Salesforce.com Opens Up to Office

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Salesforce.com has created a plug-in for Microsoft's Office that allows users to import data from the Salesforce.com online CRM service into Word, Excel, and Outlook, the company says.

"The service is the server," Salesforce.com Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff said at a launch event in San Francisco.

Salesforce.com Office Edition is available to all Salesforce.com customers at no charge. The software is easy to install and creates new pull-down menus in the Office applications, allowing users to sign into Salesforce.com and pull data from the CRM system, Salesforce.com representatives say.

Plug It In

The plug-in for Office was created using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and works with Office 2000, Office XP, and Office 2003, according to Salesforce.com. VBA ships as part of Office and is the Office language that macros are written in.

Adding the software allows users to retrieve data only, not work on data in Excel or Word and then upload it to the Salesforce.com system. Uploading data is possible but requires more, probably custom software development, says Peter Gassner, a Salesforce.com senior vice president and general manager.

"Data retrieval is pretty straightforward. There are more varied scenarios when you talk about putting data back into the system," he says. "We may over time have a very generic bidirectional system that will work for all customers."

The download feature provides several benefits, Gassner says. These include the ability to automatically generate customer proposals in Word by merging data from Salesforce.com with a Word document, and the ability to analyze data in Excel, he says.

Uploading Options

Meanwhile, Salesforce.com customer Magma Design Automation is creating its own integration with Office. Sales representatives at the chip design software vendor will be able to upload sales proposals drafted in Excel to the Salesforce.com system through a custom-made tool, says David Brooks, director of CRM at Magma.

"Salesforce.com gives you a little functionality and then they give you the hooks around it to do more," he says. Magma has also bolted a custom bug-tracking system on top of the Salesforce.com application, taking advantage of the APIs (application programming interfaces) exposed by the online service, Brooks says.

The Office plug-in and Magma's custom tools are made possible by Salesforce.com's Sforce platform, announced in June last year. Sforce allows developers to create their own hosted applications and lets customers and independent software vendors build extensions to the Salesforce.com service.

Salesforce.com claims to have about 8400 customers and 120,000 subscribers. The San Francisco-based ASP filed papers last month for an initial public offering later this year.

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