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Do You Want Your App to Talk Back to You (as a Chatterbox)? - Part 3

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: June 29 2010

In Part 1 of this blog series I admitted to being a late adopter of a sort, in part for not immediately jumping onto the social media bandwagon. In particular, my initial reaction to Salesforce Chatter (a.k.a. Collaboration Cloud) was tepid when it was introduced at the Dreamforce 2009 conference.

However, a few months have passed and this period has helped salesforce.com craft the much clearer cloud computing evolution message that was analyzed in Part 2. The article then also went on to explain my change of heart and discussed Salesforce Chatter’s current state of affairs (in terms of the current number of beta users and third-party solutions).

Salesforce Chatter became generally available (GA) as of June 22, 2010. Salesforce.com is even entertaining the idea that Chatter could be a general enterprise platform on its own. One Chatter-based application was recently announced by FinancialForce.com and is called Chatterbox.

Chatterbox comes within the FinancialForce Accounting product but the idea is to also sell it to accounting departments as standalone. For more information on the product, see the company’s press release (PR), a related blog post from WebCPA, and the product’s dedicated Web page.

The final part of this blog series will explain many design principles and possible use of Chatter and Chatterbox from my dialogue with Jeremy Roche, FinancialForce.com CEO and President, and UNIT4 CODA chairman.

Words of Wisdom and Experience From a Cloud Accounting Pioneer

For more information on FinancialForce.com, which is a joint venture between UNIT4 and Salesforce.com, see my recent blog series entitled “UNIT4: The (Largely) Untold Story.” My questions and Roche’s answers are as follows:
PJ: Incidentally, given your demo of Chatterbox to me at salesforce.com’s CloudForce event in April in New York City, I certainly liked the Chatter idea back in November at Dreamforce, but my first question (quandary) was how to make sure that some important feeds just do not fall through the cracks. My own personal example was when my father passed away last year in July, and I updated my status on Facebook about his sad passing. I was really miffed by many close friends and family members ignoring that notice. But then again, in reality, it was during the summer (vacations), and many folks do not check their Facebook page often, and that feed just got lost in many other feeds (such as the asinine ones about people telling everyone what they just had for a meal).

JR: Two thoughts here. Firstly, Salesforce Chatter works like Twitter direct messages (DMs) or Basecamp updates, where users get assigned e-mail updates depending on their profiles. So, if I am not signed in and someone changes an opportunity that I am working on with them, or, say, posts something on my homepage, I can get an immediate email link to it. Alternatively, I can keep being updated by mobile clients (I have both BlackBerry and iPhone installed).

Second is a function we envisaged with Chatterbox. So, let’s say I don’t want to miss any new opportunities going in with a value of more than $100,000. I can follow a Chatterbox that monitors that and get alerted when I get added. So, I think more of DM type updates from Twitter to e-mail than monitoring Facebook. I understand what you mean: I am an infrequent Facebook visitor and people often tell me that I have missed things. But I wasn’t looking for them! Conversely, Salesforce Chatter updates you and our Chatterbox makes you follow things that meet your criteria so that you don’t miss them.

PJ: Chatterbox seems to be helping with regard to the problem of feeds inundation by setting up escalation and filtering rules (e.g., credit check, aged accounts, late payment, etc.), and you escalate it by adding more people (supervisors) to "follow" the event, and then feeds are pushed onto them too.

JR: Yes, but Chatter also helps as explained above.

PJ: How I understood you, Chatterbox only uses Chatter as a platform, not Force.com (and I always thought Chatter was an intrinsic part of Force.com)? You still need to flesh out any pricing data on Chatterbox, and also, what other usage scenarios do you envision (other than those that are related to accounting and that you mention in the PR)?

JR: You are correct and I may have explained it badly. We built Chatterbox on Force.com using the underlying social components of Chatter as the basis for it. And since it is on Force.com, Chatterbox will work with any salesforce.com, FinancialForce.com, third-party, or custom applications built on Force.com with a Chatter feed assigned to it.

Other usage scenarios? We keep inventing more every day, but here are some examples of feeds/alerts (the list is basically endless):
Non Finance:

  • Large deals this quarter

  • Cases that show no activity for a month

  • Accounts that show no activity for a month

  • High priority cases waiting for action

  • New customers in “my territory” (or any territory, or city, or zip code, or...)

  • New products on the Price Book this month

  • Deals won against key competitors

  • Key prospects signed up for a seminar

  • Leads waiting for follow up

  • Opportunities assigned to me


  • Marketing (or any other) budget exceeded

  • Large customer debt over 60 days past due

  • Invoice hasn’t been paid/authorized, etc.

  • Customer has changed their bank account details

"Warts and All" Discussion
PJ: On a more general note, I believe that salesforce.com has a real unpolished jewel in Chatter, but it needs to do more explaining before people jump en masse on that collaborative bandwagon. Namely, some conservative folks still have some aversion and skepticism towards Facebook and Twitter, but salesforce.com has taken some good practical steps while using the tool internally as a beta site.

