Salesforce.com preps intranet app

The CRM vendor wants to tap into demand for modern intranets that have social collaboration features and can be accessed from mobile devices

Salesforce.com plans to ship in the second half of the year a hosted application for companies to create intranets that are accessible via mobile devices and that offer enterprise social networking (ESN) capabilities to employees.

Called Company Communities, the application uses Salesforce.com's Chatter ESN product and combines it with newly developed software to offer an alternative to legacy intranets with static pages and unappealing interfaces built only for desktop devices.

The software is similar to another new product Salesforce.com recently announced called Communities, designed for building external-facing sites that let companies interact with customers and partners.

Company Communities, which is already being used by some hand-picked customers including Virgin America and Burberry, will let companies build custom, branded intranets where employees can publish and review content, discover peers and their expertise, share and collaborate on files and access Salesforce.com and third-party enterprise applications.

Jim Sinai, director of product marketing for Salesforce.com's Platform, said the company has identified a big opportunity for a product like Company Communities among the many enterprises that want a more effective and engaging intranet.

Salesforce.com envisions Company Communities extending and augmenting the Chatter functionality for employees that don't necessarily use the vendor's core CRM software, Sinai said.

Salesforce.com is far from the first vendor to identify this demand for intranets that incorporate social collaboration features, can be accessed from mobile devices and are more interactive and engaging. Since the mid-2000s, many vendors, including Jive Software, Yammer, Igloo Software, Atlassian, Socialtext and PBworks, have released software for building modern intranets designed to improve employee collaboration and communication.

Many legacy intranets were built using old versions of Microsoft's SharePoint and IBM's Notes/Domino servers, but both collaboration giants have improved their wares in response to the demand for modern intranets. IBM, for example, responded early to the trend in 2007 with its Connections product, which it has been regularly enhancing since then. Microsoft, meanwhile, has been slower to adapt SharePoint for mobile devices and social-networking demands but the company has a new sense of urgency in this area since its acquisition last year of Yammer and the release this year of SharePoint 2013.

Salesforce.com's differentiator among existing options is its ability to thread Company Communities tightly with its own CRM software and with third-party business applications integrated with its platform, according to Nucleus Research analyst Rebecca Wettemann.

In this way, the intranets built with Company Communities can be inserted into the mix of the applications employees use for their daily work, which can make the intranets more relevant, effective and visible, she said.

"Rather than creating an intranet collaboration space that's focused on content, this can put intranets in the context of business transactions and applications," Wettemann said.

Salesforce.com will announce pricing for Company Communities later this year, but it will be licensed on a per user, per month basis.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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