Salesforce is a juggernaut.
In the 10 or so years since it was founded, the company has pretty much single-handedly changed the face of the software industry. Concepts such as SaaS, the cloud and enterprise application marketplaces were, if not invented, at least popularized by Salesforce.
In the past decade, Salesforce has gone from being a very interesting and agile CRM vendor to being a provider of pretty much an entire enterprise software stack—from applications at the top end through to development platforms for the creation of applications. Indeed, the fact that health IT vendor Veeva was able to undertake an IPO based on a product built entirely on Salesforce's platform is testimony to what Salesforce has achieved.
But as Salesforce has grown, it has unavoidably bumped into some of its ecosystem partners. From time to time, Salesforce has acquired one of its partners to the detriment of others, or alternatively it has introduced a product offering that competes with its own ecosystem. It's a fact of life that as a technology vendor grows, it tends to move into peripheral business areas that sometimes compete with its own partners. Salesforce has handled the tension well, and other than the odd blip, it has managed the process without undue fallout.
So, to be confronted by a vendor that, to my mind at least, builds a solution on the Salesforce platform that competes with parts of that same platform strikes me as odd.
This is the conundrum I see with Fonteva, a company that today announced the release of its "Spark Framework," a development framework natively built on the Salesforce App Cloud. Spark promises to enable users to efficiently build and manage flexible, scalable and reactive business applications in the cloud. It provides a robust set of features and tools, and it connects to external applications with configuration, not code.
If you look closely, that is pretty much what Salesforce and its own development platform offers. Curious.
Anyway, a little bit more about Fonteva. The company, which was established in 2010, is a software development house that seems to have had success in one particular vertical. Its software product, MemberNation, claims to be the first true cloud Association Management Software (AMS) and is built 100 percent native on the Salesforce platform. It seems that based upon this success, Fonteva wants to productize some of the tools it has used to create software. To this end, the Spark Framework includes:
- Developer Framework: Spark Framework provides a template and patterned approach to building managed and unmanaged packages on the Salesforce App Cloud.
- API Services: The innovative integration wizard enables users to create the connection and map values to your records through configuration, not code.
- Environment Management: Spark Framework provides application performance and usage analytics, aggregated system logs and a private marketplace of app extensions.
In articulating the benefits it brings to developers, Fonteva points out that a large Salesforce implementation may have many users, customizations, integrations and additional apps required to support business processes. A developer for such an implementation can use Spark to easily manage integrations using configuration, not code. Spark can also be used to capture context-based usage data, identify and resolve conflicts and errors quickly, and provide better, more efficient support for users.
Going beyond an individual developer, ISVs can use Spark to extend the Salesforce platform into multiple customer environments and make more informed decisions for product roadmap and development resources. Spark provides visibility into customer behavior within applications, which allows vendors to provide proactive support for customers, upsell solutions in a targeted online marketplace and offer more flexible pricing options.
I'm not going to get into a detailed functional assessment over exactly what Fonteva does that Salesforce doesn't. Clearly there are some gaps that the company is filling. But I can't help but think that any opportunity here is very temporary at best. Salesforce is an innovation machine and moves fast to deliver what its customers want and need. If there is such a requirement for what Fonteva is doing, it's a safe bet that Salesforce will fulfill that requirement sooner rather than later.
It's always an interesting question when a company looks at developing a product within an existing ecosystem. My counsel is always to look for adjacencies that aren't directly in the path of the ecosystem provider's roadmap. Otherwise, a steamroller might just be bearing down on you any minute.
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