Last week at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce conference, the big news was around the launch of the new business collaboration set of platform capabilities called “Chatter”.
After updating the audience on Service and Sales Cloud 2, which both had some really cool new capabilities, Marc Benioff announced the latest Cloud offering – Chatter or the Collaboration Cloud.
This new business collaboration offering, which was never to be confused with Social CRM, consists of a wide range of Chatter platform capabilities. Many of which look very similar to Twitter, but don’t get confused, this is NOT Twitter. Although Chatter will be integrated with popular social networking sitesl like Twitter and Facebook, these integrations are only feeds into Chatter.
The key line that kept getting repeated was “Why do I know more about strangers on Facebook than I do about my own employees?” This apparently was a major driver in the development of Chatter by Salesforce.
On a funny note, during the analyst meeting, someone asked Marc if he was going provide Chatter on-premise? (Remember Salesforce is in the Cloud!) In a sarcastic reply said that he was actually packaging up the Exodata Chatter servers and that they were being shipped out to clients at the time of the launch. That got a big laugh from the audience. This was also humorous because Chatter won’t be Generally Available in the Cloud until sometime in 2010.
Key capabilities include employee profiles, status updates that are familiar with LinkedIn and Facebook, Groups, external and internal feeds, ability to share content with groups and events, alerts and notifications that allow for your apps to speak to you, an extensible API for the Force.com platform, integration with Google Docs, Twitter and Facebook. To learn more watch this Chatter demo by Parker Harris, Salesforce.com’s EVP of products of the opening day keynote.
Unlike other emerging business-related Social CRM players like Jive Software (SAP partner), Lithium, RightNow or even Oracle, Salesforce seems to be focusing much of it competitive energies against Microsoft SharePoint. I think this is probably a red herring.
Another major benefit to the Chatter strategy is the addition of a new Salesforce mascot family. Saasy now has Chatty. People were lining up to get their photo with both of these mascots… wow.
Here’s what I think the real Chatter strategy is based on…
- Stickiness. This is a ‘fun’ business application and if it is widely adopted as a business collaboration tool, it will be hard to replace. This process may take awhile for this adoption to take place but it will have lasting impact on their clients. The flip side to stickiness is that customers will be much less likely to cancel their service if they are hooked on it. With industry attrition averages between 10-20%, this could have a real hidden benefit. This is especially interesting in that they are giving the basic Chatter capability away with the basic and enterprise subscription licensing. Wonder if they have modeled out this impact?
- Barrier to entry. I think that it is interesting that Salesforce is thinking that this capability might actually upset Oracle Fusion and SAP’s next generation of SaaS offerings because it would require a rewrite of their core platforms. Actually this might make it more likely that SAP might do more than expand their partnership with Jive Software, and force them into a situation where they might have to buy them to keep up with the Benioff’s. With Fusion targeted for GA some time in 2010 (probably December), if they were to add in a robust collaboration capability, it would most certainly delay the GA, which would push Fusion into 2011. So Chatter becomes a key differentiator for Salesforce, even if it experiences low user adoption.
- Facebook and Twitter. By aligning themselves with these leading social networking platforms, Salesforce will be able to differentiate their solutions as hip compared to the older generation. With all types of younger workers continuing to move into the market, this makes Salesforce solutions possibly more interesting to the Generation Y workforce.
- Productivity. By putting collaboration (email, chat, document and knowledge management) in context to various business processes, the hidden strategic benefit might actually be a more productive workforce – closing more deals, resolving more issues, and engaging more employees. Because this is a solution that doesn’t need any training, it could be rolled out broadly without a lot of costly change management activities. Difficult to quantify this benefit but as more use cases become exposed over the next 6-12 months, this will be a really interesting benefit to solutions like Chatter.
So what are the issues with Chatter?
- Security. Kept emphasizing that Chatter has been built on a common security architecture that is the same one being used by Salesforce, which meets stringent bank-level security requirements. This actually might be a CIO selling point because it might be a way to reel in employees who are social networking with corporate information on unsecure sites like Facebook and Twitter. By integrating with them but controlling the internal networking, and not allowing export of data to these sites, the security teams can at least protect data access and distribution.
- Adoption. Salesforce has never really launched a enterprise-wide application before and Chatter is even a different animal than a traditional employee-oriented application. This is uncharted territory for Salesforce and it is unclear how rapid or widespread the adoption of their technology will be. What is good is that Marc Benioff did mention that they are not making any projections on what is going to happen with Chatter, they figure it will be popular but were reluctant to make predictions based on wide-scale adoption. It is in Salesforce’s best interest to make sure Chatter is successful because even modest adoption would ensure a level stickiness that their current applications may not even enjoy.
Just try and take away someone’s Facebook and you will understand stickiness!
- But its not Twitter. What is interesting is that Chatter uses a very similar to Twitter (I didn’t count the number of characters in the message box but I would bet it is 140), but it is a different application. There is only a one way feed and employees are still going to try and go out and use their Twitter. What was confusing at the launch was one of the Twitter board members, Jason Goldman, that Chatter was not built on top of Twitter? We just took your idea and asked to join us on stage? Hummm… sounds like an SAP or Microsoft-type partnership
If employees only want to use Twitter, they probably won’t like Chatter.
So how much does it cost? For existing Salesforce customers who have already purchased seat of Sales or Service Cloud, those seats will get Chatter at no cost, which is good deal. For those employees who don’t have Salesforce seats but want to have limited access to Chatter, the pricing is $50/seat/month. After talking to a product manager on the Dreamforce show floor about this, it seems like a lot of money for almost no functionality. My guess is that when they roll out Chatter later in 2010, they will have a better thought out plan around pricing
In the end, the Chatter strategy makes a lot of sense. The customers I spoke to about it really like it and I will anxiously await the official launch in 2010.