Force.com The Next IT Threat and Skill Set

Salesforce.com announced last week the availability of Force.com, the On Demand platform for building software applications. Basically, Salesforce.com has done what Amazon did with EC2, packaging and selling the underlying platform so 3rd parties can build applications, products and services using the same technology used to build and operate Salesforce.com. Force.com has been dubbed platform as a service.

My first reaction to Force.com was 'yawn' -- who'd want to build their product on Salesforce.com's infrastructure. I watched Mark Benioff's launch of Force.com over the Internet and while interesting, I couldn't see too many entrepreneurial startups jumping onto the bandwagon. The issues I see are two fold; you are completely locked in (both your app and operationally) into Salesforces.com's platform, which then puts you in a position where you are beholden to Salesforce.com and whatever they chose to do.

Now, I take the other side of that argument if your application's intellectual property is not technology, but a On Demand business application and the application can leverage the Salesforce.com ecosystem. Then it's a good move.

But my thinking changed a bit after a Saturday morning meeting with analyst Rebecca Wettemann of the firm Nucleus Research. Rebecca had an interesting perspective that Force.com would be very appealing to enterprise IT organizations. After some discussion, that makes sense to me.

On Demand and SaaS (Software as a Service) is more than just a Google or Salesforce.com threat to Microsoft, at least until Microsoft gets their On Demand software act together. (Benioff and Gates have had their share of who wins and loses public arguments in the past.) On Demand software is typically sold directly to users within the business units of companies, bypassing most or all of IT, resulting in IT finding about it after the fact. Will IT be wiped out by On Demand software? I doubt it, but On Demand will and is fast becoming a fact of life for many IT organizations. That's only going to continue to increase.

Force.com represents an opportunity for IT to begin delivering applications in a On Demand-like manner. Rather than build it from scratch, business applications that perform data storage/retrieval, typical database update transactions and reporting, require multi-user access, permissions, dashboards and custom reports can all be satisfied by a platform like Salesforce.com. Provided you are comfortable storing the data at Salesforce.com's data centers, it could be an interesting option for enterprise IT.

Whether enterprise IT will race to embrace Force.com or see it as a non-event is yet to be seen. The pull for using Force.com will come through the business units and if IT organizations don't listen when the business units talk, they could find that apps are being built by outside third party developers. Seems to me Force.com is an option at least worth serious consideration by IT.

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