Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) Blog

Backend as a Service Welcomes Vendor #32: Salesforce.com

Today, Salesforce.com unveiled Salesforce Platform Mobile Services, a new collection of services designed to accelerate mobile app development for developers, partners and enterprise customers. Although the comprehensive press release contained more than 1,100 words, somehow Salesforce managed to sidestep the five most important: “mobile backend as a service.” Make no mistake, despite the conspicuous absence of arguably the hottest buzzword in cloud service, BaaS is exactly the category Salesforce just entered – and for that reason, we’ve added them to our category-defining “Subway Map” graphic.

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Our “map” contains 29 different BaaS vendors. By my personal calculations, there are 32 vendors (not all justify presence on the graphic). One prominent industry analyst estimates there are at least 47 vendors. Regardless of your tally, this is a crowded space with the longtail predictably struggling to earn mindshare, customers and revenue.  Salesforce has now become a very thick segment in the BaaS tail.  (And, if speculation is correct, they will soon be joined by Amazon Web Services.)

Now, I’m not going to bore you with a self-serving spiel of how Salesforce’s entry into BaaS “validates the space” or will cause more capital to flow into the start-ups that came first.  You’ll see right through that predicta-PR. Instead, here’s why I think Salesforce has taken the first step in launching a BaaS platform:

Mobile is driving the adoption of cloud in the enterprise:  Salesforce (rightly) believes that the mobile-cloud combo tops most enterprise CIOs’ top-five checklist of strategic initiatives.  Since enterprise-wide mobile projects are new undertakings, CIOs have the flexibility to launch these projects in the cloud, thereby, ticking two of their strategic goals off their to-do list.

Mobile and cloud scares the pants off large technology ISVs:  With mobile and cloud converging as a requirement for enterprise buyers, large technology ISVs look at their product portfolios and realize that they have nothing that meets customer demand.  Masterful “slideware,” webpages, whitepapers and marketing FUD doesn’t cut it anymore and that, ironically, scares them.  Salesforce has an opportunity to position themselves as the #1 mobile-cloud vendor, provided they can close the innovation gap with pure BaaS providers (more on that in a moment).

Enterprise developers want agility with security:  When we launched our enterprise platform, I wrote that enterprise developers shouldn’t have to choose between agility and security.  Today, thanks to the “developerization” of IT, enterprises expect the best of both worlds.  Words like “self-service” and “agile” pepper their language. Traditional enterprise software development SDKs don’t work for mobile developers because they are cumbersome. Salesforce has an opportunity to disrupt the way in which large technology ISVs have been approaching the enterprise developer.

But despite its formidable size and resources, Salesforce’s Platform Mobile Services announcement, with its messaging about an HTML5 SDK, REST APIs and data in the Salesforce Platform, pulls up well short of addressing what enterprise mobile strategy truly needs.

The CIO’s mobile concerns run much, much deeper than mobilizing data in the Salesforce Cloud:  The Salesforce Platform Mobile Services announcement makes generic comments about how it’s difficult for enterprise developers to deliver apps that seamlessly tie in data from business systems – systems obtusely described as the “trusted enterprise cloud platform.”  Here’s the issue – legacy enterprise data and authentication systems aren’t sitting on a cloud platform.  Instead, CIOs and enterprise architects have to figure out how they can mobilize on-premise systems that sit inside their firewall.  Big difference.  The most advanced Backend as a Service platforms mobilize any enterprise backend or authentication system, not just APIs or databases sitting in the cloud. Will Salesforce’s BaaS, err, “Platform Mobile Services” mobilize data stored in, say, Oracle? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Don’t force mobile developers to use your SDK; instead, give them complete freedom to choose any SDK:  The Salesforce Platform Mobile Services announcement introduces version 2.0 of the company’s HTML5-based SDK.  Every cloud provider must realize that mobile developers in an enterprise don’t want to be forced to use your SDK to use your cloud platform.  They want the flexibility and choice to use the best SDK that fits their experiences, skills and app needs.  Don’t lock them in.

It’s about libraries, not about REST APIs:  The API mobile developers care about is not the REST (or SOAP) interface that abstracts backend data.  Instead, they want to focus on the abstraction provided by native iOS, Android or JavaScript libraries.  These libraries take care of various client-side features including data access, online/offline data caching, data security, user management and network management.  The mobile library is the new API for the mobile developer.

Certainly when it comes to consumer marketing, a “brand” like Salesforce goes a long way in convincing buyers they are making the “safe” choice. But enterprises can no longer afford to prioritize “safety.” They need innovation. They need solutions to their actual challenges. They need flexibility. That’s why they are turning to BaaS. Time will tell if Salesforce the enterprise shares this insight with Salesforce the vendor.


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