Salesforce.com users: Advantages outweigh glitches

Despite the well-publicized interruptions that have bedeviled Salesforce.com's hosted CRM service in recent months, a half dozen users said this week that their relationships with the vendor remains strong.

The San Francisco-based CRM and applications services provider this week acknowledged a delivery glitch on Monday. This follows a major crash in December caused by a database-related problem, allowing Salesforce.com's competitors and online bloggers, to keep the company's service woes in the public eye.

While system unavailability can be a problem, it's not yet a make-or-break issue, according to customers interviewed this week.

"When Salesforce.com goes down, everyone in the company is affected," said Tom Kramer, president of Bella Pictures. The wedding photography services company has used Salesforce.com's service for two years, and has found it "instrumental" to Bella Pictures' growth. In fact, Kramer considers Salesforce.com to be a major utility, like electricity or Internet access. "So were we affected. Yes, but it wasn't catastrophic and not nearly as disruptive as the outages in December. Anytime we experience major utility outage, Bella Pictures and our clients are affected."

Kramer said that outages lasting less than an hour mean employees can continue to work, even if productivity suffers somewhat. On the other hand, an outage lasting two hours or more "is much more dramatic." Despite the recent glitches, "I don't think you sever a relationship with a partner because they have a few bumps in the road." He did say, however, that if Salesforce.com knows an outage might last 45 minutes or longer, it could notify users so they can plan "alternative strategies."

Other users also downplayed the outages, saying they had a negligible impact -- or were completely invisible to them -- and said Salesforce.com has begun sending out alerts when they occur.

"What would shake my faith is if something happened to the data," said Frank Tait, vice president of sales at DecisionOne Corp., a Devon, Penn.-based provider of IT services and a Salesforce.com user. "The integrity of the data is my concern."

He called Monday's outage an "inconvenience" and said his company's 125 users don't access the system around the clock; When it's unavailable, workers do something else for a few minutes until it's restored. "Even with the recent outages, Salesforce.com is more reliable that our internal systems. We have many more issues with them," Tait said.

Outages occurred before last month's well-publicized glitch, according to Geoff Graham, president of GuildQuality, an Atlanta-based producer of customer surveys for homebuilders and a former Salesforce.com customer. GuildQuality, which switched from Salesforce.com to rival hosted apps provider NetSuite last February, had seen monthly outages that lasted from a half hour to two hours. But that's not why GuildQuality moved to NetSuite. Instead, Graham's company wanted the integrated accounting and sales capabilities NetSuite offered.

Even so, if GuildQuality had experienced the outage that occurred last month, "our sales force would have mutinied," Graham said.

On the other hand, Salesforce.com customer Analog Devices, a semiconductor maker based in Mass., hasn't suffered anything that could be categorized as a "problem," said a spokeswoman. This may be because the Salesforce.com application is neither mission critical nor used in real time. The only "glitches" have been connected with the typical processes of application deployment and training, "all normal stuff," she said.

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