Salesforce is this morning announcing a new product, Chatter Salesforce Communities, that aims to take the engagement aspects of its social tool Chatter out to specific verticals within organizations. Chatter SalesforceCommunities allows an organization to set up a specific community quickly – as an example it could be used to create a community around customer service for an organization. In going down this path Salesforce is taking on the traditional forum companies, as well as broadening out the customer service aspects of its desk.com help desk product.

The thinking within enterprises is that there are traditionally two ways that customers can interact with an organization – the first is via a forum while the second is via an enterprise portal tool. These two approaches have some limitations however, forum tools tend to be very siloed and have no real hooks into backend enterprise systems and business processes. Enterprise portals on the other hand have great visibility over backend system but tend to fall short when it comes to building out deep engagement with external parties.

Chatter SalesforceCommunities aims to combine the benefits of these two approaches by taking Chatter, which already has strong hooks into the salesforce core platform and individual product lines, and creating verticalized communities around a particular area of the business. I spent time with Dave King and Doug Bewsher from the Salesforce Chatter team having a run down on what communities will mean for enterprises.

The product is in limited pilot and is slated for general release in the middle of 2013. No pricing has been set at this stage.

MyPOV

The modern trend towards loosely couple enterprise systems does more than simply making back office processes easier, it also allows for customers to engage with the organization directly around transactions. If I buy a pair of shoes for example, I’d much rather engage on an online forum that has visibility over the actual sales transaction. By tying business process and workflow to external communities, salesforce makes a compelling bid for end-to-end engagement.

Key is also to make the barriers to entry for an organization as low as possible – organizations want community sites that keep the corporate branding with a high degree of fidelity and in this case salesforce has borrowed functionality from it’s own site.com content management system creation offering to allow broad customization and quick setup.

The key however is to ensure that these communities can integrate with all the back-office system of the organization (CRM, manufacturing, ERP etc) and in this case it remains to be seen how willing organization that use other systems will be to spend time and effort integrating Chatter SalesforceCommunities with their existing software. In the absence of these integrations this is a nice product, but one which isn’t hugely different from other community tools.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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