Salesforce makes customization an option

Multiforce is the newest Salesforce product to target businesses who want to customize hosted software for their unique, vertical needs.

NEW YORK -- Salesforce.com yesterday launched new tools that will allow businesses to develop customized applications

on its hosted service, expanding the company's focus from CRM applications to a broader platform for hosted applications.

The new feature, called Multiforce, was announced yesterday by the San Francisco-based hosted service company. It is part of Salesforce.com's Summer '05 release, expected in June. Using Multiforce, businesses can create customized, hosted applications that use the same security features, data model and user interface, allowing users to view data from multiple applications. Salesforce.com users can also now work in multiple applications at the same time, essentially acting as a hosted operating system.

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"This is a whole new way to build and develop applications," said Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. "You know how you have a Windows desktop and all those icons on that desktop? We'll have that too, but it's on-demand."

The new feature could be very useful for helping employees find and use data across multiple applications, said Martin B. Howard, CIO of Patient Care Inc., a West Orange, N.J.-based home health care company. For example, he said that information relevant to caring for a patient who had a hip replacement could be stored in as many as five different systems. By integrating Multiforce applications with existing systems, all of that data could easily be retrieved in one place, he said.

"It addresses the integration problem, which is huge," Howard said.

During its trial of Multiforce, OpenTV Corp. created a customer support application that enabled it to do away with its PeopleSoft application. Nick Ryan, business applications manager with the San Francisco-based interactive TV company, said he is saving about 60% a year just on the operational costs, compared to what he paid for PeopleSoft.

With Multiforce, businesses will be able to get new applications up and running more quickly and for less upfront expense than if they were to build them in-house, said Denis Pombriant, managing principal of Stoughton, Mass.-based Beagle Research Group.

While Salesforce.com did not announce specific applications that take on direct competitors, this system does pit it against some of the biggest names in the IT industry. Because Multiforce is essentially a low-cost application development tool, the company is now not only competing with Siebel in the CRM market but also with Microsoft and Oracle, Pombriant said.

"Any application that you might build in-house to track some idiosyncratic data that you would have built with Oracle or Microsoft tools, you can now do using Salesforce.com," he said.

Nonetheless, Pombriant is optimistic about Salesforce.com's chances.

"They have a reasonable chance to make this work, provided they do not take their eye off the ball and continue to innovate on the CRM side," Pombriant said.

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