Today, we drop another another segment in the Rulers of the Cloud series, focusing on SalesForce.com, the cloud innovator that re-invented the rules of CRM (Customer Relationship Management).

SalesForce is growing into a big company, recently announcing over a $1 billion in revenue annual run rate. Yet, the company is still an agile organization focusing on upheaval of the enterprise through cloud services. The newest release brought a major new services focus, SalesForce Chatter. We took a look and found that this product may be the service that brings the company further into the enterprise as a dominant enterprise cloud and collaboration vendor.

Chatter is an industrial-grade collaboration framework that is designed for mixing following and deal flow, and finding the place where communication drives sales. Chatter feels like Twitter for the enterprise, with the advantage that its multi-tenant approach can be hosted and segmented for your organization. The toolkit was recently opened for select developers as part of the company release, dubbed LadyBug.

We'll take a look at the core business and how this product may inspire IT leaders to create real-time tools for the enterprise.

A Critical Asset: The Business Forecast

To plot out the company's future, we want to highlight the past and present briefly. The company competes with big enterprise vendors such as SAP and Oracle for CRM. From day one, SalesForce has had a "No Software" mantra focus on the power of cloud platform approach. The lightweight, easy-to-install platform has lots of tools for the management of hardcore customer information including the scenario shown here.

A Critical Asset: Developer Tools

SalesForce's offerings for the enterprise are evolving. Key updates to the platform continue to roll out, as these shown for the Spring 2010 Ladybird release.

In our recent briefing of SalesForce Chatter the thing that impressed us most is how the development community can use all of the SalesForce platform APIs in concert with the new Chatter services. In this case, a developer of "Chatter Bubbles" has taken chatter experience back to the future with a closer parity with Twitter.

This demonstration peaked our interest, seeing how the Chatter experience could easily tug the "I could build a better Twitter" emotion. Now, each enterprise team that deploys Chatter can customize microblogging for the company or salesteam on top of the SalesForce collaboration cloud.

A Critical Asset: Platform as a Service

We noticed that SalesForce.com has a deep set of partners and relationships to technology companies. For this reivew, we took a look at the SalesForce and Adobe partnership as an example of where the company has, like its relationship with Google, created a partnership that brings the organizations' developers together.

In the announcement here, the we see that Adobe AIR and the Flash platform are being enabled to consume SalesForce objects and to create persistent rich client applications. AIR has seen a lot of exposure in the Twitter application space, with very popular applications living on its client technology.

Killer Enterprise Apps are Right Here, Right Now

If we put all those things together, we see a new class of application emerging in the enterprise, literally a Tweetdeck-like, keyword-filter powered command center for each facet of the organization. We think enterprise software is headed there, and with the pieces SalesForce has put together, it could be built.

This Tweetdeck screenshot sparked our imagination of how we could build a rich client for the enterprise.

In the example shown, we can see the streams flowing further together to cross the enterprise to social bridge. In this perfect world, we see @GigaOM as our CIO, and @TechCrunch as head of marketing. Demi Moore is our CEO and wants to know your deal is flowing.

In this not-so-distant future, we see the threads of decisions, meetings, and key concepts fly by in real time, and simple, user-controlled filtering could give personalized views to any stream.

The Cloud Opportunity is Still Evolving

In a way, SalesForce's biggest challenge is opportunity. The platform works; it has an obvious opportunity to chip away at the CRM market and adjacent markets through the dynamics it has been founded on.

We wonder how platforms bind themselves to SalesForce and how the enterprise cloud might evolve. Here's a few we'll be interested in learning more about.

  • Should the company go much further in building a developer community, or should it integrate the communities within other platforms (Google, Adobe, Microsoft).
  • As a platform company, will SalesForce.com also be able to build the killer app for Chatter? Is it addictive? From our view, the question isn't will Chatter beat other tools, but instead, will it be a dominant form of communication? We wonder, could chatter beat email? From what we've heard so far, it has promise, but we'd like to see it.
  • How does the Force.com cloud map to cloud efforts at Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and VMware? Will there emerge a deeper integration between online and offline cloud resources, or a peering of services between SalesForce and Amazon, SalesForce and VMware? What is SalesForce.com's trajectory with core services like compute, storage, and other things that are getting clouded in the enterprise?
  • Do multi-vendor collaboration platforms work? Should we expect that both Buzz and Chatter will be at our fingertips, or will in the end, one application win? We see the advantage of being "the message bus", like Twitter, and enabling smart clients to define experience, similar to TweetDeck's relationship with Twitter. In this case, it is the application (Tweetdeck) that decided to support other social apps (social clouds) such as Facebook and Twitter simultaneously. Perhaps we'll see the same in enterprise collaboration.
  • Will SalesForce.com update its brand to show off the breadth of the opportunity? As an example, Apple Computer became Apple, Inc. to represent itself. Could SalesForce.com become Force? Does it need to?

Personalities Matter: Are you Social with Your Boss?

A lot of organizations are awaking to enterprise social opportunity, including the small and growing Yammer and Jive. These companies are bringing next-generation communications to the enterprise.

There seems to be a communication landscape change, where the boundaries of "water cooler" and "board meeting" will meet. It will be interesting to see how these tools promote themselves and how social etiquette will evolve.

Will our CEO send us an inspirational quote of the day, like so many others do on Twitter?

Or, instead, next time you log on, will there be a direct message: "Come to my office"?

This brings us back to SalesForce.com. For many in the enterprise, the question isn't only "What's happening", like it is on Twitter, but instead "Did you close?".

This is where we think SalesForce's core premise of building a strong core business from CRM, along with its well-formed APIs give it a path to meet its ambition for delivering on leaderships thirst for knowledge.

We wonder, will SalesForce.com power your CEO's real time view of your organization?