Salesforce.com adds customization features

Apex code being added to CRM applications

Salesforce.com Tuesday rolled out the foundation for an online application-development platform that lets users create applications beyond the online provider's traditional CRM capabilities.

The Apex Code, a Java-like programming language, is being introduced as part of Salesforce.com's Summer '07 upgrade to its online CRM application. Apex lets developers create custom processes or applications that run on the Salesforce.com network. The code can be used to create customized extensions to CRM capabilities or to create applications that have nothing to do with CRM.

Also part of Summer '07 is an online staging environment for developers to create, test and translate code, as well as, train users on the application all before it is transferred to a production environment.

Salesforce.com is using the Apex release to tout what it is calling "platform-as-a-service" capabilities.

"Salesforce is doing for the developer the same kinds of things it did for the end user in the sales department or marketing department; namely, it is taking a lot of the complexity out of owning and operating technology and leaving you with the good bits," said Denis Pombriant, managing principal of the Beagle Research Group.

"Several years ago we called this utility computing. I think this announcement is bringing us closer to that reality," Pombriant said.

Users are seeing the possibilities for the future, but for now some only plan to rely on extending CRM.

"What we are going to use Apex for is to tie our bug-tracking system into Salesforce.com," says Michele Hincks, vice president of marketing for Enviance, which provides compliance-management capabilities in the software-as-a-service model. "Apex will help automate things that are currently manual and provide our customers with a more up-to-date status on their requests."

The code generated with Apex can run as a Web service and supports SOAP and XML.

"We have a multitenant compiler that compiles the code and database logic, and if there is an issue, then the person setting up the code gets a response that says the code will not run correctly," says Brad Mattick, director of product marketing for Salesforce.com. He says developers will get reports on what the code is doing and what it is touching, and assurances that the code never runs outside the customer's environment.

But while the Apex code offers powerful options, Enviance's Hincks says the company doesn't plan to develop customized applications outside of the CRM realm.

However, she says Enviance plans to automate its workflow using the Enterprise Intelligent Workflow capabilities in Summer '07, Salesforce.com's third upgrade this year to its flagship service.

The workflow feature lets users create custom rules and approvals they can add into their workflows.

In addition, Summer '07 adds support for multiple Salesforce Sandbox development environments, which can be used simultaneously for development, testing and training.

Also new is the Salesforce Customer Portal 2.0, which includes personal features.

Salesforce.com also has updated its CRM features in Summer '07, adding new mobile interface capabilities that let users access reports via Salesforce Mobile and a wizard for building custom reports.

Summer '07 is slated to ship in August. The Customer Portal is an additional fee that starts at $5 per user, per portal.

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