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Salesforce: Can I really build a portal on the platform?

Back in 2012, Gartner included Salesforce.com in their Horizontal Portal Magic Quadrant as a Visionary.  Since that time, many people have scratched their head wondering how is a CRM system a horizontal portal?   In fact, Michael Porter recently blogged about Virgin Airline’s new employee portal built on Salesforce.  But the real story behind Salesforce as a portal is that the Salesforce platform is the star of the show.

The Salesforce platform consists of Force.com, on which Salesforce.com is built, and includes features such as Apex, Canvas, Sites, etc.  In addition, Salesforce has fostered an Application ecosystem consisting of over 1,000 applications that are easy to integrate into the platform.  Finally, the Salesforce platform provides necessary systems functions like infrastructure, security, registration, monitoring, etc.

Lets take a quick look at what makes up a horizontal portal and see how the Salesforce platform can enable you to build an internally- or externally- facing portal.  Here are some common features of modern horizontal portals:

  • Security, included single sign on and user management.  Force.com includes SSO, integration with third-party authorization services and identity providers, login pages, and self registration.  In addition, you can secure pages and components to authorized users or groups.  Force.com takes care of the login process so you don’t have to write any code to enable these features.  
  • Content and document management for building web pages.  Force.com includes the ability to create multiple sites and has basic editing features for managing pages and assets.  However, you can also integrate a content management system such as OrchestraCMS from the app store to have a full featured CMS right in your Force.com site.  OrchestraCMS includes page templates, multiple content types, menus, forms, etc.  Because OrchestraCMS is built right on Force.com, you can easily integrate other Salesforce applications.  For example. if you build a form in OrchestraCMS, you can feed that data directly into the Salesforce lead or contact data.
  • Workflow for both content and business processes.  Workflow is an integral part of Force.com, so you can take advantage of it within your portal.  For example, if you want to build an expense approval system, you can use the built-in workflow system to route items for approval and then kick off a business process when all approvals complete.
  • Application integration so you can pull data from various systems into one page or surface other systems content.  I mentioned that OrchestraCMS can push form data right into your CRM application.  In addition, Apex allows you to write web service applications that can pull data from your systems and display the data on your Force.com pages.  Salesforce now has Canvas, which is a technology that lets you build an application external to Force.com, but still display that application on your Force.com pages.
  • Mobile access through responsive designs and/or native applications.  Salesforce.com lets you create multiple mobile configurations, define what data will be pushed to mobile devices and provides a native interface to the Salesforce.com data.  This mobile support does not extend to your own Force.com pages, but you can easily access your Force.com data.  Your website can be built using responsive design techniques to make your pages look good on mobile devices.
  • Personalization of content.  You can use Force.com’s security and profile features to customize the experience for users or groups within your application.
  • Social integration.  Force.com easily integrates with Chatter.  In fact, you can add a user’s personal Chatter to feed to any page with the simple tag <chatter:newsfeed/>.  Other applications include the ability to integrate with other social media systems like Twitter and Facebook.

Overall, there is a lot you can do with the Salesforce platform.  To be sure, the platform is not as robust as the leaders in the Gartner Horizontal Portal Magic Quadrant, but Force.com will do a lot for you, especially when you consider how easily it is to get up and running with the cloud-based platform.  As you add on applications from the app store, you can begin to see the full power of Salesforce.

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