Salesforce.com opens up development tools to customers

Hosted CRM software vendor Salesforce.com is opening up its development tools to its customers

In hopes of creating a third major revenue-generating business, Salesforce.com plans to make its Apex programming language and development platform available to users of its on-demand applications.

Salesforce.com is due to formally unveil Apex Monday at its Dreamforce user conference taking place in San Francisco.

Apex is a multitenant programming language and environment with Java-like syntax already used by Salesforce.com's developers to create the company's hosted CRM (customer relationship management) software, according to George Hu, senior vice president of applications at Salesforce.com.

Java's focus is on creating single-tenancy applications where an IT vendor hosts each customer's software on a different server. By contrast, Apex was designed from the get-go to help build multitenancy applications where a firm runs one instance of the on-demand software used by all its customers on the same server, Hu said.

He positioned Apex as "a third core pillar" of Salesforce.com's strategy on a par with its hosted CRM applications and its AppExchange network. "No corner of the applications market will be safe from the on-demand transformation," Hu added.

Using Apex, customers will be able to customize any component in their existing Salesforce CRM implementations or build their own code and replace existing Salesforce features with ones more suitable to their particular needs.

Life insurance, annuity and asset management provider The Phoenix Companies has been a Salesforce.com customer for two and a half years. The organization uses Salesforce to manage its life insurance distribution channels with the majority of the 210 users of the hosted software in its sales division and a few in the marketing and advanced tax law departments.

"I believe Apex is going to bring about a huge transformation in how we write our business apps," John Caine, director of life insurance technology strategy at Phoenix, wrote in an e-mail interview.

At present, only about 20 percent of the source code of many Phoenix Web-facing business applications deals with business logic, ensuring that the applications function as they are supposed to in order to meet the needs of the company's customers and partners. The remaining 80 percent of the source code handles infrastructure issues like middleware connectivity and database caching. "It's really, really critical stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with our business," Caine wrote. "Creating and maintaining the code is pure overhead -- a cost of doing business on the Web."

In future, he expects that the Apex platform would handle virtually all of that infrastructure code. "This means I can focus my IT resources on developing the 20 percent [of code] that drives our business," Caine added.

The Apex announcement is potentially Salesforce.com's "most compelling offering," Caine wrote. "By making such powerful developer tools available to customers, Salesforce has essentially given us the ability to build their CRM application -- or any other app, for that matter -- from scratch on their servers."

Salesforce.com is still determining how it will price and package Apex, Hu said. The Apex platform is due to appear when the company ships the next major release of its CRM software, Salesforce Winter '07, in the fourth quarter of this year, while the Apex programming language should become available in the first half of 2007.

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