Granted, it’s only been one day since Salesforce.com announced Apex, its new programming language and platform. Not enough time for anyone to really digest what’s going on, right?
Wrong. The response to Apex from customers (and, not surprisingly, partners) has really been overwhelmingly positive. I spent a good amount of time Oct. 9 and Oct. 10, the first and second days of Salesforce.com’s annual Dreamforce conference here in San Francisco, talking to peopledevelopers, sales executives, partners.
I wandered around the show floor, haunted the lunch area, stopped people on the street. My main questions: What do you think of Apex? Will you develop applications using a proprietary language from Salesforce.com? And if so, will you develop beyond the confines of CRM (customer relationship management), clearly Salesforce.com’s sweet spot?
The surprising thing is that everyone I stopped had an opinion. The response, bar none: Salesforce is on to something with Apex.
“It’s great. It allows us the flexibility to be truly customizable,” said Thomas Grady, the director of world wide customer service with Novariant, in Menlo Park, Calif.
Grady said his company would use Apex to extend Salesforce.com CRM-based applications, to develop internal Web portals, push information up to dealer networks and tie into partners.
The caveat for Grady, and for other customers that I spoke with: Apex development will remain within the confines of the CRM realm. At least for now.
But Salesforce has aspirations beyond CRM developmentindeed they’ve pitched Apex as a platform and language to develop any type of on-demand application.
Some industry watchers have suggested that Salesforce is looking for an entrée to ERP (enterprise resource planning) development with Apex.
Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com, was clear during an Oct. 9 press Q&A that that is not a goal.
“I think it’s hard enough to be focused on a couple of things [CRM and a platform] and do them really well,” said Benioff. “If you do more, you try and do too much. We just want to do a couple of things really, really well and partner to do the rest.”
That said, there’s no question Apex is, in Salesforce’s way of thinking, applicable for ERP developmentor any other kind of on-demand application development.
They want to be, as one analyst pointed out, the platform for on-demand development in the future.
It’s interesting that customers had no hesitation with the concept of hosting their development environment on Salesforce.com’s infrastructure, despite the well published downtime troubles Salesforce ran into in 2005.
“With the tremendous development in application security over the past couple of years I have no problem putting my credit card information online,” said Richard Gonzales, an executive with Pegasus Solutions in Dallas. “And I have no problem having my data stored in Salesforce.”
John Caine, director of technology strategy at The Phoenix Companies in Hartford, Conn., was a Salesforce customer during last year’s spate of outages.
“They haven’t had any problems since the system instability and really, out of sight out of mind,” said Caine, “It may prove to be shortsighted certainly there is an element of risk [hosting development with Salesforce] With Apex we sort of have to accept that risk of performance and reliability. But what you get is an increased level of access to data and to logic.”
Next Page: Offloading infrastructure costs.
Caine, who is an Apex Alliance partner, said he envisions offloading a lot of his own infrastructure costs by migrating to the Apex platform.
Initially he expects to replace all his company’s departmental spread sheetsattendance sheets done in Excel, contact lists, project status listsas well as access databases with Apex code and infrastructure.
“Once you leave all that behind, fast forward two years,” said Caine. “The next layer is homegrown applications or off-the-shelf workflow applicationsemployee expense request systems, all that stuff will make its way in Salesforce.”
When I asked Caine why he would consider moving a lot of applications over to the Apex platformand host his infrastructure with Salesforcehe had a simple answer: to cut costs.
He explained that many of the things he would consider moving over are today only available on his company’s VPN, a situation that brings reliability and complexity issues. By migrating applications to Salesforce’s servers, he will be offloading infrastructure cost.
That’s a key point that Salesforce is working to drive home to customers.
“Apex lets you write and run code on our servers,” said Benioff, during his Oct. 9 keynote address.
“We spent a lot of money on infrastructure, on our data centers, and you’re going to be able to run the code on our servers. We’re talking about highly complex applications like inventory management, ERP and yield management. This is really going to empower our development community to create the next level.”
Satish Perikala, a Salesforce.com administrator with Seagate Technologies said that at the end of the day what Apex means for him is a lot less work.
“I think it’s amazing. With custom code there is a lot of limitation. If I can write anything, there is no limitation,” said Perikala. “We were planning a lot of workarounds to Salesforce, but not now.”
“You’re going to see a lot of small businesses popping up,” said Pegasus’ Gonzalez. “For someone in financial services [for example] to build in Apex and then share with others in AppExchange, it’s a win-win.”
All the hoo-ha aside, I thought Dan Foygel, the chief technology officer at EchoSign, a Salesforce partner, hit the nail on the head with all the enthusiasm around Apex.
“It’s a great idea to be able to do some of the higher level programming in Apex while Salesforce takes care of the lower level stuff,” said Foygel, who is based in Palo Alto, Calif.
“But it’s easy to be excited about something before people actually use it.”
Apex the programming language is expected sometime next year. The platform is available with Salesforce.com’s Winter ’07 release.
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