Sales force and customer service automation is as critical a business function for small ISV's as it is for large enterprises. It allows us to manage the thousands of customers and leads that a business generates, automating tasks, managing sales, and customer service functionality.
We use salesforce.com and have invested a lot of time and money into this system. Although the features and functionality is great, we're not very pleased with the reliability. Today, salesforce.com was down from 11:30am until 6:40pm. The front end salesforce application was back up at about 1:15pm, but the API, which we extensively use, was down until 6:40pm for a total of 7 hours during prime business hours at the start of the week, and end of the month! Luckily, we're software developers and a couple months ago were able to develop an asynchronous dual synchronization system that allows our customer facing portal to operate one directionally when the salesforce service are down. This also means our customer facing interface isn't slowed down by the speed (or lack thereof) of the salesforce servers. That system was a pain to develop as we'd rather be developing our imaging toolkits, but well worth it. What does this mean for the hosted business model though if a company as successful as salesforce.com experiences reliability issues like this? Now granted, we were very much unimpressed with Microsoft CRM 1.1, but does a 97% uptime really cut it for an on-demand CRM application? Apparently we're not the only one noticing these problems. Mike Sax, the founder of Sax.net seems to share my sentiments about it. There's even an entire blog called gripeforce with an article posted today. Perhaps it's just a matter of having faith as salesforce grows their system to accommodate their rapid growth? Regardless, I'm not happy, and wonder if we should consider the expensive transition to a non-hosted CRM system.
Microsoft has claimed that their newly released CRM 3.0 is a vast improvement over 1.1 which we evaluated and considered quite awful. With all the work we've put into salesforce.com, it would be a huge undertaking to migrate our data and custom developed applications. I'd love to hear about experiences others have had with other CRM systems and if anyone has made this transition from salesforce to MS CRM 3.0.
On a more philosophical note, what does this mean for the future of On Demand applications? I think the 97% reliability might work for enterprises where their own internally developed systems can't accommodate their own load. But for smaller businesses, deploying a system like Microsoft CRM to internal servers would be more reliable. At least downtime would be more controllable and we'd be able to do something about it without being at the mercy of a provider.