Namely, for one, as mentioned in Part 2, this is not a public social site, i.e., all of the internal open-ended collaborative discussions stay within salesforce.com. In addition, no one can put a picture of their kid, pet, or "simpsonized" caricature on their profile (it has to be a decent picture of you). You can only update your status with a business-related matter (i.e., pursuing that opportunity, having that issue, presenting at that event, etc.) and not talking about asinine stuff (e.g., having cheerios for breakfast or about your kids' sickness). Also, you don't have a choice to accept who is following you or not, since that is decided by your superior if she/he thinks that you should be in the loop about that issue, project, etc.

JR: Yes, agreed. If I look at it live in our salesforce.com environment, this is all true. Because it is open, it self-polices itself too since you can be followed by anyone in the organization. And you can follow anything you have access to.

PJ: Based on numerous e-mail threads and missed opportunities within my long tenure at TEC, I could see how Chatter can be addictive and help promote internal collaboration. For example, say I put a status: "I will be presenting to this client/prospect, has anyone done something similar in the past, and are there any slides and templates to use, etc.?" It wouldn't really work if I just blasted an e-mail to almost everyone in TEC, and then some of my colleagues would keep responding, with some huge attachments (whereby e-mails just get bounced or blocked, presenting a nightmare for the IT administrator).

JR: Absolutely. Calls for help, advice, latest materials, etc., are happening in our organization all the time. Consultants are sharing implementation methodologies, charts of accounts, report designs, etc. Developers are helping colleagues in support, consulting, etc. It is definitely a corporate game changer!

PJ: Conversely, in Chatter, your colleagues would see your status, and then could just add a relevant comment to the feed with a link to some useful documents (since Chatter has a content library, which came from salesforce.com’s acquisition of a content management vendor Koral in 2007, now called Salesforce Content). Salesforce.com claims how the company has cut e-mail traffic by 40 percent owing to these Chatter discussions.?

JR: Yes, that is correct. Although we use Salesforce Content to post any permanent documents (we use it as an intranet) and then post a link from Salesforce Chatter to Salesforce Content. Doing it that way provides the best indexing and document control at this stage.

PJ: People are really good at multi-tasking, but they are really bad at being orderly and doing dull things in a steady and repeatable way. So for almost anyone, the experience of looking at a customer record or an opportunity record is much richer when the record is surrounded by lots of different bits of information that is presented to them in a context. That is, richer than the traditional experience of just going to the record and reviewing the bald facts, which have no context, right?

JR: I think you are on the right lines here. Your earlier example on TEC is a good one: huge attachments, fragmented email chains with different people on all with the same subject line: “Re: xxxx FW:xxxx.” This way people are always working and commenting on the latest.

Unlike e-mail, the Chatter discussion stays with the people or the salesforce.com object and becomes part of corporate knowledge. In that e-mail you described above, the knowledge is fragmented and in people’s inbox where it lies stagnating. Our key aim with Chatterbox was to get the applications to play a part in starting off the Chatters/discussions as well as the people to encourage this sort of knowledge sharing on items people might not be aware of.

Any Room for Improvement? You Bet!
PJ: What about the instant messaging (IM), presence, and unified communications (UC) use in Chatter/Chatterbox in the future? Any need for that?

JR: This one is for salesforce.com to decide within Chatter rather than for us to build within Chatterbox only. In general, it would be very useful.

PJ: Same with some validation, i.e., as to prevent inappropriate words in feeds, etc., or will it be on the honor system?

JR: Again something salesforce.com might want to build in, I guess. Looking at Chatter’s live instance in our organization, I think the system polices itself since it is a business space. Also, anyone can follow you, so you can’t restrict it to cliques a la Facebook. I think that openness is one of the core benefits and also creates self policing. In addition, there is the facility for an administrator to delete inappropriate posts.

PJ: Please refresh my memory on your thought process when it comes to leveraging Salesforce Visual Process Manger (VPM) and Salesforce Workflow down the track. The general rule is that Salesforce Chatter is great for open-ended questions-based internal collaboration vs. VPM for creating and modifying structured process (e.g., service call scripts for call center agents). I remember you saying something about using VPM in the credit collection process within Chatterbox, correct?

JR: We already make extensive use of Salesforce Workflow. Because we are 100 percent Force.com native, Salesforce Workflow is available with FinancialForce Accounting and workflows can already span, say, Sales Cloud 2 and our Accounting.

For its part, VPM allows you to design a repeatable process on Force.com and then have a user follow it. An example I have seen was a demo where it was used to collect data from an applicant to create an insurance quote. We are looking at its use in areas such as month-end closing and credit collections, where you want users to follow a specific path through a business process.

PJ: Any parting comment(s)?

JR: In line with the GA of Chatter, we have just released FinancialForce.com Accounting with Chatter fully baked in (the Summer ’10 release). I believe that capability is going to change the game for accounting and the integration of accounting with the rest of the business.

Dear readers, what are your comments and opinions with regards to collaboration in the cloud? I would certainly be interested in your experiences with the social software category in general and with Salesforce Chatter in particular (if you happen to be an early beta user).

Generally speaking, where do you fall when it comes to technology adoption? What was your reaction to, say, Apple iPad: were you in line the first day, you will get it eventually, or you just don't care for the latest-and-greatest gadgets?
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