A clear theme at the Salesforce.com Customer Company Tour I went to recently was the power of a collaborating team - including the power to sell things to customers, especially if the team included a previous, and highly delighted, customer.
Obviously, this isn't going to work for long unless all concerned trust each other, and trust the resilience and integrity of the platform, so that was another theme of the event: respect for Identity, Privacy - and, of course, all participants' Money. And, I guess, no-one in the collaboration wants to fall foul of the law and, in particular, EU privacy directives which makes Salesforce.com's announcement, at the event, of a European data centre in Slough (which can be used to ensure that EU data doesn't leave the EU) very welcome. Interestingly, Salesforce.com says this is largely to allow it to attract customers in EU government organisations and that it isn't of much interest to commercial organisations; but Philips (its sample customer) said it was extremely important to them, too - my guess is that it'll matter to others in the commercial space after they take legal (not IT) advice, since (for example) a collaborative marketing team may well want to use data that can be identified with individuals (see my articles on the EU data directives here and here).
The rise of the collaborative team is why the announcement of Salesforce Company Communities may be important - there's a FAQ here. According to Salesforce.com, "New Salesforce Communities will enable customer companies to create social communities with business data and processes embedded at the core, eliminating the trade off between legacy portals and social point solutions".
What this really means I think, is vendors, customers and so on, all collaborating altruistically on doing things better, with Salesforce.com getting its money from providing the infrastructure required; and its customers benefiting from a share of the improved commercial opportunities collaboration creates. Involved customers are probably loyal customers and, at least, an involved vendor should get to hear about any complaints and issues in time to do something about them - or, at least, in advance of the Press or poor sales making the issues obvious.
Are Communities a good idea? Yes, I think so. Is this idea naively optimistic? I hope not, but it does require a degree of maturity - and trust - and I've heard someone from a B2B vendor express some doubts about putting its customers in a common forum where they can talk to each other and gang up on the vendor! Still, Salesforce.com has customers (such as the US Food and Drug Administration) that claim to be making a success out of using Communities.
Salesforce.com is becoming a "customer company", as it sees it. Isn't everyone? But Alex Dayon, (President of applications and platform, Salesforce.com) does "define his terms" a bit when he says that, "the next generation of enterprise apps are social with business data embedded at the core and accessible from any device. With Salesforce Communities, customer companies can connect with customers, partners and employees in entirely new ways and from anywhere". which is a bit more than what some companies mean by being "customer focussed". Perhaps "connected customer company" describes Salesforce.com's aspirations better.
"Salesforce is a platform company that sells CRM apps", says Mike Rosenbaum (EDP Platform). "Its Secret sauce", he says, "is that it's built for developers AND business users; [which] promotes a collaborative relationship". One area that might benefit, as an unexpected outcome, from a Community collaboration is apps governance. New apps on the Salesforce.com platform are easy to write and the platform enforces data access rules - as long as you set the right ones. But "easy to develop" can mean that something goes live without some issues being addressed properly. A developer (and I think developers should be part of a Community, alongside business stakeholders) who wants to use just a little bit of personal data from production in test, to help develop an app to fix an immediate issue, might benefit from a Community where people outside of IT; and, possibly, even outside the company (customers and the like) can explain exactly why breaking data protection rules might be a very bad idea. Put all the stakeholders in a business outcome in a forum and they might just all learn to respect each others' points of view and needs - beyond the simple functional requirements.