Salesforce.com unveiled a new version of its hosted customer relationship management service, which it said will add a new portal and workflow management capabilities and ease the process of writing and testing new custom applications.
The new version of the service comes just days after Microsoft introduced its much anticipated entry into the hosted CRM business.
The 23rd version of the Salesforce.com service lets users access the company's proprietary Apex Code programming language to customise their CRM applications or write new ones to run on Salesforce.com servers, the company said. "Customers can write code that runs on our servers - it's programming without software," said Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, in a statement.
The company said that Apex Code is similar to the widely used Java language and that applications written using it can be accessed via web standards such as XML or SOAP.
The new version also adds what Salesforce.com calls Intelligent Workflow, which will allow users to add rules to business processes. A new on-demand Customer Portal can deliver Web 2.0 collaborative content to customers, the company said.
The Intelligent Workflow capability will come in handy at Salesforce.com customer Enviance, an on-demand environmental regulation compliance software provider based in California, said Michele Hincks, vice president of marketing at the company. Enviance has been running Salesforce.com since 2004 for sales, marketing and customer service, but the workflow management capabilities have thus far been very rudimentary, she said.
The workflow tool will allow the company to use custom fields help process new customers and perform other tasks, Hincks said.
She also said she expects that marketing personnel at Enviance will be able to use Apex Code to custom-build applications, so they will no longer have to wait for IT programmers to get to such projects. "It seems it will be more usable," she said. "I can cut and paste code myself."
Mike Epner, vice president of worldwide services and support at Borland Software Corp., said that his firm will create several new applications to run on the Salesforce.com platform. In addition, Borland plans to use the new version's portal to deliver technical support content to Borland customers.
"The new release continues the evolution from software as a service to platform as a service," said Denis Pombriant, analyst at Beagle Research Group. "Platform as a service enables CIOs to concentrate less on keeping their infrastructures running while spending more time on deriving business benefits for their companies."
The new version of Salesforce.com, called Summer '07, will be available in August.