In last month's column I took a generic look at whether an organization could move its intranet to the cloud, lock stock and barrel. As ever, my conclusion was "maybe" as it very much depends on your organization and what exactly you want to do. While at Dreamforce, I had the opportunity to return to this question.
Last week I, along with allegedly 90,000 others, attended Salesforce's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. This was my first Dreamforce and it was interesting for many reasons: for example the product announcements and consolidation of acquired products and functionality into the SalesCloud, ServiceCloud and MarketingCloud product streams. But I was there with my work hat on, there to dig into and learn more about Chatter as a specific product, and to meet with other users and learn from them about their implementations.
The Salesforce teams definitely split the Chatter news into two broad categories: external facing use of Chatter in the form of the new Chatter Communities and the internal enterprise use of Chatter, which was largely focused on the ChatterBox file sharing offering. They even went so far as to have two distinct product road map sessions built around these two specific use cases.
Chatter for External Use - Communities
The Salesforce press release for Communities firmly places the functionality in the context of the ServiceCloud offering.
The story is all about enhancing existing customer facing web portals with social interactivity; it foresee's user based communities where customers can go to ask questions which may be answered by your staff, or by other communities members (wisdom of crowds and all that!).
In one session, the presenter used the term "next generation portal" in conjunction with the Service Cloud offering and istated that this would be based on Chatter Communities, Site.Com and applications built on the underlying Force.Com platform. I had an interesting discussion about the intranet possibilities of this combination with a Salesforce person, but we'll come back to that later.
Chatter for Internal Use - Chatterbox
ChatterBox is a file sharing solution able to sync documents between desktop, cloud and mobile devices. There is a simple FAQ online.
It should be noted that the apparent sweet spot for this product is the synchronization service. Unlike some others, I really don't see this killing off Salesforce's relationship with partners like Box.net or Spring CM. I can see ChatterBox's synchronization being useful if its use is built into certain processes, and of course if those processes are largely based on the base CRM (Sales Cloud) or Service Cloud, or Marketing Cloud etc, then so much the better.
Chatter IS your Intranet?
So as I mentioned, I had a quick chat with a Salesforce person about where the use of its platform and products could go from an intranet perspective. He stated that Chatter IS the "social intranet." I disagree. Some organizations are just not ready to make that leap!
I understand that Chatter is delivered via the portal layer of the Force.com platform, via the VisualForce user interface development tool kit, and thus you can use the (confusingly named) Force.com Sites capability to publish data into new tabs in the Chatter interface.
However, as my recent investigations described in last month's article suggested, there are holes in this architecture with respect to "publishing" of content, and particularly managing multi-media assets. Perhaps with an internally focused variant of the Service Cloud platform with the additional components, plus third party add ons such as STG's OrchestraCMS we could get the whole way there?
Accenture, a major Salesforce implementation partner, also announced a development tool kit for re-skinning Chatter with a completely new and different UI, which also sounds like a handy capability for developing your social intranet.
Side note on compliance
Not specifically intranet related, but I was on a mission to ask compliance-related questions about Chatter, asking both Salesforce people and other customers from regulated industries.
In a Chatter product roadmap session, a product management person admitted that Chatter was never architected with any compliance in mind. However they now see the need based on requirements from customers, and there are two add on modules in the Application Market "Labs" section, and a number of very good third party products, of which Arkus and Smarsh were highly recommended.
The Chatter product keynote is available to watch on the Dreamforce channel at YouTube.
Briefly mentioned were coming improvements in analytics, the inclusion of social recognition (badges) Preview Links and the Canvas API for integrating with third party products.
On the longer range front we were told that the "vision" includes:
- Feeds and Social Processes
- Social Files
- Social Intelligence
- Real-Time Communication
- Focus on Communities and APIs
All in all Dreamforce was a great experience, even though Salesforces's idea of what constitutes a product keynote seems to be at variance with every other vendor conference I have ever been to, a little too much marketing and customer success story, and rather too little substance and detail!
The Chatter Communities and ChatterBox announcements were interesting, but we will have to wait for them to come out of pilot for additional details to figure out if Salesforce has a true cloud intranet platform for us.
Editor's Note: To read more about Jed's thoughts on intranets: