WASHINGTON -- Looking to make deeper inroads into the public-sector market, Salesforce.com yesterday rolled out a suite of mobile applications to help government agencies improve in areas such as collaboration and application development.
Vivek Kundra, who joined Salesforce as a top executive after serving as the first CIO of the federal government, pitched the new offerings as a set of tools to make the government a more customer-focused enterprise, just as the firm has been steering its users in the private sector toward a more social, collaborative approach with their own customers.
"It's very much about becoming a customer company," Kundra, Salesforce's executive vice president of emerging markets, said here at a company event. "How do you listen to your customers? How do you tap into the ingenuity of your citizens?"
With its new government applications, Salesforce is focusing on citizens as well as partners and employees as it looks to build on what Kundra describes as the "megatrends" of cloud, mobile and social computing.
Federal IT Pedigree
Few people are better qualified to make such a presentation than Kundra, who was a lead architect of the federal government's cloud-first policy, and helped lay the groundwork for several other initiatives aimed at modernizing the sprawling federal IT apparatus with new technologies that can cut costs, improve efficiencies and deliver better services to citizens.
At present, CIOs throughout the federal government are working toward a series of milestones outlined in the White House's digital government strategy, issued one year ago Thursday. That document called for agencies to draw on technology to improve their citizen-facing services, with a particular emphasis on mobile applications.
A recent survey of federal IT executives found that only a slim majority of respondents believe that their agency has taken concrete steps to advance its mobile strategy, while just 39 percent said that their agency has produced at least two applications geared for citizens that have been optimized for mobile devices.
But the White House directive stands, and while issues like security concerns and tight budgets may have slowed the development of mobile technology in the government, agencies continue to work toward the common goals of setting usage policies and developing new applications.
In that spirit, Salesforce is now looking to expand its already substantial public-sector business with the new offerings, which include a social-media-monitoring app called the Government Social Command Center.
Patterned after a similar application the Red Cross uses to monitor posts on social sites like Twitter in disaster areas, the Social Command Center app harnesses the company's marketing cloud (built on technology Salesforce acquired with the purchase of the social-listening service Radian6) to enable government officials to make sense of the mentions of their agencies on social media channels.
The desired result is similar to what brand managers and customer service teams have been chasing since the advent of social media. In the case of the government, agency personnel would use the Salesforce social listening tool to learn about citizens' grievances with various government services and what applications they are using, with the ultimate goal of narrowing the gap between government and the public, and making the former more accountable to the latter.
"That's going to fundamentally change the relationship between citizens and their government," Kundra says.
Bringing a Mobile App Platform to the Public Sector
Another new offering from Salesforce comes in the form of a development platform for mobile applications. Kundra explains that the Salesforce Platform Mobile Services for Government enables public-sector IT departments to quickly assemble and deploy applications that can push data out to all types of devices, helping ease the need for mobile development specialists, which are in short supply at many government agencies.
"Why can't we deploy apps at the speed of thought?" says Kundra. "This platform, centered around mobile, is going to disrupt how mobile technologies are deployed across the public sector."
On the collaboration side, Salesforce is rolling out a product it calls Mobile Communities for Government, which provides for the set-up of secure social communication platforms for select inter-agency personnel and partners to set up profiles, receive feeds and share intelligence on trending topics, among other features.
The final of Salesforce's new offerings is the Rapid Response 311 app, which, based on the company's existing Service Cloud customer service app, aims to speed resolution of citizen issues reported through the 311 channel. The 311 app offers a unified case-management feature that delivers a holistic view of all relevant information related to a case from phone calls, emails, the Web and social media.
Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com.