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Force.com as Your Key to the Cloud Kingdom: A Conversation with Authors Alok Misra and Ian Gotts

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Force.com as Your Key to the Cloud Kingdom: Book Excerpt and Conversation with the Authors “Before you start questioning whether the application can be developed in Force.com you need to figure out if you will survive a move to the Cloud. The worst thing you can do is to spend a year’s worth of time and money and then dump the entire effort.”

In their book, Thinking of… Force.com as Your Key to the Cloud Kingdom? Ask the Smart Questions, authors and industry veterans, Alok Misra (principal at Navatar Group) and Ian Gotts (CEO at Nimbus) help ISVs and Enterprise IT CIOs answer the many burning questions around if, how, and when to move their business to the Cloud and whether they should consider the Force.com as their platform to enable that transition. Alok and Ian explain not just the technology considerations—and common misconceptions—involved in building cloud computing applications on Force.com, but more importantly, emphasize the need to understand the new business model and commercial viability of cloud offerings.

Both Alok and Ian’s companies have been very successful SalesForce.com partners for six years. They have also been reselling, developing, and supporting complex applications on Force.com for several years and are both uniquely qualified in writing this book and sharing their hard-won experiences. Adding to their credibility is a foreword by Parker Harris, cofounder of SalesForce.com and “creator” of the Force.com platform.

The authors offer several insights and recommendations that, at first glance, appear to go against conventional wisdom. For example, the authors do not recommend an Agile Development Methodology to develop multi-tenanted Force.com applications. The question around whether you should consider the use of agile development appears in the chapter titled, “Questions for Jeans,” where the authors organize a number of technology questions into separate sections for easy reference. In their explanation of why they don’t recommend agile, the authors state:

“Agile methodologies, such as Scrum, have been discussed a lot in the Cloud world. They require less planning and documentation and can be loosely structured. However, since so many critical factors will drive your product design before you lock down the contents of your Force.com package, Agile may significantly increase your deployment and upgrade costs. You will be better off sticking to the waterfall paradigm, getting all of your requirements and architecture straightened out before you develop. The alternative will be to sacrifice multi-tenancy, which is far more important than any development methodology.”

If you are an Independent Software Vendors (ISV) or an Enterprise CIO who realizes the potential benefits of cloud-based development and deployment (particularly using Force.com), but you don’t quite understand all the business and technical implications of the technology, this book could be just right for you. After reading a final draft of the book, I sat down to talk with the two authors about the book and other cloud computing topics. Here’s an excerpt of the conversation:

Why the book and why now?

Ian Gotts:

There is no shortage of books that go into the technical details of a technology and how to use it. If you have a project you want to execute using Force.com and want to read a book on how to do that, this book may not be for you. In that sense, this is not a “how to” book. This is a book you will need to read when you are planning to plan. It helps you get your thinking straight before you start launching and investing serious money into your project. It’s not necessarily as easy as it seems to build a successful cloud business or get quick return on investment, therefore a significant portion of the book is focused on the business and commercial aspects. The book is a relatively short read and walks you through some key questions and decisions you need to make before committing resources and to avoid making expensive mistakes.

As for why now, SalesForce opened up their platform, Force.com, a few years ago for their customers and ISVs to build their own cloud applications and businesses. A huge number of people are now taking a serious look at Force.com and are looking to make big strategic bets. As they do so, they should also be asking big strategic questions.

Who should read the book?

IG:

COOs, CFOs, or someone who is Line of Business hand in hand with the CIO and CTO should read this book. Yes, it is a strategic technology decision, but it needs to be underpinned by some solid business reasons. The book has been written in two halves: one for suits (business) and one for jeans (technology).

From the book section, “Who Should Read the Book”:

“Although covering a leading edge area of the IT industry, this book is not a technical guide nor was it ever intended to be. This book is aimed squarely at the Independent Software Vendor (ISV) who is considering Force.com as a route to market their software offerings. Alternatively you could be part of a corporate IT department looking to deliver solutions more quickly for your business users. You have many of the same issues as the ISV but from a slightly different perspective.”

What kinds of companies benefit from using Force.com?

Alok Misra:We stayed away from giving simplistic situations where the use of Force.com is appropriate. A cloud platform like Force.com provides some “table-stakes” capabilities that are needed to build a successful cloud application including distribution and multi-tenant capabilities. Beyond that, there’s significant thinking required to figure if this will be a fit for you. That’s what this book is about.

If you look in the section entitled, “Questions for Suits”, we have several smart questions that lay out a number of business considerations for your move to the cloud.

What are the important commercial implications of using Force.com?

AM:

The questions may seem obvious but are rarely brought up at first: Will you generate enough revenues on the application after you build it? How? Will you be profitable? When?

As we state in the book:

“We are the not the first ones to point out point out that the Cloud isn’t just a technology transition but a completely different commercial model. In fact, there are some differences that are so critical that they will actually dictate whether you will succeed or fail. In most of the cases that we highlighted, the companies did not understand these differences. For instance, the differences between:

  • Selling a product versus delivering a service
  • Creating a multitenant model versus a single tenant model
  • Product revenue versus consulting revenue
  • Implementing Salesforce versus developing a commercial cloud product
  • Building in a public cloud versus an on premise platform

Simply building an app on Force.com is not like winning the lottery. In fact, if you don’t ask the right questions up front to understand the cloud business model, you could be writing checks for years, without seeing any revenue.”

IG: For an ISV, building, selling, and supporting a product, the time horizon commitment is very long—it can take up to ten years to reach a significant size and revenue stream. Look back at SalesForce’s growth as an example: It took them twelve years to get to their current growth rate and size. The net margin of cloud-based companies is significantly lower than their traditional counterparts. It takes a lot of time to reach profitability particularly with the level of investments you need to make to create a credible product. Therefore you need a business plan and a financial model that sustains you in the ten-year horizon. That’s the ISV’s challenge.

