Platform may be the most important, least understood, and far from universal benefit of cloud computing. Too often we associate cloud with SaaS or even Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which is essentially a re-located conventional data center. But as a platform, cloud computing comes into its own and its purpose in modern business IT comes into sharp focus.
With the proliferation of product types, mostly social and mainly in the front office, we’ve had to re-examine how we integrate applications and, sad to say, common integration has to be demoted to the level of mere interface.
Today there are too many novel business processes that require too many best of breed applications for any single vendor to build, sell, and maintain. Also, the need for simpler integration is abundantly clear, and it is provided through the standards that a platform delivers. Integration today means process integration not simply bringing two apps together but bringing enough process support—including metadata—together to support a whole process without falling out into some spreadsheet dead end.
Spreadsheets are not simply a poor substitute for software, they represent a lot of user pain and toil as people try to grapple with what’s essentially a better file system for a manual process. Spreadsheets needlessly complicate jobs and business processes and leak data and eventually money, so they need to be avoided. But at one time spreadsheets were all we had and they became the better than nothing solution. Not today though, thanks to platform computing.
Also, the time when a software vendor could confidently tell its customers that they had to sole source or risk chaos has long passed. A platform provides the standardization necessary to enable the massive integration that modern business and its processes require.
The Salesforce.com platform, Force.com, is a case in point. According to a recent Forrester Wave report, more than 100,000 companies use this platform and about ten percent of them are large enterprises. Also, there are over three million apps built on Force.com by end customers as well as more than two thousand ISV developed applications for commercial sale.
Applications integrated by virtue of sharing the same platform ensure rapid deployment but platform driven integration also makes business processes more effective because all applications share process metadata more easily and because supporting apps such as social, mobile, workflow, and collaboration pieces are automatically available with no additional work. With a platform like Force.com, it suddenly becomes very easy to support advanced or novel business processes from beginning to end and back again because it has become almost trivial to bring together the necessary apps.
All of this explains the importance of the recent push by companies like Zuora, Apttus, ServiceMax, and many others to claim the high ground of being natively built Force.com applications. You can almost imagine a little logo saying “Salesforce Inside” because it’s that important. For instance, Salesforce’s conventional CRM plus its advanced social, mobile, workflow, collaboration, and other attributes combine with Zuora’s billing, payments, and financial solutions aimed at the subscription economy.
Integration through Force.com gives companies using Salesforce and Zuora the capability of selling, creating an order, and billing it from within a single contiguous application instance of Salesforce plus Zuora. It also gives them an approach for customer service that lets agents access financial records from within a single service console.
Many business processes are streamlined and made more reliable by this kind of integration and we can’t go through each but the point seems clear—integration at the platform level is enabling companies of all sizes to simplify their key business processes and make them more reliable and accurate in the bargain.
Finally, there’s strength in numbers. If you just take the 2,000+ ISV developed commercial applications now available on the AppExchange and consider how they may interact through the platform with Zuora and Salesforce, the number of possible hookups is huge.
It might be doubtful that all these combinations would be useful but the existence of subscription billing, payment and finance systems tailored to ISV apps in the heart of the AppExchange brings a much needed business function to this large and growing community.