APEX and Appexchange. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Salesforce.com are masters at marketing. The CEO, Benioff,  has built a very successful company, leveraging his own personality and vision. I’m very impressed by his philanthropic efforts too.  Respect! SF.com dominates the salesforce automation on demand space, and for that, they deserve credit and a rosy P/E ratio. I believe the core application is very competitive in terms of salesforce automation and is easy to use. Customer growth is impressive, especially in the small and medium size organisations. They have a  sales strategy that includes a strong direct -“line of business” play. There is much here in the starship enterprisey that we could learn from the folks at SF.com.

What about Apex and the appexchange? Several commentators, including the normally sceptical Nicholas Carr,  have drunk the kool-aid.

For the last couple of days on our irregulars email torrent we have been discussing Apex and Appexchange. I won’t highlight all the points here, as the other folks will probably blog on it themselves. Herewith my thoughts…

Appexchange looks great. It is easy to navigate, lots of interaction, 2.0 feel and so on. The roster of applications continues to grow.  APEX sounds cool doesn’t it?   But I’m not so sure that either are nearly as significant as SF.com would have us believe.

 On Apex.

Permit me a nostaligic moment.

In 1992,  straight out of university, I worked as a consultant on a mainframe HR implementation. Somehow I developed a sort of competence in the very flaky reportwriter. After a very short while I ended up writing some rather complex reports, I still shudder at the thought of unions, joins, secondary selection rules, primary keys, normalisation  and so on.

I wrote a really complex series of reports, basically to produce the contracts for 70,000 insurance brokers. When I tested the reports in the sandbox it was fine and I also ran it in the test system. I filled in a long form for permission to run it against the production system. The rule was that you had to sit with the sys admin guy on the first night the report ran, in case anything went wrong. You then had to be on call for a week…

After a couple of rewrites my JCL was approved by the JCL standards committee.  So, on the appointed evening, I got the special pass that allowed me to enter the data centre, and I sat down next to a long bearded Gent  who hadn’t seen daylight for sometime.  We ran the report, and after about 3 minutes, all hell broke loose.  The final report, instead of printing out contracts for the dozen new brokers, began to print out contracts for all 70.000. eeek, the lights dimmed in Cape Town as we sucked all the available energy up… We shut down the the report, and I thought I was in deep trouble. Actually what happened is that I had been told to set up the program to work with fixed block, and the production system used variable block (or the other way round) This meant that my report was reading field 4 digits out on the selection rule, and this messed up the whole report.

Despite layers of testing and change control, I still managed to break something that was supposed to be unbreakable.

Apparently:

 Apex is a fully protected language that is designed to operate in a seamless and safe fashion with our multi-tenant on-demand service. The Apex language was specifically designed to protect our service from poorly written code.

 Dan Farber  has more.

I guess salesforce.com will need to hire a lot of bearded blokes, and don’t let me write anything. I do wonder if they have really thought through the “we will host your code bit?”   There are lots of poor programmers out there,  never mind the malicious types who might want to attack this new shiny edifice.

I’m not sure that the world needs another proprietary language.  There is an interesting post here comparing APEX to ABAP . Charles has similar views, well articulated, as usual. Charles notes..

Apex is arguably cooler than its predecessors. Things that are shiny and new always are. Of course things that are shiny and new also have no developer community, install base or ecosystem, but who am I to bring facts into the discussion (they call it Dreamforce for a reason I suppose)?

 My Thoughts On Appexchange

Perhaps I ought to pause a minute, and give you a yet another little corner of my CV. I’ve been at SAP since 1995, so if you cut me I tend to bleed sapjuice.  

What you probably don’t know is that in early 2000 I left SAP to do a startup. I had the idea to build a connectivity tool and marketplace service that connected the back office HR and procurements systems of large companies with those of recruiters, staffing agencies and training providers. I looked at all the marketplaces springing up, and said, there isn’t an HR channel to this. We managed to get a team of people together, a pilot customer and supplier, a SAP and Commerce One relationship, and things were starting to look good.  I got seed funding incubation and fantastic support from a UK SAP partner, and  we built an awesome prototype. 

We aimed  to be the HR channel to the global trading web, bringing Manpower, Adecco and the like to the world of B2B. To cut a long story short, we didn’t get it to fly. The marketplace bubble popped, and with it, our chance for funding fame and fortune.

It was a fabulous learning experience, and at least when I’m asked, “what did you do in the dot.com revolution?”, I have a war story.

Looking at Appexchange I see a lot of parallels to the heady days of  C1.

 SF.com seems to charge  money for products to appear there,  but it seems that the partners  aren’t really making money themselves.   SaaSblogs provides a detailed breakdown.

If we look at this “ecosystem” of 350+ applications, what is the breakdown? What might a stricter taxonomy look like? I recently compiled a list of these 350+ applications (I came up with 343, but I may have missed 8+) to do a little investigation. I found some wonderful tidbits of information. Did you know that at the time I retrieved the data (week of October 2, 2006)…

  •  
    • …24% of all listed applications were built by Salesforce.com rather than by partner vendors
    • …that 6 out of the 8 (that’s right, 75%) “Most Popular” applications are apps built by Salesforce.com and that are free.
    • …many of these apps extend the Salesforce.com main application functionality in ways that would traditionally classify the said “app” as a “plug-in” (Seriously, would anyone classify Clippyor the Microsoft Equation Editor as applications, or analogously would you buy a “song” on iTunes that was a Snare Drum Loop?)

Also  Josh commented: 

Right now the AppExchange ecosystem seems to be floating mainly on air, hot air at that. Only when some hard dollars are being exchanged in AppExchange will there be even the slightest chance that Benioff could do more than talk about taking market share from his self-proclaimed rivals. Until then, that’s what destroying SAP and Oracle is really all about: talk

Simply put, Appexhange needs to generate revenue for the folks publishing applications, otherwise it sounds just like the CommerceOne story. This is what gapingvoid means by a walled garden.

I’ll finish with one of my favourite quotes of all time…

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. .

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5 thoughts on “APEX and Appexchange. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  1. Nice analysis of Sf.com’s maiden venture into platform territory. (I say that because AppExchange isn’t so much a platform as it is a plugin architecture for the Sf.com app).

    In addition to all of the aspects you’ve mentioned, there’s a more fundamental issue on the table for Sf – the core credibility of Apex as a platform offering. Sf is going to have to throw a LOT of marketing dollars around to gain credibility amongst SaaS developers (and developers who don’t yet identify as SaaS developers) as a platform company. AND, they’re going to have to make it EXTRA easy for developers to realize the rewards (i.e. make money) initially.

    It’s quite evident that a platform hasn’t always been on their radar – stock ticker ‘CRM’, company name ‘salesforce.com’. The acceptance of Apex as a SaaS platform vs. a ‘best we could do’ retrofitting of the existing Sf infrastructure will become especially relevant as more ground-up SaaS platforms come to market.

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