Salesforce.com to debut Work.com at Dreamforce

Analysts expect an initial product launch will be followed by a broader strategy for HR software

Salesforce.com is planning to up its stake in human resources software with the unveiling of a new service called Work.com next month during the Dreamforce event in San Francisco.

The news first emerged in a Bloomberg profile of the company published on Thursday. A Salesforce.com spokeswoman confirmed the story's accuracy but declined to provide additional details.

Salesforce.com's interest in cracking the human resources software market is hardly a secret. Last year, the company purchased a startup called Rypple, which focuses on employee performance management. Fitting in with Salesforce.com's general theme of "social" enterprises, Rypple uses a social network-like approach that allows managers and co-workers to give ongoing feedback and recognition, in a departure from the traditional annual or quarterly review process.

But performance management is a fairly safe area for Salesforce.com to begin with in HR software, since it isn't subject to the same sorts of regulations and legal hurdles as areas such as payroll, benefits and training.

Work.com is likely to be a combination of Rypple's capabilities and the corporate-perks functionality Salesforce.com gained through the recent acquisition of ChoicePass, according to Forrester Research analyst China Martens.

That matches up with the Bloomberg report, which said Work.com "will let managers set organizational goals and recognize employees".

But it seems likely that Salesforce.com has bigger plans in mind as well, and will reveal them at Dreamforce.

"They're really trying to pull out all the stops and establish themselves credibly as doing something in [HR software], and they sort of have to," said analyst Naomi Bloom, managing partner of the consulting firm Bloom & Wallace.

It's not surprising that Salesforce.com is interested in this market, since HR applications reach many more potential users within a company than the CRM (customer-relationship-management) software that has made up Salesforce.com's core business since its inception.

HR software "touches everybody", Bloom said.

Salesforce.com will need to make serious investments in its underlying Force.com platform, given the complex requirements of HR software, according to Bloom.

Dreamforce showgoers can expect Salesforce.com to lay out "a fairly ambitious, interesting, new-age agenda" for HR software, but it's not likely the company's strategy will attempt to take established players like Oracle, SAP and fellow cloud vendor Workday head-on, Bloom added.

Martens sees a number of potential scenarios playing out.

For example, Salesforce.com could make a major acquisition, "perhaps picking up Saba, which is struggling with financial woes at present," Martens said.

The future might also see Salesforce.com build out a full-blown "HR cloud," with a combination of home-grown development, acquisitions and partner-built applications, according to Martens.

Dreamforce starts September 18 in San Francisco.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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