Salesforce.com Chatter: Enterprise Apps Break their long Silence

November 18, 2009 Appirio

At today’s Dreamforce keynote, Salesforce.com will announce a new capability they’re adding to their platform: Chatter, which brings Facebook-like conversations and Twitter-style realtime status updates to enterprise apps. This new capability has the potential to bridge the gap between enterprise applications and the way people work – we wanted to spend some time discussing the implications.
The problem: The disconnect between enterprise apps and the way we work
Enterprise apps have been silent for far too long. They contain tons of great information and insight about a company but getting anything out of them is complex, especially in time to take action. As anyone who has used SAP or Oracle knows, it is far from simple to perform routine business tasks like finding out which of my customers aren’t current on their payments, where my region is relative to forecasts or why an opportunity close date got pushed. These types of basic queries often require calling IT, taking a deep breath and praying for a response. There must be a better way.

We’ve tried to fill the gap with email. Someone runs a report and sends out an email asking why something happened. People look into various systems, discuss, and reply in email. The interaction is anything but smooth, and all history of the change in data and resulting analysis and conclusions is lost forever in that email trail. In our personal lives, we’ve begun to enjoy information about our friends, family and business contacts at a near-instant rate. The velocity of information has accelerated with the advent of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

The result of this contrast in styles of information exchange is that enterprise apps have become marginal to the lives of 80% of business users within a company. Both Oracle and SAP have attempted band-aid solutions to this through BI, dashboards and attempted integrations with equally archaic methods of communication like Microsoft Outlook, but that has done little to address the fundamental issue. Enterprise apps contain tons of great information that the majority of a company could benefit from, if only business users could actually access that information and act on it in a timely manner.

The solution: Chatter

Today, Salesforce, announced Chatter, which brings Facebook-like conversations and Twitter-style real-time status updates to enterprise apps. You and your colleagues can “chatter” just like you would on Facebook, sparking conversations and discussions with other colleagues. But now, your business applications can also “chatter.” You can “follow” the parts of your business – people, projects, customers and financials – that are most important to you. When that part of your business changes, now it can tell you… it can “chatter” about it in real-time by sending out a status update. With Chatter, you can instantly see important changes in your business and collaborate with the right people to take corrective action.
Here’s an example: Imagine you’re following a set of sales opportunities important to your quarter. If one of those opportunities gets pushed out, you’ll see that opportunity “chatter” about it in your feed, along with the chatter of your co-workers explaining what’s wrong and what can be done to fix it. As soon as action is taken and the opportunity is updated again, you’ll see that in your chatter feed as well. This is in stark contrast to waiting for a weekly status report, emailing the person responsible, and waiting for an update after they take corrective action. This conversation occurs amongst knowledgeable users and the data in the system. Its reduces friction in communication, brings data and discussion together, and is captured historically for your company to learn from.

What it means for the industry and for customers
Salesforce has changed the game for enterprise apps by systematically addressing each of their traditional weaknesses. First, it was time to value, agility and TCO with the SaaS model. Then it was speed of development and capital costs for new apps with the Force.com platform. Now, Salesforce is changing the nature of our interactions with enterprise apps. This is as much of a break with the past on the front-end as their other innovations were on the back-end.

For customers, this (again) proves the power of multi-tenant cloud solutions. Without effort, every app that has ever been built on Force.com is automatically chatterized (inherits the features and capabilities of salesforce Chatter). Think about the implications of that for a second. Without doing a single thing or writing a single line of code, every Force.com application that you own or have bought is now social. That’s the power of building on a platform like Force.com.
More to come tomorrow!

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