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Salesforce.com Makes it All About The Platform

Salesforce.com , known as the leading vendor of on-demand customer relationship management (CRM) software, is shifting gears.

The company announced today that customers can now use its Apex and AppExchange platforms without having to subscribe to its flagship Salesforce Automation (SFA) application. As a result, it may leave a more lasting imprint as the builder of an ecosystem than as a software vendor.

Until today, anyone wanting to deploy an application available on AppExchange, the company's directory of third-party applications, would have had to subscribe to SFA, as well. For instance, a customer wanting to equip its human resources department with an HR application would have had to first pony up for SFA, for which those users would have had no use.

Now, customers can subscribe to the platform alone, and pay either $50 or $100 per user per month, depending on the level of service they require.

In addition to subscribing to products available on AppExchange, customers can also subscribe to the Apex platform to build their own applications.

The reason for the move, explained Ariel Kelman, senior director of platform product marketing at Salesforce.com, is that in many cases, customers have expressed an interest in subscribing to tools that have nothing to do with CRM, such as human resources, research and IT asset management.

"We're decoupling the platform from the application, as more and more of our customers use the platform to acquire other functionality," Kelman told internetnews.com.

Kelman added that corporate IT departments are beginning to view SaaS as way to free them to do more valuable work rather than as a threat.

"IT staff are starting to look at SaaS differently. They see it as a way for them to focus on delivering innovation and not just performing routine maintenance," said Kelman.

Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research, said the approach gives customers "not just software, not just the platform, but also the infrastructure, the labor and the management to keep it all running."

IT staff will be able to lean on all that infrastructure, including Salesforce.com's Apex programming language, to develop tools that can give their companies a competitive advantage, he said.

He added that the new subscription terms represent "another brick in the wall ultimately helping to prove the value of the utility business software model."

Sheryl Kingstone, an analyst with the Yankee Group, said the new pricing model will save customers who want the platform but not SFA approximately 50 percent on the price of a subscription.

She noted that there is no technological innovation here -- merely a strategic one. "It's solidifying [Salesforce.com] as a platform more and more and making them less of an applications company," she told internetnews.com.

She said the change also benefits the developer community, which will benefit from being able to develop and sell more applications over the AppExchange directory. "There's nothing new here [from a technological standpoint] -- but the pricing was never there," she said.

"This is about moving the ecosystem forward."