Salesforce completes its metamorphosis from SaaS to PaaS

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The way we work with cloud-hosted software has changed dramatically in the last decade -- and the mobile revolution is at the heart of that change. So it's not surprising that today at its Dreamforce event in San Francisco Salesforce is announcing a major change in the way it delivers its services. No longer describing itself as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, Salesforce is finally calling its Salesforce1 release a platform, and building it API-first.

Developers get new tools too, in the shape of a new release of the Heroku cloud development platform and a new Visualforce1 tool to build pages, components, and apps that use the Salesforce1 platform. There's also a new version of the AppExchange to enable developers to sell their code to other Salesforce users, while the Force.com development platform gets an overhaul with deeper platform integration and links to the new VisualForce1 designer. A redesigned Developer site details the new APIs, which include tools for working with Chatter and with the Marketing and Service Cloud services.

The re-focused Heroku1 is perhaps the most significant part of the Salesforce1 announcement for developers, as it lets them use the Heroku PaaS platform to link their own apps to Salesforce data, synchronizing data between the two platforms' databases. There's no need to learn new languages, all you need to do is connect the Salesforce1 libraries to your Ruby, Java or Python code -- and to your native mobile apps.

While these changes may seem a new development for Salesforce, they're the logical next step in the company's evolution. We've been tracking the development of Salesforce's APIs and how they're being used by developers, with more than 50% of Salesforce transactions now coming through its APIs -- and with a significant proportion of those transactions coming from mobile applications. It's clear that businesses want their own interfaces to the data they store in Salesforce, focusing on tasks and on end-users, rather than the specialized CRM tool that underlies the Salesforce platform.

So an API-first philosophy in the company's new platform makes a lot of sense. Describing its new platform as an "Internet of Customers," Salesforce is betting on the growth of an API economy, where custom applications can be built linking together cloud and private services, using cloud platforms and mobile devices, and the rapidly developing array of machine-to-machine APIs. As Salesforce says, "behind every product, every app and every device there is a customer." That means that there needs to be a link from those products, those apps, and those devices to the corporate customer record, to give companies a near-real time picture of what those customers are doing -- and what they need.

Even though the new Salesforce1 platform is a logical evolution of the Salesforce SaaS offering, it's still a new way of working with Salesforce-hosted data. The company is keen to point out that it's already getting third-party developers building on Salesforce1, with Dropbox, Evernote, and LinkedIn already part of the service. Evernote's CEO Phil Libin is enthusiastic, explaining "With Salesforce1, we were able to quickly develop an innovative mobile solution that extends Evernote Business's complementary features to salesforce.com customers, giving them the context they need to accomplish more."

With Salesforce1 Salesforce can expand on its existing CRM and service businesses, giving developers the tools they need to build the custom apps that their own businesses need, while readying them for the rapidly growing Internet of Things. The resulting Salesforce1 platform makes a lot of sense in the light of changing enterprise development patterns and practices, and the expanding API economy. It's going to be interesting to see how developers build on the platform, and how competitors respond to a more open Salesforce.

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