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Salesforce.com Takes to the Air With Wireless Edition

'Anytime, anywhere' access to customer relationship management (CRM) software is not enough these days, according to Salesforce.com, a bellwether company among Web-based CRM vendors. To address the needs of salespeople who rely on mobile products, the San Francisco-based ASP will add 'any device" to the criteria.

On Monday, Salesforce.com will announce its Airforce Wireless Edition, which is designed to allow salespeople to access, retrieve and edit account, contact and opportunity information in real-time using wireless devices such as BlackBerry, Pocket PC and Palm OS-based products.

"Wireless hasn't entirely taken off," Kaiser Mulla-Feroze, senior product marketing manager at Salesforce.com, told ASPnews. "Is there a demand for wireless is a question we have grappled with." However, Salesforce.com is confident its wireless offering will overcome the obstacles. "Business applications out there aren't doing well because they tried to replicate what is on the desktop." Airforce Wireless is designed and optimized for small screen devices, he said.

With Airforce Wireless Edition, Salesforce.com aims to make working remotely with its CRM product as easy as sending an e-mail. To drive the mobile application Salesforce.com will license natural-language technology from Dejima Inc., a San Jose, Calif.-based company that specializes in mobile access software. In April, Dejima and Salesforce.com first announced their partnership (see Salesforce.com Is Always Just an Email Away).

After a user sends an e-mail, the formatting is stripped out and the request is interpreted by Dejima's natural language technology, which generates an XML-based query that is sent to Salesforce.com's central repository. An XML-based reply is generated.

Results of the query can be sent as an e-mail or returned to the browser. However, Dejima leans towards e-mail as the more effective way to retrieve information on wireless devices. "Wireless e-mail is the killer application for mobile computing," Antoine Blondeau, CEO of Dejima, told ASPnews, noting the benefits of not having to navigate menus on a smaller-format display.

Salesforce.com Airforce Wireless Edition will run on a separate wireless application server, which will process the queries. However, the information will remain in the central database, ensuring up-to-the-minute data with no need for synchronizing, Salesforce.com's Mulla-Feroze said.

While no client software is needed to use Salesforce.com Airforce Wireless Edition, Blondeau said users can download a "little client" that will include pre-built queries that users can customize. Users can also construct off-line queries and then batch process them later.

Airforce Wireless Edition will be available on December 2 for no additional cost to Salesforce.com Enterprise Edition subscribers. Professional Edition customers will pay $195 a year, per user.

Salesforce.com will also announce a promotional arrangement with Motient Corp. The 30-day free trial package will include BlackBerry handhelds, BlackBerry Enterprise Server software, wireless airtime and the Airforce Wireless Edition. After the trial period, customers have the option to retain the BlackBerry handhelds for $99 each and subscribe to wireless airtime for $49 per month.

Salesforce.com is listed by ASPnews as a Top 20 Service Provider.

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