I bumped into a brief but impactful article by Renee Boucher Ferguson titled “ISVs Snub Salesforce’s Force.com Platform“. The post basically summarized a situation that occurred after OpSource’s SaaS Summit. Following a panel discussion on SaaS platforms, ZDNet’s SaaS blogger Phil Wainewright conducted a brief poll of about 250 software vendors asking the following questions (paraphrased):
- How many people were considering building a SaaS offering using their own development tools and having it hosted by a 3rd party?
- How many people were looking at a software+services approach?
- How many people were considering Salesforce’s Force.com (this is the fun one)?
About 40 or so ISVs responded yes to question 1. About 10 responded yes to question 2. A total of 2 hands were raised for number 3. Salesforce.com’s world changing, hard hitting, hyped up, super duper, all encompassing SaaS platform picked up 0.8% of the vote! Now, I hate to poke fun but that is quite the entertaining number.
In a conference targeting and attended by software companies looking to build SaaS applications, and after a panel discussion titled “Platform Choices Will Define On-Demand Opportunity”, Salesforce’s Force.com pulled in less than 1% of the vote. That’s as close to a unanimous “no” as you can get. It sounds like that a certain group of ISVs made it quite clear that they can’t excercise their right to opportunity via that particular platform choice. Despite how this post started, I don’t want this to turn into a rant against Salesforce and Force.com. The purpose of this post is to breakdown why something like Force.com doesn’t make sense for ISVs (which might account for the poor straw poll turnout).
If you’ve been a SaaSBlogs reader for a while, you’ll recall a post I wrote a while back addressing the problems with Salesforce’s approach to platforms via Force.com (or Apex, or whatever the marketing term of the day was). Now that Force.com is active and pursuing market share, many of the same things I mentioned hold true. What would cause only two hands to raise? That’s easy enough:
- Limited capabilities - People love to think that software engineering has become complicated “just because.” The fact is, the problems we tackle when writing software are signicantly complex and grow more complex each day. The concept of something like Force.com started off as an extension platform for Salesforce.com, and not a general purpose platform. It does a good job at letting you be a spoke on Salesforce’s wheel but if you need to build a complex offering outsied that wheel, it won’t fit your need.
- IP & Business Risk – Salesforce expects you to capture your company’s bread and butter – the software’s logic - using their Apex language. Furthermore, Apex runs only within Salesforce.com. If you’re a serious ISV, the idea that your IP is tied to some random language and that if you don’t like how your app is being delivered you can’t leave is a scary proposition. The fact that you can’t take your toys out of Salesforce’s playground and go home is a ludicrous concept and difficult to swallow.
- Force.com is About Marketing Not Product - To be fair, Force.com does provide a good distribution model since you have the ability to tap into Salesforce’s customer base, but that’s exactly why Force.com was built. Force.com is used as a mechanism to bolster Salesforce.com core offering’s value proposition. It’s primary purpose is not to give you the power to build powerful SaaS offerings. From the distribution model standpoint, it makes sense to write to Force.com if you’re writing plugins and extensions for their CRM product. For full blown SaaS offerings, look elsewhere.
When looking at those who develop software, I see ISVs and “the others” (for lack of a better category). ISVs have complex issues and software offerings with specific intricacies, existing IP that they want to port to a new delivery model and do not want to be a puppet to some other companies growth goals. “The others” look for successful products to piggy back on and are interested in tacking on value to an existing product. Both are valid and lucrative categories. When looking at Wainewright’s straw poll, I don’t think Salesforce’s marketing can attract people from the former category because it’s a square peg in a round hole situation. They had a great idea when it came to Force.com as an extension platform, but IMHO that idea went down south when they tried to cram it down ISVs throats rather than focusing on “the others”.
Do you think that the small poll was representative of the sentiments of ISVs in general or not? In your opinion, why might ISVs shy away from deploying their business on Force.com?