been worth the higher subscription costs.
"There are classes of applications that we now would build that we wouldn't have before," he said. "What this does is, people who get the general value proposition around software as a service will move to this platform faster."
Far from being a surprise, this new pricing structure is probably overdue, said Rob Bois, analyst at AMR Research.
"It actually surprised me that it took them so long to release a platform-only version of their licensing," he said. "This should make the partners very happy, and also customers who were buying more CRM seats than they really needed."
Most of the growth will come from existing Salesforce.com customers who can now afford to buy Apex-based applications for non-sales personnel, but the move confirms that Salesforce.com is now looking far beyond CRM, Bois said.
"It certainly puts another stake in the ground that Salesforce.com wants to be the de facto platform for software as a service," Bois said. "So I think it's more of a direct attack on the Microsofts and BEAs of the world" rather than other CRM vendors specifically.
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