Reports that Google and Salesforce.com are discussing partnership options should come as no surprise, considering the companies have collaborated in the past and firmly believe in the market for hosted business applications.
However, the discussions, reported Monday by The Wall Street Journal, might have been prompted by concerns that they could end up facing each other as competitors in the near future if they don't synchronize their strategies now.
"It would be silly if they don't talk to each other, but hammering out the details [of a potential partnership] could be challenging," said Oliver Young, a Forrester Research analyst.
The partnership's shape is still in flux but could involve the integration of the Google Apps suite of hosted collaboration and communication applications with Salesforce's CRM hosted software, the Journal reported. The main motivation behind the talks is to better compete against common rival Microsoft, according to the article, which said an announcement could be made in the coming weeks.
Right now, Google Apps and the Salesforce CRM applications seem very complementary: Google Apps doesn't have a native CRM component, while the Salesforce suite lacks office productivity applications. However, it's easy to see how each could soon cross over into the other's territory and end up squaring off instead of mounting a united front against Microsoft.
"There are reasons to expect both companies would want to follow what the other is doing," said Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst at Nucleus Research.
Google has the resources to develop CRM software in house and the cash to buy a CRM vendor, and Salesforce knows that. "This could be a way for Salesforce to make sure Google doesn't go out and develop or buy something comparable," said analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence.
Last year, Salesforce collaborated with Google to build a module for Google's Search Appliance that lets that enterprise search device better index data in Salesforce software. Salesforce also has an application to analyze the effectiveness of Google AdWords advertising campaigns. Moreover, Salesforce uses Google Apps internally.
The companies also are betting that the hosted model is the future of application provisioning in the enterprise market as opposed to the traditional packaged software approach. Both Google and Salesforce heavily promote what they perceive to be benefits of SaaS (software as a service), such as reduced cost and complexity in the delivery and maintenance of applications.
"There's clearly a lot of synergy between the companies. I wouldn't be surprised if we see them enter into more collaborations," Wettemann said.