Saleforce.com’s content management system harnesses a company’s internal social network
What happens when you apply “social computing” techniques like tags and ratings―the stuff of Web 2.
Salesforce Content, originally called “Koral,” was first offered as a third-party application on Salesforce.
“One of the exciting thing about Web 2.
Johnson spoke to me by phone from Salesforce.
s the essential idea behind Salesforce Content?
- At Saleforce.
com, we make customers successful by helping them manage all their business information on-demand. As we look out at all the information that customers do have to manage, we typically see that only 15-20 percent of that information is structured data―data that lives in a database. The rest is unstructured data that sits in PowerPoint files, PDF, podcasts, etc. Our customers are struggling with managing that unstructured data effectively.
- Are you seeing more of this shift in recent times?
- Yes. The growth of unstructured data is, frankly, becoming overwhelming. We’
ve seen statistics that it is doubling every few months. I think everybody’ s personal experience resonates here. How hard is it to keep track of all your email and relevant documents? Just about everyone has experience the frustration. “I remember a presentation, the slides are here somewhere: but I can’ t find them anywhere.”
- But it’
s the group input that’ s the biggest difference. For example, I work here in marketing and I see our enterprise sales folks from the field just twice a year. That’ s the only chance I have to get feedback from them other than when I am occasionally on call. I’ d like to know from them what content they are interested in, what they are using, what they see as valuable, and what do they think needs to added. But with face-to-face content so infrequent, I would never have gotten much of this information before. That’ s the difference. Salesforce Content is about using the Web to create a new level of collaboration within your organization―one that traditional client/ server was not built for.
- Are you referring strictly to unstructured data related to CRM? Or is this the entire universe of somebody’
s business life?
- We view this product as being useful not only for CRM users, but for everybody who is in the organization. Which is why, strategically, the product made a lot of sense to us. We’
re all about managing all business information on demand. We need to be “touching” everybody in the organization, not just those who work in sales and marketing or service and support. Of course, sales and marketing is the natural place to begin for most of our customers. How do I as a sales rep find the information I need for the deal that I’ m on, with the customer that I’ m talking to? That’ s something that our customers quickly understand from painful past experience.
- But the applications are broader than that. Imagine if you have a corporate development team doing merger and acquisition deals, who want to share confidential information among a small group. Or perhaps you have a consulting team out in the field who want to upload documents to be shared with people back at home.
- Salesforce Content has some competitors, but this is the first product I’
m aware of that uses Web 2. 0 concepts.
- The Web 2.
0 idea is not so much about technology, per se, as about it is about user adoption―which is where the other players in this space have failed. Typically, there are big companies who try to sell you a ton of licenses up front. Then they walk away, and you’ re responsible for implementing the software, buying the hardware, and doing all the management going forward. The other problem is that the software just isn’ t very usable. Typically, the companies that have been successful have done so in niche areas. For example, there may be regulatory requirements that force users to use a system. If I work in a pharmaceutical company and I have to submit files to the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], I have to closely monitor every single document that the FDA sees. But that leaves 80-90 percent of the market, and here, the products don’ t make it easy to share information--so people don’ t. Most people still share information by email. That’ s because these systems have failed the mass market.
- But why were you so sure that would tagging, user ratings and RSS subscriptions―all Web 2.
0 components―would solve the usability problem?
- Because of the massive user base of the Web itself. We have more than 800,000 subscribers today, while over on the Web, there are more than a billion people . We figured that anything that works with a billion people is probably going to work with 800,000.
- Is the application for Saleforce Content strictly within a company? Does is also include partners? Or will it also be outward-facing to include the public at some point?
- Our vision is that it should definitely be cross-company. At the end of the day, think about who you share information with. It’
s partners. Just as I have to share price lists with my sales group, I need to share pricing and marketing information with partners. My wife, for example, works in an ad agency. She has to share PDF comps with her client to get feedback. Why should she email those, so that she has 50 emails going around, each with different comments. There should be a single location where everyone can provide feedback. So for us, yes, this is something you should use internally, and you should use with partners and customers. Potentially, you can also expose some of these things on your website to the public.
- But anyone who used the product needs to have licensed Salesforce.
- You do and you don’
t. You will log in and access this product via Salesforce. But you don’ t have to have a CRM license. There’ s no sense in our forcing a lawyer, for example, to do that. We see this as something that touches everybody in the organization, whether or not you are dealing with customers.
- Do you anticipate that a good number of installations will start out fresh, new to Salesforce?
- The reality is that the low hanging fruit for us are our current customers. But one of the things that’
s exciting about Web 2. 0 is its viral nature. So we think that as we get Salesforce Content into the hands of our existing subscribers, people who live and die by sales and marketing, that the application itself will start to spread within the company. Then we will start to bring new subscribers into the fold that otherwise wouldn’ t have a CRM license.
- How strong is Salesforce.
com in Japan?
ve been there a few years now and have recently had some big wins, with Japan Post and Mizuho Bank.
- How do you anticipate that people in Japan will implement Salesforce Content, given that most are not on Salesforce.
- One of the interesting things about Asia, in general, is that it is an epicenter of both usage and innovation for Web 2.
0. For example, consider Cyworld, which is the South Korean version of MySpace. They recently launched in the U. S. The amount of penetration that Cyworld has in South Korea is absolutely phenomenal, which is important because what we do in our personal lives influences how we operate in the business environment. I’ m not an expert on South Korean Web 2. 0 adoption, but I think directionally, a lot of Web 2. 0 features have gotten as much, if not more, traction in Asia, especially in Japan and South Korea, as they have here.
- Will this be localized for the Japanese?
- It will not on day one, but as with all the Salesforce applications, we’
re looking at leveraging those capabilities within the platform to make it local. We now support over 15 different languages. And Japanese is one of them, so it will be available.
- What does it take to ramp up a Salesforce Content installation?
s easy: you can get started in days, if not weeks. One thing we’ ve done is to give access to some strategic customers. I talked to a guy who was struggling with distributing sales and marketing information via their intranet. He had heard about the Koral acquisition, called me up at 2:00pm on a Thursday asking for a preview. At 4:00 pm we did the demo. At 5:00 pm he said “This is awesome, I want it.” I suggested he begin by thinking about how he wanted to categorize documents and by the next Tuesday, he was starting to upload them.
- So step one is you need to upload documents―everything from PDFs to images.
- Yes, including video and audio. For example a lot of customers are used to distributing podcasts and webinars to their colleagues.
- How about email?
- You could do it, though it’
s not super easy to do at the moment. Our vision is that we want this to be the hub for everything. We want to the ability to have the one stop shop where you come looking for information.
- Once this data is living on the Salesforce server, what are the next steps?
- As part of the upload process one of the things that you’
ll do is tag the information. Say I am uploading one of your stories, for example, I might tag it with “Japan,” and “Web design,” at least to begin with. One of the things we’ re focused on is providing guidance about how to tag things. They can see pick and choose from the tags that already exist, or from all the tags that they themselves have used. Also, the system suggests tags automatically on the basis of the the content.
- Then once it is in the system, you can set up some administrative details: who has rights to view the information? Who can just view it, versus commenting about it or revising? And we also provide a powerful search capability, so that even if you didn’
t tag anything, you can still find the information.
t it possible for tagging to get out of control, especially if others can add their own tags?
- It is possible. One of the things we’
ve heard from customers―which is interesting from a design perspective--is the tradeoff between freeform tagging and control. Especially for larger customers, there is concern about tags going wild. Perhaps someone mistakenly tags a file “red wood” instead of “redwood” ―and suddenly, the tag loses its meaning. One thing we’ re looking at is the ability to constrain the tags that people use. As a company. you may want to say these are the just 50 or 75 tags that you can use. We are also looking at the idea of private versus public tags. I can tag things in my own vocabulary, but those tags are only visible to me, versus public tags that everybody shares.
- There is also the Google idea that if you mistakenly enter “redwoof,” it asks if you meant “redwood?” We are looking at incorporating those types of technologies to give you more control. But you may want to enable a more freeform tagging model where everybody does what they want. There’
s a tradeoff here that you have to manage: to be successful, you need to provide different organizations with different levels of control.
s a similar tradeoff with user ratings, because they are so subjective: my idea of four stars may not match yours.
- We share information in Salesforce Content using an idea that we call “work spaces,” and once you define those, I can only rate documents that are in my work space. Typically this means defining how relevant the user is to the documents, based on the work space they all share. For example, I don’
t have access to certain documentation related to product road maps for other products. I wouldn’ t be able to vote on those because, frankly, my input isn’ t informed. But we also see some potential in running some reports that look at what documents have been positively rated by different workgroups. If you are interested in generating content, you can see what sorts of things seem to be resonating, and what gaps need to be filled.
- What about RSS subscriptions? Do you anticipate that people will use the built-in RSS subscriptions on the browser? Or does it matter?
- My experience thus far has been that people are much more focused on emails than on RSS. For example, we have a customer who just started rolling Saleforce Content out. And although this is a fairly technology-savvy organization, he estimated that only five to ten percent of the employees even knew what an RSS reader is. So even if you offer RSS, you also have to provide email alerts.
- OK-- you’
ve uploaded your documents. The tagging and rating is ongoing. How would Salesforce Content be used in everyday life? Does this become your browser home page?
- We have in Salesforce the concept of a dashboard, meaning, a personalized home page for people running their business. If you are in sales, perhaps your dashboard will show you how close you are to meeting your quota. If I’
m in marketing, it might show how many leads have I generated. Think of dashboards as like a My Yahoo! page for your business, with that level of flexibility.
- Is the dashboard highly personalized or does the organization enforce a certain format? Company administrators can define what end users see, as well as what options are available to them. If they wish, administrators can give end users the power to do their own customization.
- Is there room within Salesforce Content for a wiki?
s one of the areas we’ re working on. The advantage of wikios is that they are very informal way of sharing information. Eventually, good things may bubble up that get turned into a more formal document we want to share with everybody. It’ s informal to a formal level of knowledge.
- Salesforce is one of the few companies who actually maintains a public wiki [http://
en. wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Salesforce. com].
- Yes. Our vision is that we provide a hub for all these different types of information, whether they are formal or informal, whether you create them in Microsoft Office or on Google docs and spreadsheets or in a wiki. We want to help you have that one consolidated view of all the information, even if you create it in multiple places.