While the integration of Salesforce and Google Apps builds on work of its predecessors, it also represents a fundamental departure from most of those previous integration efforts.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

April 14, 2008

5 Min Read

Salesforce's integration with Google Apps isn't the first time business and productivity tools have been combined to create an uber-business application. Microsoft has previously partnered with Oracle and SAP to create similar cross-functionality. Even Salesforce.com has some experience, previously releasing a client app for Outlook and enabling some interoperability with other Office apps.

Salesforce for Google Apps lets users send and receive Gmail e-mails, create and share Google documents, and instantly communicate via Google Talk -- all from within Salesforce.com. Third-party add-ins, like one from Appirio, add the capability to, for example, synchronize appointments and tasks between Salesforce and Google Calendar. These are all capabilities that echo things that can already be done with integration among Microsoft Office, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and ERP, SAP ERP systems, Oracle's Siebel CRM, and even Salesforce.com itself.

But while the work done to combine Salesforce and Google Apps has Microsoft and others to thank for its legacy, it also represents a fundamental departure from most of those previous integration efforts. While Oracle and SAP teamed up with Microsoft to piece together client applications, Salesforce.com and Google are entirely online. "It's really about running your entire business in the cloud," Clarence So, Salesforce.com's chief marketing officer, said in an interview.

That model brings with it, for example, an ease of availability unmatched by the likes of Microsoft and SAP's Duet system. When first released, it required the then-most-recent versions of Microsoft and SAP's software, and still requires separate software downloads. It also offers a licensing model that potentially bests Microsoft Dynamics Client for Microsoft Office and SharePoint, which costs $395 per user. Salesforce for Google Apps, on the other hand, is available now to all Salesforce users without any download and will be free if unsupported or $10 per month per user if supported.

"In the offline world, it would be virtually impossible to make this available to users immediately," So said. "They'd have to all wait in line or spend millions upgrading to the latest version of the software and then download something additional."

That said, much of the integration of functionality has been done before. Microsoft Office and Oracle's Siebel CRM application have had some of the same functionality as Salesforce's integration with Office since 2003, when Siebel 7.7 allowed users to synchronize Outlook contacts, calendar records, and to-do lists with Siebel. Microsoft's own CRM suite has long been integrated with Office in some of the same ways. That integration breaks with So's view that integration is expensive or requires upgrades because the free integration between Office and Dynamics CRM has been available since the first release of Dynamics CRM in 2003.

"I think the announcement is a belated recognition by Salesforce that the world of CRM and personal productivity need to come together," Microsoft's Brad Wilson, general manager of Dynamics CRM, said in an interview. "That's been core to our offerings for five years." Users can run Dynamics CRM as an add-on client directly inside of Outlook, export CRM data into Word, and mail and take data from Excel and then re-import it back in. This integration is identical in Dynamics CRM Online as it is with the offline version of the product.

SAP and Microsoft's Duet, meanwhile, automatically synchronizes Outlook appointments with SAP's ERP system to record work and billable hours; allows employees to send and receive customized budget reports, manage sales contacts, access HR records, and schedule time off or travel from within Outlook; work on sales and demand forecasts in Excel; and edit purchase agreements from within Word. A new release of Duet due later this year is expected to be able to be tailored to specific vertical industry needs and integrate presence capability offered in Microsoft Office Communications Server with SAP systems.

Salesforce has also built a connector to create customer reports in Excel and a piece of software that can use Outlook to send or add customer contacts to Salesforce's customer database. However, since Google Apps and Salesforce are integrated within the browser, users don't have to switch between applications like they'd have to do with Salesforce's integration with Office and Outlook. So admits he doesn't use the Outlook connector much anymore because he struggles to keep the small app up-to-date and some Outlook patches have caused the plug-in to crash if it isn't on the latest version. Salesforce for Google Apps cuts those binding ties.

Though upgrades work differently, one of the things Salesforce.com for Google Apps and previous integration efforts have in common is the initial development cycle. Salesforce.com and Google had been discussing integration of the two companies' CRM and productivity technologies since at least 2006, when they announced that Salesforce.com users could use Google's AdWords ad platform.

A team of developers had been working on the integration since last fall, and despite the easy integration promise of open APIs that's been advanced by both companies, much of the work, including the development of single sign-on user authentication, was done with non-public specifications. "This is not insignificant work here, especially with unique capabilities like single sign-on," So said. Single-sign on won't even be available directly from Salesforce for Google Apps, but had to be outsourced to Sxip.

As with single sign-on, there's a substantial amount of functionality that won't be delivered directly by Salesforce.com and Google, but will have to be licensed separately. Appirio, for example, is offering a campaign timeline for Google Calendar, a CRM dashboard widget that can be viewed on Google's personalized home page, and an app that allows users to search for specific Google documents within Salesforce.com. An add-in from Astadia allows Salesforce users to export reports to Google Spreadsheets.

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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