Salesforce offers data sharing for customers

Salesforce.com has introduced new features for its on-demand enterprise software designed to let customers share hosted data among themselves.

Dubbed Salesforce to Salesforce, the new data-integration capabilities cater to Salesforce customers who do business with each other.

Salesforce to Salesforce requires both parties to subscribe to Salesforce.com's services, but the vendor believes it will find success due to the size of its subscriber base -- which will reach 1 million this month, according to the company.

There is a long-standing need for such data sharing, said Bruce Francis, Salesforce.com's vice president of corporate strategy. "Every business depends on partners. ... And you're constantly needing to exchange information with those parties," Francis said.

Francis argued that many businesses still interact through cumbersome means, such as by e-mailing Excel spreadsheets to each other. "That information is out of sync the minute you hit 'send'," he remarked.

Demonstrating the new features, Elay Cohen, senior product line director for Salesforce.com, showed how companies can share CRM-related data, such as sales leads, as well as other types of information, such as job openings. The new tools also have an update function to keep data in sync across companies.

The interface lets users apply privacy settings on shared data "down to the field level," Cohen said.

Cohen said the new tools -- at least conceptually -- have been incubating for a long time: "From the very beginning, our underlying architecture was developed knowing this was going to be released."

The new features are available now and compatible with all Salesforce.com editions, but only Platform, Enterprise and Ultimate edition customers can initiate a data-exchange connection, according to Cohen. Doing so will cost those customers US$1,200 per year for each connection.

Denis Pombriant, managing principal of Beagle Research in Stoughton, Massachusetts, said the new capability "is much more important to business processes than anything application-oriented, per se."

He added that its goal is reminiscent of past efforts by partnering companies to integrate their mainframe computers, but could prove much less expensive.

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