Enterprise Apps

OPINION

Give Credit Where It’s Due

Taking credit is something we human beings love to do even when we might not have a great deal to take credit for — unless there’s bad news and then no one wants to own up.

I always liked the description of the rooster taking credit for the sunrise for the former case — Al Gore famously used it in a 1992 vice-presidential debate. Then there was John Kennedy’s succinct and pithy way of accepting responsibility for the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba.

It was a CIA operation start to finish hatched in the administration of Kennedy’s predecessor. The plan called for Cuban exiles to storm the beaches of that unfortunately named piece of real estate with the ultimate goal of deposing Fidel Castro. Once the liberators were ashore, it was predicted that the locals would come out in droves to help out, and all would be sweetness and light. (Amazing how things have not changed much in four decades!)

All that not withstanding, JFK knew that as commander-in-chief, the failed operation was his baby, and with a quote borrowed from Napoleon, he said so: “Victory has a hundred fathers; defeat is an orphan.”

‘I Saw It Coming’

Lately, as the platform has become the sexy new frontier in our industry, there have been any number of analysts and pundits who have claimed to have seen it coming. I include myself in that group and cite my 2004 white paper on the subject “The New Garage,” which is available online should you care to peruse it.

I am not claiming exclusivity here, since I am a believer in serendipity in human events, and I know a good idea can easily have multiple “inventors.” For example, there is a wonderful story about another inventor of the telephone who lost the patent race with Alexander Graham Bell. His name isnot exactly lost to history, but it might as well be.

Acting on Ideas

Nevertheless, my point is that the vast majority of the people who thought about platforms and how they would be implemented didn’t do anything to act on their ideas — an important reminder that to win the prize, you have to jump into the ring and compete.

One person who both thought and acted is Marc Benioff, who — with a small band of cofounders including Parker Harris — started Salesforce.com.

When I started putting two and two together a few years ago, I spoke with Benioff about the whole platform idea and how the platform would someday generate more revenue than CRM (customer relationship management). Benioff did his best imitation of the Cheshire Cat, smiled and said, “Well, I’ve always been a systems guy.”

In fact, the idea of a ubiquitous and cheap development and hosting service in the cloud has been a sort of Sorcerer’s Stone for a long time. In his Oracle days, Benioff led an effort to develop a platform that was not totally successful.

The experience certainly taught a few lessons. Some of them directly related to the platform idea, while others dealt with the limitations of computer, networking and database technologies in the 1990s. There may have been one or two lessons about marketing as well.

Last week, the train officially pulled into the station; we got a call from Tranquility Base — choose your metaphor. Salesforce.com announced the availability of Summer ’07, which included final delivery of the long-awaited Apex programming language — the last piece of the developer platform.

Follow the Money

From here, who knows where we go? Certainly, there will be a lot of new prognostications, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. If I had to guess — and that’s sort of my job — I’d say, “the sky’s the limit.” However, to be more precise, I would also say, “follow the money.”

Economics has driven the whole on-demand movement, and I don’t see that changing. Economics made on-demand viable by lowering the total cost of ownership for business applications, and it continues to exert a major influence as companies embrace on-demand computing.

Delivery of the platform makes it possible for more people and more kinds of people to build and deploy more kinds of applications. We will see some new large and complex applications for the front and back office coming at regular intervals, but we’ll also see a steady stream of what were once called “long tail” applications, too.

The interesting thing about long tail applications is that you can only guess at which ones will become staples and which will never amount to much. Take sales incentive compensation management for example. Many companies, includingCentive,Xactly andCallidus have solutions for a business problem that used to be managed on spreadsheets.

These companies figured out the troubles with spreadsheet-based solutions and found opportunities. Each company built on-demand solutions to meet the need.

There are plenty of other long tail applications that might follow the same innovative trajectory. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though. Software development is still not free or effortless, and while the number of long tail applications that can now be built is vast, it is not limitless. There’s plenty of time to figure all that out — but for just a moment, it’s OK if we congratulate Benioff and Harris on implementing “our” ideas.


Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].


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