CRM vendor adds development hosting

CRM software vendor Salesforce.com has announced a hosted application development service that makes Web services technology and widely used tools like Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net available to software developers via the Internet.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff said users of the Sforce offering will also be able to access databases, a document management system and user authentication services without having to invest in or maintain any software themselves. San Francisco-based Salesforce.com will support Sforce users with the same IT infrastructure that's used to run its hosted online applications, he said.

Sforce can be used to build homegrown systems or to customize Salesforce.com's applications and integrate them with third-party products, Benioff said. Monthly fees are US$50 per user and $1 for each megabyte of data stored at Salesforce.com's data center, although the first three users and 10MB are free for a year.

Microsoft, Sun Microsystems Inc. and BEA Systems Inc. have agreed to support Sforce with their development tools, and Salesforce.com said a similar deal is in the works with Borland Software Corp. Sforce also incorporates XML and Web services standards like the Simple Object Access Protocol and the Web Services Description Language.

Sforce sounds promising to Sheldon Tkatch, a senior project manager at Garrett Aviation Service Centers, a Tempe, Ariz.-based division of General Electric Co. The provider of airplane maintenance and modification services uses Salesforce.com's applications, and Tkatch said he wants to tie them to Garrett's Oracle customer database.

Currently, linking customer data to the hosted applications is a time-consuming process that requires end users at Garrett to extract the information in batches or reports and then enter it manually. Doing the necessary integration work in-house would be "technologically prohibitive," Tkatch said. But that process looks more feasible with Sforce, he added.

Wendy Close, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said Sforce targets application developers with the software-as-a-service concept. The service will most likely appeal to large companies that need more functionality than Salesforce.com's applications provide, she said.

But Close added that she's not sure how much buy-in Sforce will get at first, outside of companies that plan to use Salesforce.com's applications.

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