Keeping your powder dry

I don't think I've ever worked for a software company that didn't aspire to be a platform. Of course, the meaning of platform isn't always the same. For some, the word means infrastructure on which you build applications. For others, it connotes a category of data that is central to your business. And, of course, there are other variants.

Being a platform, in either meaning of the word, takes a lot of smarts, sweat, and patience. You don't become a platform overnight. It's not merely a matter of positioning--as if something that's presumably as solid as a platform could somehow be positioned in the first place. (Of course, we're dealing with companies that are, by and large, headquartered in California, so perhaps the concept of a foundation that shifts to and fro isn't all that strange.)

The trajectory of Salesforce is interesting, as it traverses both definitions of platform. As the infrastructure on which you build applications, the Force.com platform provides a set of APIs, tools, and services. Both this platform and the actual infrastructure behind it (databases, application servers, etc.) just happen to reside in the clouds.

The other track on which Salesforce moves is the CRM application path. While they continue to enhance their name-brand CRM system, Salesforce also offers a wide variety of complementary capabilities, such as knowledge management and human capital management, through their AppExchange. Regardless of how many different applications one runs against the same Salesforce repository, the information about customers and partners in that repository can be, in its own way, a platform. If several important applications all point to the same data, the label platform is certainly merited.

The story of the Salesforce platform--both Force.com and customer data--may not be finished, but the basic strategy makes a great deal of sense: the chances of becoming a successful platform increase as you move along more than one track. The repository and development aspects of the platform help each other. If you have data you care about, you'll build applications around it. If the people building applications like the platform, they'll figure out how to move data into that environment.

This strategy is the platform technology equivalent of the old adage, "Trust in God, but keep your powder dry." Build an innovative platform for application development, but maintain a healthy flow of data into this environment.

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re: Keeping your powder dry

Good points all around. However, the most interesting part of this story is that what would really make Salesforce an unstoppable force is if they could find a way to harass all of the data that they have stored in their cloud. Now due to the competitive nature of that data, they can't actually do this, but just play along and imagine if they could...As a product manager who is always struggling to find better ways to work with sales teams, just having Salesforce do a Google type of operation on my company's data could yield fantastic results. Perhaps the left hand would know that the right hand made a similar bundled product offering to a competitor of my customer and they bought it - good to know when I'm going to talk to my customer. And the list goes on, and on...If Salesforce could break all kinds of company boundries and create anonymous stats on all of the data that they have in their CRM databases then just imagine the world we could live in! Recruiters would have a field day - they could know who the most successful sales people for their firm's target market were. Sales teams would be able to tell if when their customer normally made purchases and when they were all tapped out. CEOs would be able to watch sales results in their market segment and any sort of slowdown would quickly become aparent.Oh well, it was just a dream. I guess we'll have to go back to practicing brainstorming and see if we can use the Salesforce platform in some other way...- Dr. Jim AndersonBlue Elephant ConsultingBlog at: http://itproductmanagement.blogspot.com/How to work with sales:http://itproductmanagement.blogspot.com/2008/06/how-to-work-with-sales.htmlProduct Mgmt Brainstorming:http://itproductmanagement.blogspot.com/2008/07/brainstorming-how-to-do-them-right-way.html