Google, Salesforce.com join forces for business apps

Google Apps are integrated with sales-force automation tools, promising an enterprise app cloud

In an effort to position Salesforce.com as more of a software platform and less of a sales-force automation service, Salesforce.com and Google today announced that Google will provide its Google Apps offering as part of the Salesforce.com platform.

That means Google's spreadsheet, text editor, calendar, instant messaging, e-mail, and other tools will work with Salesforce.com's tools, not just be available through the same interface. For example, Google Gmail e-mails can be sorted and saved in the appropriate components of the Salesforce app as leads or to-do tasks.

And Salesforce.com officials say that any third-party applications designed for Salesforce.com's AppExchange platform are automatically integrated with Google Apps. AppExchange is a marketplace of add-on software delivered through the Salesforce.com platform that uses the same APIs and database engine as the Salesforce app.

A major test of cloud computing
Should the Salesforce.com-Google effort deliver on its promise, it could help cloud computing gain serious traction businesses, including larger enterprises that have been cool to the idea of software as a service outside confined niches such as timesheet management and sales contact management. That's because both Salesforce.com and Google have a broad group of major companies that use their products separately, including Salesforce.com customers A.T. Kearney Procurement Solutions, Delta Dental, Dow Jones News Wire, and Ryder. In the meantime, Google also has its share of marquee names, such as American Express, Bank One, Jenny Craig, and Kimberly Clark.

The Salesforce.com-Google deal makes the concept of cloud computing harder to ignore, and it's part of a series of such efforts by several providers. For example, in March, ZoHo announced its multiple-application offering, the first to go beyond a specific niche such as productivity apps or CRM and instead present a broader portfolio of "cloud computing" applications. At the platform level, Google announced last week the decision to open its own platform to outside developers to deploy their own applications. And Amazon.com, Salesforce.com, Sun, and others have even more basic IT functions available through the cloud.

So far, Microsoft has put just a toe in these waters: In 2006, SAP and Microsoft introduced Duet, basically a mashup of some Office features with SAP's R3 ERP components. Via Duet, an e-mail to a customer in Outlook can pull in and view customer data from R3. Likewise, a budget in Excel or a contract in Word gives users the capability to pull up customer data from R3.

The latest Duet release includes templates that focus on specific business events such as budget monitoring and time management taking place in the mySAP business suite.

Questions as yet unanswered
Although Salesforce.com and Google have a great deal of respect and clout among users, there are still questions to be answered and requirements to be fulfilled.

The top requirement would have to be an SLA that guarantees the quality of the combined service. On this point, Google has more to prove than Salesforce.com. Google Apps is the new kid on the block, and although it does claim some big-name customers, very few if any of those customers have ripped out Microsoft Office in favor of Google Apps.

With the promised tight integration of the new Salesforce.com-Google effort, IT departments will have to expect that more of its users, especially salespeople who live in the main Salesforce app, will also be spending time in Google Apps. That eventuality will make many IT organizations expect the app quality to be the same or nearly the same as Microsoft Office, which has a huge head start in terms of functionality.

Another unknown is how well users will be able to work offline with their applications, especially salespeople who are often disconnected. Salesforce.com already allows users to download relevant portions of a customer database, such as a specific territory, so that they can keep working offline. The question is whether Google Apps will also have these capabilities.

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