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Monday, May 9, 2011 by Neil Ward-Dutton
A few weeks ago I was given a hush-hush pre-briefing on a new product offering from Active Endpoints called Cloud Extend for Salesforce.com. It takes the BPM and SOA technology provider into new territory, but I think it’s a sensible move – and one that prefigures a broader trend I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of within the BPM technology space over the coming year or so. I’m a little late to the party regarding the launch of the product, but hopefully I’ll be able to add a slightly different take on things.
First, let’s look a little at Cloud Extend for Salesforce.com.
Cloud Extend for Salesforce is based heavily on Active Endpoints’ Socrates product, which was announced in early March. Socrates provides a quick, simple model-driven design and development environment for creating ‘screenflows’: networks of linked user forms and guides that assist people (such as customer service reps) carry out multi-step tasks and interactions. Socrates makes use of Active Endpoints’ core design tools and engine, but specialises them for design and deployment of user interaction models.
Cloud Extend for Salesforce then embeds Socrates screenflows and the Socrates design tools within Salesforce application UIs. You can easily link individual actions specified within screenflows to Salesforce API calls, too – making Cloud Extend ‘what it says on the tin’ – a way to fairly seamlessly extend the functionality of Salesforce.com applications, particularly in the context of guided user interactions and workflows.
Of course, Salesforce.com does already offer a visual workflow and user guidance capability called Visual Workflow (based on technology acquired when it bought call centre tools vendor Informavores in 2009) – but right now, one of Cloud Extend’s key differentiators is that the tools, as well as the runtime engine, are integrated right into the Salesforce.com cloud-based user experience. There’s no obvious separation between design time and runtime, so there’s an attractive immediacy to what you put together. At the moment, Visual Workflow relies on an offline Windows-based modelling tool. Another thing that marks Cloud Extend out is that it’s more focused – rather than being pitched as a general-purpose workflow layer for Salesforce.com, it’s very deliberately designed to address a particular set of challenges to do with guiding people as they carry out multi-step interactions and tasks using Salesforce.com.
Now it’s tempting to think of Cloud Extend for Salesforce as a part of the clutch of cloud-based workflow offerings that are now appearing which aim to help customers orchestrate functionality and tasks across multiple SaaS applications (examples include RunMyProcess) but in reality it’s part of a different trend: the closer interweaving of packaged application functionality with model-driven workflow and process management functionality. As the market for BPM technology matures we’re seeing more and more BPM technology vendors look for ways to deliver their technologies as value-added components to application vendors; and we’re also seeing application vendors look for ways to offer (sometimes constrained) BPM capabilities as embedded features within their own offerings. Salesforce.com’s business model and technology delivery platform mean Cloud Extend comes at this from a particular angle, but it’s important to not get too distracted by the ‘cloudiness’ of the offering.
In the background Cloud Extend for Salesforce is delivered from a multi-tenanted installation of the ActiveVOS technology, hosted by Active Endpoints rather than on the Force.com platform. Although there’s single sign-on between the core Salesforce applications and Cloud Extend which greatly simplifies usage from a customer perspective, things might not be so clear-cut from a data hosting and compliance perspective. Salesforce.com delivers its applications from multiple datacentres around the globe to help its customers deal with data ownership and compliance issues, but as far as I know the Cloud Extend technology is only hosted in the US right now. Cloud Extend for Salesforce is offered on a per-user subscription basis, at 25% of the cost of Salesforce.com enterprise pricing.
It’s still very early days for Cloud Extend for Salesforce.com (Active Endpoints is running an Early Access Program for it right now) but I’ll be watching its development with interest.
What do you think – do you expect we’ll see more of this kind of thing in the packaged application space (whether SaaS-based or ‘traditional’)?