Salesforce.com adds SOA tool to boost links to apps

Salesforce.com Inc. this week introduced a service that uses service oriented architecture technology to ease the process of integrating third party applications with its hosted CRM software.

The new Salesforce SOA tool, which adds the integration technology to the company's proprietary Apex programming language, is the latest in a series of Salesforce.com products aimed at helping users link its software with applications from other vendors.

For example, the company over the past couple of years has brought out packaged links to applications from Oracle Corp., SAP AG, Microsoft Corp. and IBM.

In addition, Salesforce.com partners are selling 32 packaged links to other applications on the Salesforce.com AppExchange online software marketplace, noted Ariel Kelman, senior director of platform product marketing at the San Francisco-based vendor.

IT managers said the SOA technology may help in the long-term, but it is coming out far too late to help their firms immediately.

For example, Joe Graves, IT director at Stratus Technologies Inc. a maker of fault tolerant servers based in Maynard, Mass., noted that his firm needed such technology three years ago when it was forced to take on a month-long, complex effort to link its Oracle Corp. ERP software with Salesforce.com.

Graves said the company was forced to do the project internally because "Salesforce.com is integral to our forecasting and order processing workflows."

Today, he said that "architecturally, it is as integrated as any of our back-office apps," said Graves.

Magma Design Automation Inc. had to begin integrating Salesforce.com and other applications four years ago, when packaged tools were unavailable, said Chip Vanek, director of corporate and CRM apps at the San Jose maker of electronic design software.

"We did integration from the beginning with Salesforce.com," he said. "If we didn't, it's useless, just a Web page."

The difficulty of internal efforts, and the expense of early packaged links, prompted Magna to purchase an integration appliance from Mountain View, Calif.-based Cast Iron Systems Inc. to link seven applications with Salesforce.com, Vanek said.

The company may evaluate the new SOA tool set, but only after it is fully tested by Salesforce.com, Vanek said.

The long process of providing integration capabilities prompted some users to replace Salesforce.com with other hosted systems in recent years.

For example, MediaBound, a New York City-based provider of marketing services, turned from Salesforce.com to a competing hosted service from NetSuite Inc. in 2004 because the latter's applications incorporate SOA technology, said CEO Justin Calvillo.

"Salesforce.com's approach to integration is to give people the tools to do it," Calvillo said. "NetSuite's approach is for people to just do it."

MediaBound decided to stop using the Salesforce.com service after four months in 2004 because it was encountering major problems when it tried to link Saleforce.com's CRM service and an accounting application it used at the time, Calvillo said. The effort required that programmers re-enter accounting data into the system multiple times, he said.

The hosted offering from NetSuite, based in San Mateo, Calif., included integrated CRM and accounting applications, Calvillo noted.

Calvillo predicted that the new SOA tool will not be an integration panacea for users looking to link tools from multiple vendors. "There are nuances in systems [built by multiple vendors] that will cause people to enter and re-enter certain types of data" no matter what the technology, he said.

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