How Will Salesforce Adapt to the Next Platform Shift: Mobile Computing?

I posted an article on TechCrunch last Friday. The title of the article was “How Will Salesforce Adapt to the Next Platform Shift: Mobile Computing?”

The purpose of the article was to point out that every decade or so a new computing platform emerges. Market leading incumbents typically have the most to lose when these shifts occur and typically have the most difficult time making the transition due to legacy architectures and revenue streams dependent upon preserving the status quo.

Apparently, the article seemed to generate a good amount of controversy – for and against. However, my major points were lost on some as they focused on an erroneous statement I made in the article. The problematic sentence was,

 “The recently announced Salesforce Touch application development environment doesn’t support native iOS or Droid — it is HTML5.”

As many pointed out to me – some politely, others not as much – this isn’t true. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch this error until today after I finished reading several responses that were in reply to the article. The sentence should have read,

“The recently announced Salesforce Touch is HTML5, it is not native iOS or Droid unless you code your own application using their toolkit.”

I don’t know why I didn’t catch this in the editing process but I have since gone back and apologized “mea culpa” in the TechCrunch article to those who pointed it out. My sincere apologies to Salesforce and others who I offended.

So, as you can probably tell I stand by the central theme of the article.

I believe mobile computing is a major architectural shift and Salesforce’s platform is not optimized for offline (mobile). To their credit, Salesforce does have some mobile solutions – several in fact – but there are issues associated with each of them. And, the fact there are several solutions helps to make my case. If I am a Salesforce customer/user, which route do I choose? Will all the functionality I need be available irrespective of which direction I take?

And, for a company that has touted since its inception”No Software”, try reading the Touch Platform Guide –  seems like a lot of coding is required if you want to create a Touch application with the full-functioned features of CRM you may need.

So, loyal readers, my question remains: Does this represent an opportunity for a new CRM company to emerge that is entirely mobile first? I would be interested in your comments.


  • Force-sales guy

    Bruce, you are absolutely correct in summation that is not optimized for iOS or Android and we recognize that fact. However, as one of the the guys responsible for selling our platform to our largest accounts, I thought I might comment.

    First let me point out that we don’t develop ERP software, and we are not developing personal productivity software like MS Office. We are focused on solutions that address the way enterprises interact with their customers. To that degree, we have left development of new Cloud-centric approaches solutions such as ERP and personal productivity to other ISV’s and partners simply by virtue of economics. For instance, I would reference Google docs as the Cloud version of MS Office.

    As you know, in an online world, cloud computing, in general, represents great potential to centralize and standardize complexity and therefore deliver tremendous economic value. However, in an offline or disconnected scenario that opportunity does not exist and this fact introduces substantial technical challenges.Unfortunately SFDC is not blessed with an endless supply of development resources. To that end, and even though it does sound counter intuitive for the “No Software” provider to encourage customer development…you make a great point, our answer is to develop one’s own offline capabilities by leveraging our mobile SDK and the Touch feature of our platform and we wish to make that process as simple as possible.

    In that spirit, we have chosen HTML 5 as a standard for deployment because it represents the most ubiquitous technology for mobile at this time. I would also point out that it has it’s shortcomings, as such and in response to customer demand, we have committed to make signification investment in both the iOS and Android platforms as they represent critical mass. But please keep in mind that we are not a client-side software company and, so, will continue to place the bulk of our efforts on our “Cloud” which is based upon server-side technologies.

    So to put the emphasis where it belongs and in agreement with your conclusion, this space offers tremendous opportunity for those who would focus their potential on it. I only foresee this gap growing as new mobile platforms come to market, so I welcome any entrepreneurs that can address the space. It seems to me that we have read this chapter before and ISV’s that developed to the incumbent platforms of the day, Apple and Windows operating systems, realized great prosperity. Is it too early to say client-server 2.0?

    • Thanks for your comments.

      My last role at Siebel Systems was head of Products. The original object-oriented platform that enabled us to deliver packaged application software that could be configured v customized – and considered revolutionary in 1993 – had become an anchor by 2003.

      In fact, we had a project called “Nexus” under way in 2004 that would have been a complete rewrite of our platform and given us the ability to offer a completely SaaS-based product line. Alas, Oracle gave us an offer we couldn’t refuse and that never came to fruition.

      The point I think you make and the issue that most successful business application software companies face is that we all eventually become victims of our own success.

      As our companies grow and our customers rely upon our platforms for their own business solutions, it becomes more and more difficult to dramatically modify them — even when the internal product and engineering teams know full well that the platform has served its function, long in tooth, and a new one should be created based upon new technologies that weren’t available a decade or more earlier.

      Salesforce isn’t the only company facing this issue — it’s just that Salesforce was so vocal about the issues associated with client/server computing touting that its multi-tenant architecture was vastly superior to anything else. Today, I would bet, that if you took the Salesforce product team aside, they would admit that many of the decisions made 10+ years ago are hampering products they need to create and deliver today.

      Salesforce is a good company. It has some excellent people in charge – I have worked with many of them over the course of my career. My post was simply to showcase that every technology company – no matter how successful it has been – is vulnerable to its past architectural decisions. It must continue to innovate and cannibalize its own products or risk being disintermediated as described by Clayton Christiansen many years ago.