Salesforce Is Making Its Play For The Mobile Enterprise Developer

Salesforce wants to make itself a one-stop-shop for mobile enterprise developers.

The cloud services and customer management company is aiming to place itself at the center of the enterprise app revolution. Just like it did when enterprises started coming online over the last 15 or so years, Salesforce is building toolsets for enterprises developers—ones that Salesforce says they can use to build just about app their companies will need for smartphones or tablets.

Salesforce isn't alone in its mobile-enterprise ambitions, of course. Appcelerator has a similar suite of tools for developers to build enterprise apps, while IBM, Google and Apple all have programs to help companies take their data to the cloud and to build the apps they need. Mobile cloud service companies (often known as “backend as a service”) like Parse, StackMob, Kinvey and others have focused on enterprise data and integration.

Salesforce also battles its traditional rivals such as Oracle, Microsoft and SAP for mindshare among enterprise developers. This group (outside of Microsoft's Windows-focused mobile products) has not been particularly adept at handling the mobile revolution. Salesforce's aim is to out-nimble its old competitors while getting developers to build apps that hook into its existing cloud and customer relationship products as quickly as it possibly can.

Where Salesforce Fits In

"Salesforce is trying to extend its ability to get lots of smallish apps quickly tied into its platform for mobile Salesforce users," said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold & Associates, in an email to ReadWrite. "That is their key objective. Doing it through supporting various templates and various programming models widens their ability to get big numbers of apps (much as they did in the early days with PC apps)." 

The mobile revolution still has a long way to move through the large organizations of the world. Companies that have built one or two core apps now find themselves in need of an app for everything they do, be it customer relations, marketing or internal efficiency. 

Enterprise is not a monoculture world of iPhone or Android, Windows Phone or BlackBerry or the mobile Web. Corporations across the world use all of these platforms. Their apps need to work across all the mobile platforms and enterprise developers need a toolset that gives them the flexibility to work within any environment they need.

In April, Salesforce tossed its hat in the ring with a product it called Salesforce Platform Mobile Services. This suite was really a set of tools meant to accelerate the production of enterprise apps that use Salesforce data.

On Tuesday, Salesforce expanded its platform with refinements that intended to make it easier for enterprise developers—who may or may not be using Salesforce for customer management or cloud data—to design and develop mobile apps.

Salesforce mobile app gallery Salesforce mobile app gallery

The addition to the Salesforce Platform Mobile Services includes four main ingredients:

Design templates for enterprise apps: Seligman said that Salesforce saw that a lot of enterprises have the developers they need to build functional apps, but not the designers. So, Salesforce did the work for them and has come out with 20 templates for app design that can be easily integrated by enterprise developers. 

The templates are open source, made from HTML and CSS and link to a GitHub repository where enterprise developers can cut and paste or modify the code as needed. Developers that don’t use Salesforce for their cloud data will also be able to use these templates.

Mobile Gallery: After the announcement of the Mobile Services platform, Seligman and his team went on a tour around the world to see what enterprise CIOs and developers wanted. The reaction?

Show me. 

While Salesforce talks a big game about how it is trying to making enterprise developers lives easier by providing tools and easy framework integration, CIOs wanted to see what could really be done. So Salesforce created the mobile gallery of work from other companies for inspiration to sell mobile services.

Mobile Packs: As mentioned above, not every enterprise is built the same or has the same processes. Salesforce is well aware of this. Hence Salesforce is creating the ability for enterprise developers to work through as many different integrated developer environments (IDE), tool sets and programming languages as possible to build apps. The Mobile Packs in the latest version of the Salesforce Mobile Platform integrate frameworks like Knockout.js, Appery.io, Sencha Touch and Xamarin.

SmartSync Data Framework: A lot of progress has been made in the last couple years for mobile developers to create online/offline modes for mobile content. The ability to cache data from the cloud within an app has been an ongoing developer issue. SmartSync is Salesforce’s instantiation of online/offline mode, creating JavaScript plumbing that developers can use to build apps that work wherever their users happen to be.

“As far as I can tell, it is a renaissance in mobile right now,” said Salesforce VP of developer relations Adam Seligman. “There are hundreds of new libraries and frameworks popping up right now. There are hundreds of thousands of new apps popping up. We want to be right in the middle of that and make sure that the enterprise and customers have these hundreds of thousands of apps for business.”

Consumer Solutions For Enterprise Problems

One of the reasons that apps have exploded in the last couple of years is that companies have worked to lower the barrier to entry for building and designing mobile apps. Services like Conduit have created templates and libraries that make it easy to turn any website into a mobile app, providing all the cloud integration, design templates and app functionality that a consumer-facing app would need through a few simple clicks. Salesforce’s goal is to take that approach and apply it to the enterprise.

As Gold told me by email:

Salesforce, while it has some tools of its own, is not really a leader in any mobile app dev sense of the word. It is specific to its own platform, and not going after a general purpose audience of mobile developers. Still, this is not a bad strategy as it can quickly build up a portfolio of mobile apps tied to its backends that preempts its large customer base from thinking about switching (although the alternative players in this space aren’t so great at mobile either).

What has Salesforce really done here? It has made it pretty easy to build your apps ... on Salesforce. Despite the open source library of app templates, Salesforce really only cares about getting its clients to use its cloud, its services, its data integration. In that way, Salesforce is really no different from the rest of the mobile ecosystem full of companies that want to lock you into their proprietary platforms.