Up to now, Salesforce.com and Google have been defined, competitively, by their mutual disdain for the Horrible Monster of Redmond. (“I don’t think it makes sense for me to comment on the words and actions of Steve Ballmer,” sniffs Chief Googler Eric Schmidt at the start of a new Wired interview.) But with Salesforce’s announcement today of a broad push into content management, the two new-age enterprise IT companies are now on a collision course. They’re not just bedfellows anymore. They’re competitors.
One of Google’s central strategic thrusts is to store “100%” of users’ data. That, it seems clear now, doesn’t just apply to consumer users. It applies to business users as well. Google is in the early stages of a major, multi-year thrust into the corporate market. In that Wired interview, Schmidt calls the company’s fledgling package of business applications, Google Apps, its “most interesting” opportunity to find new sales growth beyond advertising. Google, he says, is “already beginning to get some significant enterprise deals … Corporations are tired of dealing with the complexity of the old model, and our products are now strong enough to serve business needs reliably.”
In announcing Salesforce’s expansion into content management, through the launch of Salesforce Content and its ContentExchange service and the related acquisition of Koral, CEO Marc Benioff called the move “a decisive step towards our vision of managing all information on demand. With Salesforce Content, we not only manage a company’s traditional structured information, but their unstructured information as well.” Salesforce, too, wants ultimately to be the repository of 100% of a company’s data. To underscore the point, Salesforce exec Bruce Francis told Richard MacManus that the company aims “to help our customers manage and share all their business information on-demand.”
It’s illuminating to think of Salesforce and Google as competitors because their distinctive strengths point to some of the future terms of rivalry in the new IT market. Salesforce’s strength lies in the customer interface – not just the friendly interface of its software services but its Benioff-fueled prowess as a marketer to businesses. Google, to put it generously, is relatively weak in those areas. Where Google’s strength lies is in the back-end infrastructure. Its network of data centers, and the software that connects them, presents a forbidding technological (and financial) challenge to other vendors seeking to “own” all of a client’s data.
Both Google and Salesforce are still small fish in the ocean of enterprise data. But as they swim ahead of the fat bottom-feeders of the old IT market, they may at the moment be the most interesting fish in the sea.