Tuesday 19 January 2010

Salesforce and force.com

I like salesforce.com and force.com. Both I think are real pioneers in the terra-incognita, or maybe I should call it the nimbus-incognita, which is called the "Cloud-platform". Both are very easy to use SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms. The applications are based on solid data modelling principles and the back-end relational database used is a massive parallel implementation of Oracle databases around the world. You can check their systems availability and the number of transactions done per day here trust.salesforce.com.

Although salesforce insists that their applications are stored in objects which are not "just database tables", their first step in creating an application involves capturing the data model. This is really a very "database" platform.

The platform offers a solid 2x2=4 environment to build and host applications and all work is done with a browser. That is, their IDE is the browser. They even provide you with a sandbox for your unit tests and and Eclipse plug-in for code access to the platform. The IDE is shared between their CRM platform salesforce.com and their developer platform force.com. In the salesforce.com platform you are able to extend a complete and very well designed CRM data model to include anything you wish. In the force.com platform you can create applications from scratch about anything! Among the two, force.com is what impressed me the most and made me to write this blog post. There is not much to be done in the salesforce.com platform, as is a complete working CRM application in itself which would suit any size company which needs a good CRM system.

Force.com on the other hand is a blank canvas. As long as you now what you want, you can start building it straight away. You start with the data model, then you determine your objects, and their relationships and once you have layered your data model in your system, the platform straight away provides you with the means to update and insert records in the back-end database. It automatically builds forms and reports. It also provides you with work-flow and automatic callendaring and emailing functions. Plus, it has a coding language called Apex, which is Java like with classes and triggers enabling you to enhance your application logic. It also has a very HTML like markup language called Visualforce. If you want to migrate your legacy data into the platform you should look at cloud ready ETL and data integration tools like Informatica (£££) and Talend Open Studio  (free).

A project I recently have done in Kizoom using this platform which took me 82 hours that is 10 days approximately to complete. The project was migrating all data and application logic from a legacy database system to force.com. During my work, data integration tools like Informatica and Talend helped me to move the data quickly into the force.com data model, and the already built in features of force.com provided me data entry forms and advanced reports. Because all this is in the cloud I was able to easily utilise geolocation with Google Maps API. The legacy system was a Microsoft SQL Server online database of fault records of computers in publicly available street kiosks around UK. Force.com made the application available in the cloud which meant the UK-wide field engineers of the company were able to easily login and access it on the road without having to use the company network (VPN) but just the cloud.

Below is a snapshot of the app.


The platform is very capable, easy to use and very intuitive. It has tremendous potential and achieves good economics in the development efforts. One shouldn't be shy to use it.

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