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Salesforce.com seeks to solve customization problem

With its latest release, Salesforce.com has added a customization tool, hoping to answer concerns about inflexibility.

Another season and another batch of enhancements for Salesforce.com.

The hosted software company previewed the Nov. 15 release of Winter '05 Tuesday at its Dreamforce user event in San Francisco. Winter '05 marks the 17th Salesforce.com release in the company's five-and-a-half-year history. Along with sales force automation improvements and enhancements to the recently released Supportforce.com and the sforce integration tool, Salesforce.com has created a customization application. Hosted CRM has historically faced criticism that its applications are difficult for customers to customize.

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Predictably named Customforce.com, the tool allows users to extend Salesforce.com's applications beyond sales, marketing and service into other business areas without programming. The new tool is aimed squarely at the enterprise market where Salesforce.com has made inroads in the past year, according to Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager at the Boston-based Yankee Group. Small and medium-sized businesses can still use the tool, but tend to need guidance in understanding processes and strategy.

"As Salesforce.com is targeting a lot more of the larger enterprises, they have to give them the tools they're used to using," Kingstone said. "As they go upstream and understand more about process, companies build it themselves anyway."

Customforce.com will be available to Salesforce.com customers at no additional charge. Customers can modify user interfaces, workflows, tabs and fields to their liking, as well as extend Salesforce.com functionality into other business processes like human resources and engineering.

Reducing the number of applications by extending Salesforce.com to other processes was an attractive idea for Marty Howard, senior vice president and chief information officer of Patient Care in West Orange, N.J.

"CustomForce.com will allow us to further customize without adding applications --fewer products, fewer vendors and less integration," he said. "My philosophy on software is that it all pretty much does the same thing. It accepts data, applies rules to that data, stores that data in a database and uses tools to retrieve the data in some specific format. If I can customize Salesforce.com to do accounting, HR management or workflow, I will."

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff told attendees at Dreamforce that the new tool gives companies the application they need, not one mandated by a software vendor.

"That's what Customforce is all about," Benioff said. "You can have it exactly for you, for your customer, for your user. That is our strategic direction."

Enhancements to the Supportforce.com application include new solution categories that allow service representatives to more quickly browse through the knowledge base, workflow automation, case management and a self-service portal.

However, the application still has a long way to go before it challenges its competitor RightNow Technologies Inc., in Bozeman, Mont., in hosted customer service functionality, Kingstone said.

Last month, RightNow announced it is moving into the marketing automation and sales force automation market with a full CRM offering.

In the next couple of months, Salesforce.com will launch CRMsuccess.com, a Web site that will feature best practices, advice on implementations and a personal account review where Salesforce.com will tell customers where to improve their CRM initiative.

Technical editor Benjamin Vigil contributed to this report.

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