RealTime IT News

Salesforce.com Tackles Outsourcing On Demand

SAN FRANCISCO -- Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is hoping to do to call centers and help desks what he has accomplished in the CRM space.

The San Francisco-based firm debuted a new on-demand business model it calls Supportforce.com. The goal is to address the growing number of companies that are outsourcing their customer service divisions.

"For more than five years, Salesforce.com has been executing on its vision -- what we call 'The End of Software,'" Benioff said at the launch event here. "With Supportforce.com, we are transforming contact centers and help desks the same way that salesforce.com transformed sales force automation."

The concept of streamlining call centers is not new. Benioff's competitors Siebel , PeopleSoft and SAP have been doing it for some time, as well as up and coming firms like RightNow Technologies .

But Salesforce.com may have the momentum needed to pull off such an endeavor. Some 80 percent of all companies will outsource at least one function by 2005, according to a recent report by IT analyst firm META Group. Benioff said his company currently serves more than 11,100 customers and 168,000 subscribers, but did not estimate how many more it might gain or convert with Supportforce.com. In a statement, the company said it does not expect to "generate incremental revenue from Supportforce.com during fiscal 2005."

The new software suite picks up where Salesforce.com's original model started five years ago: basic automation software over the Web and adds in its customer relationship software and key aspects of its "sforce" developer's tool kit for making Internet-based business apps. The new platform is the first new release out of Salesforce.com since the company went public this past June.

With Supportforce.com, Salesforce.com said it can let companies manage and share customer service and support information whenever they need it through call centers, contact centers, help desks, virtual at-home agents, and other customer service operations.

The new platform relies heavily on partner support. Benioff has signed up some of the largest ones he could find. Avaya , Cisco , Alcatel , Aspect and Genesys (an Alcatel company) have all pledged support to help with the hosting and delivery. The combined companies make up over 70 percent of the global contact center marketplace.

In the software-as-service model, customers typically pay a flat monthly subscription fee to use applications as much as they want; access is via a Web interface. Their data resides in secure partitioned servers maintained by the vendor.

Vendors provide software upgrades and enhancements at no extra charge, freeing customers from having to maintain applications and servers. Application service providers (ASPs), hosted applications, utility computing and software on-demand all refer to variations of the model.

With Supportforce.com, the company said it offers a multi-channel Web services interface with customer support and help desk functionality, knowledge management capabilities, and Web self-service and performance metrics so that companies can manage and share customer information.

On feature called "Custom Tabs" lets system administrators add in modules to manage activities such as contact center staffing and control data access between service, sales and other departments.

The new platform also addresses the trend toward using voice over the Internet (VoIP) courtesy of its sforce Telephony API (STAPI) toolkit. The addition allows for features like autodialing, rules-based routing, screen-pops, and call scripting, which can help improve productivity.

Because outsourcing is often done overseas, Salesforce.com designed its new platform to support 11 languages: Brazilian Portuguese, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Swedish.

Pricing for the entire salesforce.com suite of products, including Supportforce.com is $65 per-user-per-month for the Professional Edition and $125 per-user-per-month for the Enterprise Edition.