Today Salesforce.com announced a new product called Salesforce ContentExchange, a content management product for unstructured data such as email and html. They also publicly announced the acquisition of Koral, a web 2.0 content collaboration platform that was at DEMO07 earlier this year (see Zoli Erdos’ review). Koral is a key enabling technology for Salesforce ContentExchange. The new product means that Salesforce.com now manages all types of content in a company – both structured information (e.g. CRM data like contacts and sales information) and unstructured information (office documents, HTML, video/audio files and email, etc). Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of salesforce.com, calls this Äúanother step towards our vision of managing all information on demandÄ?.
Also announced today was Apex Content Äì which allows enterprise users to create web services for unstructured data (as well as structured data).
Today I spoke to Bruce Francis (Vice President of Corporate Strategy), Mark Suster (Koral founder/CEO who is now in charge of Salesforce ContentExchange), and Gordon Evans (salesforce.com PR) about the news.
Bringing Web 2.0 to unstructured data
Salesforce is touting Salesforce ContentExchange as their “next killer application”, saying that it brings web 2.0 to unstructured information and document management. The external vision for salesforce.com for sometime has been ‘the end of software’ – specifically in regards to their CRM suite. However Bruce said their internal vision of late has been “to help our customers manage and share all their business information on-demand” – meaning unstructured data, which he said is the majority of corporate info. This includes email, video and any data that hasn’t been organized.
Bruce said there has been a lot of customer frustration about unstructured data – i.e. users can’t get to the content they need. He said that shared content management systems – specifically noting Microsoft Sharepoint and Documentum – are no good at managing unstructured data. More to the point perhaps, salesforce’s position is that MS Sharepoint and Documentum aren’t taking advantage of web 2.0 technologies; which is what salesforce is trying to do with this new product.
Consumer Web as inspiration
Salesforce.com wanted to solve the problem of unstructured data in the enterprise. And so they looked to the ‘consumer web’ for inspiration – e.g. on Amazon you can get info from the community (ratings and recommendations); on Flickr you can get the image you want, due to community tagging (instead of a centralized librarian); and you have subscriptions (RSS) for getting niche info from blogs or subscribing to a cool band on YouTube.
The umbrella concept to all this is a familiar one to readers of this blog – the power of participation, a.k.a. wisdom of crowds. Bruce and Mark told me that salesforce.com essentially asked itself: why can’t enterprises take advantage of the wisdom of the corporate crowd?
Another factor for salesforce.com was their desire to “take salesforce into every corner of the enterprise”. I guess this is a challenge to the likes of Microsoft and Google, both of which now stretch their tentacles across all of the enterprise.
Main Features of ContentExchange
Mark Suster (ex Koral CEO) took me through some of the main features of Salesforce ContentExchange. Here are the highlights, using screenshots.
You can subscribe to pieces of content by rolling your mouse over the subscribe icon (which turns orange). Also note the tags – i.e. using web 2.0 folksonomy (emergent classification), rather than the taxonomy used by MS Sharepoint and Documentum.
Users can comment on documents, and rate it via thumbs up/down.
Document creators can view who has subscribed to their documents.
Search – but note that search is only part of the solution. It is search coupled with tagging, ratings & recommendations, etc. They also have “filtered search”, like Kayak.
Salesforce dropbox – much like Flickr’s Uploadr tool.
When uploading documents, users can tag documents – including via suggested tags.
This is an interesting product from salesforce.com – and I agree that managing unstructured data is a big issue that enterprises want to solve. I said to Bruce and Mark that it seems essentially like a Knowledge Management system; and Mark said that yes, it is about managing content that is on peoples desktops. But also there are some nice Web touches – e.g. with a Word document, the system enables you to easily compare the desktop version to the web/server version.
I asked whether web-based word processing services – like Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Zoho Docs – will also be catered to. Mark said that ContentExchange will interface with them, as well as wikis, in future. Those things are about content creation, whereas ContentExchange is about managing content.
Finally I mentioned intranets – and how ContentExchange will integrate or complement them. Mark quoted me a stat from Forrester that only 44% of people can find what they want on a corporate intranet, whereas 87% can find what they want on the Internet. So ContentExchange will help raise that 44% figure, says Mark.