Well, as usual I am late to break the news.
I am going to tell you what I think most people are missing and the reason it really matters.
Chatter is not Salesforce’s response to the social prowess of Microsoft, Yammer, Sharepoint and friends. Yes, I know that Marc Benioff said that — but he always goes after Microsoft. It is also not a leap-frog to get ahead of SAP and Oracle in social functionality. That would be short-sighted and naive, as either one of them can then do pretty much anything they want to get ahead in turn.
The key to understanding the value that Chatter brings to the table was evident on the second-day keynote, when we talked about platforms. Deep within the many amazing demos we saw from customers was the answer of why Chatter matters:
It is part of the platform.
It is not a feature or a function that becomes part of an application, it is part of the basic infrastructure that Force.com provides.
I have been saying from the very beginning that you won’t be able to prove ROI for your investment in a social network if you try to get beyond the initial listening and reacting. This is one of the main reasons why organizations have not gotten past this point: they are being asked for a return on investment that is not there, cannot be calculated. You can do some calculations for basic functions you will perform – but there is nothing really that talks to the infrastructure investment.
My answer has always been: you won’t get an ROI, but you need to invest on it as if it was infrastructure. Who computes an ROI for more storage? or an additional laptop? a printer? Those are infrastructure components that your organization must have and you just invest in them without expecting a specific return on the investment.
Back to Chatter. By integrating it into the Force.com platform Salesforce accomplished three things:
- It changed the conversation from reacting to social events to making social part of the architecture. We have advanced from trying to figure what to do to making the people and the applications within the organization become social. When applications and systems can talk for themselves (as they can with Chatter) the conversation changes.
- They have shown that the cloud is indeed in progress, and that they are no longer just a SaaS or on-demand vendor with a cool marketing term. The cloud is a series of interconnected platforms, and Salesforce has gotten closer to it with this move than ever before.
- It has essentially changed the game for all the feature vendors with social tools. No, they won’t put them out of business — to the contrary, they have enhanced their chances for survival (if they are smart). They no longer have to worry about the underlying architecture and infrastructure of their product, they can ride on the cloud and just focus on the features and improving them. This is the true meaning of working on the cloud – not worrying about the technology underneath but actually being able to focus on improving the Experience Continuum.
I know there are at least two to three years before we actually see this implemented and see more details (Chatter is not expected until late 2010 to begin with). I know that it may not happen (yes, I read the Beta Agreement — sorry, Safe Harbor statement that Marc displayed on screen as well as everybody else). And, yes, I will be disappointed if it does not happen — but even if that is the case, the milk has been spilled. The path to the cloud has been uncovered.
I have sustained for some time that Salesforce was focusing on the applications too much and not enough on the infrastructure, and I finally got the sense that they are turning that around (of course, they will continue to make applications and sell them). I see them as a platform provider with some decent to good applications.
Alas, by making the cloud matter they are not merely catching up to their competitors — they may even be leaping ahead… stay tuned!
So, what do YOU think of chatter? Is it really a revolution in the basic infrastructure? Or an underwhelming set of social tools that are not even up to par with the market? Please let me know your thoughts…For more of my thoughts on Social Businesses you should follow me on Twitter here. And, don’t forget to subscribe to my RSS feed here.