Menu readies data-sharing service readies data-sharing service

Business-to-business information sharing for customer channels is preparing a new service that will allow customers to share sales leads and other data directly with other companies that use its on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) software. is asking customers to help it name the service, candidates for which include Salesforce Data Network, Salesforce to Salesforce (S2S) and Salesforce Partner Network, according to a posting in its blog.

The service takes advantage of the fact that hosts sales and customer data for thousands of clients in a common format in its servers, making it relatively easy for it to share information among those who wish to do so. started soliciting feedback from customers earlier this year on the idea of a "Lockbox" that would allow manufacturing companies, for example, to share sales leads with their distributors and resellers and get real-time updates on those leads, from within the system.

Customers will be able to set up rules that allow them to publish the records they want to share, which other customers could then subscribe to, according to a February posting on the company's IdeaExchange Web site.

The new service was being planned for the Winter 2008 release, according to the posting. The Winter 2007 release came out in January this year, and the fact that the company is soliciting a name for the service now suggests it could be close to fruition.

Woodson Martin, vice-president of marketing for Europe, said the customers often ask how they can take better advantage of the company's CRM service if their distributors and resellers are also customers. "They are asking, If we both have, why can't we talk to each other so we can better share and coordinate? That's the inspiration for this service."

Nicholas Carr, author of a book that was the focus of much media banter a few years ago, called "Does IT Matter?", said such a service could represent an untapped opportunity for companies using hosted applications.

"The company has something cooking, and I think it points to an as yet under-appreciated advantage of the multi-tenant systems that Salesforce and other utility-computing firms are running: the ability for companies using the systems to easily exchange data with one another," he wrote in a blog posting.

Companies offering hosted business applications, which also include NetSuite and Oracle, don't usually emphasise their ability to share their customers' data, perhaps because one of the main inhibitors to hosted applications has been concerns about data security. But with hosted applications more widely accepted today, may think the time is right to offer the capability.

The new service would allow customers to share "leads, opportunities and custom objects with each other [assuming both are using]," the company said.

"If Salesforce's blog post is any indication, the company is likely prepping a set of tools that will build cross-client data sharing into its applications -- in a way that goes well beyond its current 'partner relationship management' add-ons," Carr wrote. already allows customers to buy partner licenses for sharing data with other companies in their supply chain. The new service broadens that from a "one to many" to a "many to many" sharing model, said David Bradshaw, a principal analyst with Ovum.

Difficulties arise when customers want to share data with companies using a different software system, such as Oracle's Siebel CRM On Demand, Bradshaw said. may hope the data-sharing service will compel more companies to sign up for its service, or it could act more openly and allow other CRM systems to take part in the data sharing, he said.

Martin said the service is made possible in part by the growing use of our service across huge swaths of the market. The company has about 900,000 customers, he said. "We don't see any one else with that type of advantage today in the market."

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