Salesforce.com Pushes Into Content Management With Acquisition

Salesforce.com has announced its first move in what is likely to be a larger push into the content management space: the acquisition last month of Koral Technologies. Salesforce.com is leveraging the small company’s technology and content management platform as the building block for Apex Content, its own content management initiative.

Apex Content is a major extension of the Salesforce platform, built specifically to create content-based applications.

Salesforce ContentExchange, the first application slated for Apex Content, is designed to help companies manage their unstructured data — that is, data that resides anywhere in the enterprise except in a relational database.

Typical examples are documents such as contracts, e-mails, voice mails and videos. Salesforce ContentExchange will manage this data using such tools as tagging, recommendations and subscriptions topped by an Ajax user interface.

Unstructured vs. Structured

It is a significant development for Salesforce.com, according to Yankee Group CRM analyst Sheryl Kingstone, who noted that “CRM applications are typically designed for structured data and do not handle unstructured information very well at all.”

Yet, managing unstructured data can be critical to a sales or marketing campaign, she told CRM Buyer, as well as for reaching human resources with resumes and other employee-provided materials.

The acquisition will also provide a big boost to the company’s partner ecosystem, she added.

“You can’t empower it to build value-add applications if they are fundamentally unable to handle content well. That is how I see this acquisition truly adding value down the road.”

Some of the applications partners might develop could include collaborative tools for sales such as invoicing or new service-related processes, speculated Martin Schneider, an analyst with the 451 Group.

“With tagging capabilities, you can grab any related invoice or paperwork on the fly,” he told CRM Buyer. “That can be a huge help from a service perspective.”

Denis Pombriant, principal with the Beagle Research Group, sees other possibilities.

“Any application or business that is governed by contracts or deep records management, such as medical records, would be fair game,” he told CRM Buyer. “A lot of people don’t realize how important access to unstructured data can be — the world has a lot more content that is unstructured than structured,” he said.

Moreover, applications that Salesforce.com’s partners would create would fill a gap in the CRM space, he pointed out. Most of the providers of this technology, such as Documentum and File Share, have long since been folded into larger suits since their heyday in the late 1990s.

Developers can use Apex Content to create content applications for compliance, clinical trials and digital asset management, Salesforce.com suggests. New platform capabilities in Apex Content include the following:

  • Workspace Management — virtual locations that let groups collaborate across departments and even across companies;
  • Library Services — a content repository, check-in/check-out services for locking documents while they are being edited, and version control to manage change histories and provide the ability to revert to old copies. Intelligent IDs will be embedded into documents, and auditing features will record events associated with each piece of content;
  • Content Classification Schema — allows companies to configure customizable content types and determine what metadata should be captured with each content type;
  • Full Text Index — scans all contributed content and creates search indexes; and
  • Workflow — rules that control the flow of unstructured data, allowing interactions such as document approvals, routing documents for work management, and concurrent review of documents by many people.

An Uneasy Partnership?

The fact that Salesforce.com introduced its own application along with an extended platform for partners might introduce a new note of uncertainty into its partner relations.

“The fact is, Salesforce.com is going outside of its CRM functionality with its application — something that it said its partners would only do,” the 451 Group’s Schneider said.

It did the same thing with the introduction of its financial services vertical, he noted. “If Salesforce.com continues to move into areas that are not its core competency, that could make the partner ecosystem more tenuous.”

The following features are part of Salesforce ContentExchange:

  • Share, which allows users to more easily contribute their documents and knowledge to the system to share with the rest of the company.
  • Tag, which gives users the ability to make such tags as “competitive” or “presentation” in order to easily find relevant documents without knowing the name of the document.
  • Subscribe, a feature that will enable applications to operate on a subscription model. When users are subscribed to documents, they will be automatically alerted whenever the document is updated. Salesforce ContentExchange will also allow users to subscribe to certain authors or topics; e.g., Sarbanes Oxley compliance.
  • Rate & Comment, a rating system for users to score content quality and to write comments about the content.
  • Recommend, a feature to recommend the best documents for users based on keywords, tags, and user ratings.
  • Content Connect, a tool to allow content to be dragged and dropped into the application. Salesforce ContentExchange will also automatically recommend how to classify documents and will automatically index all submitted content.

Pricing and availability of Salesforce ContentExchange and Apex Content will be announced later this year, the company said.

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