What Force.com Free Edition & Force.com Sites Mean for the Enterprise

June 15, 2009 Appirio

Balakrishna Narasimhan

Today’s launch of Salesforce’s Force.com Sites and Force.com Free Edition makes it even easier for companies to get started building applications in the cloud. Force.com Free Edition enables companies to build an application on the Force.com platform and deploy to 100 users at no cost, and Force.com sites lets companies build and scale websites without any investment in infrastructure. This is a perfect opportunity for companies of all sizes to build their first cloud-based application…the question is where and how to get started.

The Challenge
We’ve written before about the benefits of moving your application portfolio to the cloud. The benefits can range from cost savings and a higher level of innovation to strategic advantage in the case of business-critical applications. With the worsening economic conditions, the maturation of companies like Salesforce and the growing drumbeat of successes at large enterprises, more and more CIOs at large enterprises want to evaluate cloud computing.

A CIO’s job of charting a path to the cloud is complicated by three things:
  1. Complexity of current IT portfolio: Any large IT organization has a plethora of custom and packaged applications, multiple databases, one or more types of middleware and lots of datacenters. Given such complex application and infrastructure portfolios, it’s not clear where to start or what the right path forward is.
  2. Size and scope of the cloud ecosystem: The ecosystem of cloud applications, platforms and infrastructure has grown rapidly over the past few years. TripleTree research estimates that there are 2000+ SaaS applications, let alone all the platform, infrastructure and service providers.
  3. Confusing marketing messages and FUD: The growth and interest in cloud computing have led everyone from IBM to SAP throw their hats in the cloud ring. Each company has their own spin on cloud computing ranging from IBM’s “private clouds” to Microsoft’s “software + services”. Since every vendor talks about cloud computing from their own perspective, it’s hard to parse what it actually means to the customer.

The Cloud Portfolio Mapping Approach
We’ve worked with a number of large enterprises to build the business case for cloud computing, map their application and infrastructure portfolios, and help them chart their path to the cloud. Based on this experience, we’ve identified 3 things that every enterprise can do to get started on the path to the cloud.

1) Current State Assessment:

The first step is to assess the current state of your IT portfolio and organization. This involves collecting and analyzing budget data, inventorying your projects and infrastructure, understanding where your team is spending time, assessing skill levels and readiness for change across your team and understanding how the IT organization is performing from the perspective of your internal and external customers (we’ve created a checklist here). The objective of this effort is to identify where your team is spending time and effort, understand how this aligns with your organization’s priorities and understand where your major pain points are.

2) Opportunity Identification and Prototyping:

The next step is identifying the areas in your portfolio where cloud computing could help you achieve your goals more quickly and efficiently. It’s critical to understand the major cloud computing platforms and typical use cases. Cloud computing is a delivery model that enables you to purchase compute power, storage, application platforms and applications in a fundamentally different way. Cloud computing can be purchased in the form of Infrastructure as a Service, e.g., Amazon Web Services, Platform as a Services, e.g., Salesforce’s Force.com or Google’s App Engine, or Software as a Service, e.g., Salesforce, Workday, SuccessFactors, Coda, etc. The 150+ enterprises we’ve worked with use the cloud in many different ways to achieve their business objectives.

After developing a baseline understanding of cloud platforms and use cases, you can identify opportunities in your own portfolio. It’s best to develop a long-list of opportunities (based on your pain points and priorities) and get started with a prototype. We’ve typically focused prototypes on areas that address an immediate pain point and are relatively self-contained. Examples range from an IT project portfolio management application (shown in the screenshots above), to a floor-level manufacturing capacity management application to a Gmail or Salesforce pilot.

Prototypes are critical to demonstrate the impact of cloud computing. We can talk about the benefits of cloud computing, but it’s completely different to experience it in your organization. Whether it’s the speed and ease of development on Force.com or the search experience in Gmail, experiencing the benefits first-hand creates significant excitement and drives momentum.

3) Roadmap and Impact

The final step is prioritizing the long-list of opportunities. We’ve typically done this by looking at the risk and reward associated with each opportunity and then sequencing the projects based on your appetite for risk and financial objectives. Turning the roadmap into reality will require a solid business case as well as a change plan for your organization. Prototypes go a long way toward demonstrating the benefits and can be used as real-life data points to support the business case. This makes the business case far more impactful than if it’s based on academic assumptions.

Cloud computing is a significant mindset and skill shift within IT and more broadly within your business. To ensure success, it’s critical to develop a communication and change plan, as well as a training program for your staff. When this is done well, we’ve seen IT teams energized and excited about the possibilities. Unlike traditional models like outsourcing, cloud platforms help IT teams get closer to the business, so there’s plenty to get excited about.

Getting Started
Force.com Free Edition and Force.com Sites make it easy for companies to get started building applications in the cloud. We’re excited to offer “Day in the Cloud” workshops to help accelerate this process. These 1-2 day workshops help you accelerate the cloud portfolio mapping process and quickly realize the benefits of cloud computing – quantifiable ROI, rapid time-to-value and innovation that drives the business.

Please email us at cloud@appirio.com or contact us with any questions about getting stated with cloud computing. We look forward to hearing from you!

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