What are the important myths to shatter in using a cloud computing platform? AM: In the book, we have identified several myths common in cloud computing; here are a couple of important ones:

Myth #1: You can build your Force.com product business at a much lower cost than a product business on other on-premise platforms. Maybe you can build Version 1 of your Force.com product at a much lower cost. Turning in a profit will be very challenging in the cloud commercial model and if you don’t get it right, it may empty your wallet fast.

Myth#2: If you build on top of Force.com, your application is automatically multi-tenanted. People assume that simply because they are building on top of Force.com, they are multi-tenant. They assume they can upgrade in the future just as SalesForce does. But they have to build multi-tenancy into their app from the ground-up. Multi-tenancy needs a lot of architectural and data modeling work up front, so contrary to popular opinion, agile methodologies aren’t a particularly good fit here. If your product isn’t multi-tenant, your business will either fail soon or you will inadvertently be building a services business.

What are the implications for the CIO using Force.com within their enterprise? IG: The CIO’s business concerns revolve around lock-in and long-term viability. Should we commit to a proprietary platform?

Will SalesForce be around in the next five years? What if they are acquired? Will the company still continue to support the platform then? For CIOs to have any level of confidence to embrace a technology and even embrace lock-in, they must see a very strong balance sheet and assurance that SalesForce will be in business. And if someone buys the company, CIOs want to know that they will continue to support the platform.

Secondly, from a technical standpoint, CIOs would like to integrate their cloud applications with their on-premise legacy applications. Cloud and Force.com are part of the hybrid solution and there is a risk that the CIO may say that cloud application is for a big enterprise and not for them. The changes will creep up on them a lot faster than they might expect. The CIO needs to take a hard look at what technology like Force.com can do for them and begin piloting it in their own internal environment in areas (IT asset management, IT change management, IT project management, etc.) they control. Here, they can learn from such proof-of-concepts in a safe environment. But they need to start doing something now, start playing, and start—with the help of the book’s list—asking smart questions about what this means to them and to the organization.

If you are a relatively small organization (less than 5,000 employees), then you have the potential of moving almost everything you do to the cloud. Utilizing Force.com means that you don’t need armies of people managing server farms or need as many developers as before. You will, however, need more highly skilled business analysts. In moving to the cloud, the nature of the CIO role within mid-market and small companies changes dramatically.

All the technical problems such as security and interoperability are being handled today or will be taken care of in the future. The big challenge is emotional and triggers questions such as: Are we losing control? Are we comfortable with the security of the vendor (even though in many cases, SalesForce’s security is probably much better than most data centers)? Is this outsourcing in another name? Without a doubt, Force.com will eliminate many skills and knowledge of traditional IT teams. Some of the biggest financial companies have more developers than Microsoft and they are not going to vote to have their IT world shut down.

What is the single most important take away from the book? IG:

The book gets you started with a series of smart question to get you into the game. For most people, the act of thinking is the most difficult thing. You could get started by opening the box and start playing with Force.com, but that’s not the point. The most difficult thing is to think and then write the strategy when the page is blank. What the book is all about is getting people off the starting line and thinking about what they need to do.

What is your call for action to your readers?

  • Don’t read the book and go hire a consultant. We would like our readers to first try and answer the questions for themselves first within their own context.
  • Use the smart questions to create a business plan and financial model for your business.
  • If you need more information or need help in terms of validating your business plan, feel free to contact Navatar Group (sales@navatargroup.com) about our workshops, which are designed for that purpose.

The book is now available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Quotable Quotes on Platform-as-a-Service “I wrote a simple HR application to run on [a specific PaaS solution]. Then, I showed it to an application developer. He said that it would have taken him about four months to build. It only took me an hour and a half.” – CIO, SMB electronics engineering company

“I’m extremely leery about PaaS, which can lead to complete lock-in with [a specific vendor] because they use proprietary interfaces that are not portable. [Although], there is an argument to be made to use these services for some niche applications for which you need an immediate return.” – Enterprise Architect, Fortune 500 Energy Company

“Whether you use .Net or Java or PHP in the traditional world, you have some language independence and portability so long as you stick to standard interfaces. But PaaS platforms are proprietary with their own languages and platforms and therefore inhibit portability. We absolutely need standards in this area, but vendors don’t want standards because once you get standards, you get commoditized.” – CIO, software company

“I think we will see emerging interoperability language run-time standard for PaaS environments, but I don’t think we will see data standards. That’s where the real lock-in is.” – Matt Thompson, GM Microsoft.

(See my blog post Microsoft’s Matt Thompson on evolution of PaaS.)

CloudSwitch Webinar: Making Hybrid Clouds Work in the Real World Join me at Cloudswitch’s upcoming Webinar on Wednesday Oct, 13th, 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm EDT. As a guest speaker, I will discuss our research findings on where cloud reality stands today versus all the hype, including which types of enterprises are adopting cloud and why (or why not).

I will also provide an overview of the hybrid cloud architecture and explain why hybrid clouds are poised for the greatest growth. Register for the event.

Kamesh Pemmaraju heads cloud research at Sand Hill Group and he helps companies—enterprises and technology vendors—accelerate their transition to the cloud. His blog has been recognized in the top 50 bloggers on cloud computing and also in CloudTP’s best cloud computing blogs list. He welcomes your comments, opinions, and questions. Drop in a line to kamesh@sandhill.com. For updates on news, views, interviews, webcasts, events, and blog posts, follow me on twitter @kpemmaraju.

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