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Entries in Salesforce development platform (7)

Friday
Jul152011

Usable UI

As a developer, I love to get into the intricacies of the code.  I love flow charts, thinking about how to solve a problem, untying a knot with code into a smooth working system that solves a problem.

But loving code, and the challenge of solving a problem from a technical standpoint, is only half the equation.  If your code lacks usability, users won’t use it, and ultimately, no problem is solved at all.

I was recently reading some literature on UI design.  What it boils down to is “keep it simple.”  Unless you’re writing for tech geeks, most users want a simple and clean interface.  Dummy proof the interaction that’s needed.  Think of Google.  There are all sorts of best practices lists when it comes to UI design.  I’ll let you go find those on your own.  But I do want to emphasize the value in keeping things as simple and clean as possible from a user’s perspective.  Keep the complex and beautiful intricacies of the code in the background—like a secret to be shared among developers.

In a conversation I was having with a Salesforce consultant, the consultant was singing the praises of an app that had been developed by a third-party vendor.  The app was pretty sophisticated, did a lot of different things, and helped to solve an important problem.  BUT, my consultant friend also commented on how the UI was almost incomprehensible.  There was nothing intuitive, and even after some training, she still found herself lost when confronted with how to make the software do its magic.  Not a good outcome after having worked so hard to make a great piece of software.

I will make one recommendation and that’s to do some split testing of your UI designs with beta customers before settling on the final look and feel.  As a bunch of developers, one of the worst things we can do is try to anticipate how our users will use our products and what they’ll be thinking.  We need to talk to them directly.  It’s easy to do, and it’s time well worth investing in our development cycles.

Thursday
Jul142011

Cloud Can Shift IT from Maintenance to Innovation

Recent reports show that IT departments spend the majority of their time (and budget) on maintenance and support—as much as 60-80%.  Perhaps the most unfortunate effect of this reality is that IT doesn’t actually get to use its expertise to do things that can further the mission of the business.  Instead, IT spends most of its time working on the same systems it built and deployed who knows how long ago. 

But, Cloud Computing may offer some hope for shifting the balance away from maintenance and support and more towards innovation.

Any systems changes in a business lead to a certain amount of resistance.  People get comfortable with the processes and tasks they need to utilize to do their jobs, and any changes causes a certain amount of anxiety about learning new ways of doing things.  Moving systems to the cloud brings added resistance with concerns over data security.  But there are some definite benefits. 

I would never advocate that an organization suddenly shift all IT systems to the cloud.  Rather, a phased in approach is likely easier to bear, will ruffle the fewest feathers, and just makes good business and strategic sense.

There are definite benefits to cloud-based systems:

  • Uptime:  Often uptime is raised as a concern when considering a move to the cloud since shifting to the cloud also removes the hands-on control of the IT department.  But most of the leading cloud-based applications and services offer far greater uptime guarantees than you could ever achieve with on-premise data centers.  There's a huge benefit to the efficiency of IT departments here--guaranteeing uptime is someone else's responsibility, and they typically do a better job of it.
  • Acquisition:  Selection of cloud-based services and apps can be directed to the departments that actually use them, typically sales and marketing.  IT doesn't have to be tasked with making a selection and then imposing that selection company-wide.
  • Cost:  By sharing the selection and responsibility, budgets for cloud-based services don't have to lie exclusively within the IT budget.  Instead, the cost can be split, and perhaps even offers a truer picture of the cost of doing business of each department.

When business units are accountable for the systems they choose, adoption and utilization of those systems will be higher.  And IT can be relieved of much of the burden of maintenance and support.

Friday
Jul082011

Back to the Basics: Workflows

A week ago I posted that I was going to spend some time defining some terms used in Salesforce development and started with a post about the Apex language but managed to get distracted by a few other topics. So now, I am going to step back and look at another piece of the foundation: Workflows. In the simplest view, it is exactly what it sounds like. The order in which business processes move in or out of a business. Automating these processes is about increasing worker productivity and improving consistent results.

Specific to Salesforce development, the definition does not change much. The goal still is to automate and simplify. A workflow is an action that is tied to an object, automatically triggered by a change to a record in the object. That's the goal. A simple way to extend objects with automated responses. Examples would include sending an email alert, communicating messages to other applicaitons, assigning a new owner to a record.

The workflow designer allows for developers or nondevelopers alike to put these workflows in place without writing code. Simplify is the key.

Tuesday
Jul052011

Salesforce Chatter API Help

Developers working with Force.com are hearing social, social, social when it comes to customization for their org. My to-do list definitely includes brushing up on Chatter API. I saw where Quinton Wall posted the recorded webinar today that covers Chatter REST API (which I missed, so I will be headed to Force.com to watch.

I will make time to listen start to finish but in my rushed schedule today, I was able to move through the Tips and Best Practices page to find exactly what I needed quickly. I had a question come up about URLs and found that there are two classes of URLs in payloads. Their quick summary on the topic says:

Static assets URLs like profile photo thumbnails are returned as fully qualified URLs. All other URLs are relative to the context user’s instance. An instance is a subdomain in the URL, such as na1.salesforce.com. The user’s instance URL is returned along with the access token at the end of the Oauth process. Append relative URLs received from the API to the instance URL before sending to a browser. Note that a user’s instance URL can change over time. Changes are rare, but generally you should avoid caching the API’s output for long periods of time because when representing a dynamic feed, resources may be updated or deleted at any time.

Other topics on the FAQ page are:

  • ·         Authenticated user can only see and post to their own news and to feeds
  • ·         Group Feeds
  • ·         Rate Limits
  • ·         Renewal Token

Here's a link to the recorded webinar for your viewing pleasure!

Friday
Jul012011

Apex Code for Force.com

In keeping with my recent theme of defining some key terms when it comes to Salesforce development, I want to look at Apex today.

Apex is the native programming language of the Force.com development platform.  It is an object-oriented programming language that enables calls to the Force.com API with execution of flow and transaction statements.  Apex allows developers to add various kinds of business logic to most actions taken within the Salesforce org like updates and clicks.  Apex syntax resembles Java, and acts like database stored procedures.  Scripts written in Apex are kicked off by web service calls and from triggers on objects.

One of the leading benefits of developing in Apex is that Apex offers flexibility while also reducing the number of calls between the server and the client.  While any Apex-developed app needs to communicate with the Salesforce servers each time it accesses data, such apps (those developed with Apex) handle such transactions natively.  Client-server communication is only required when receiving and presenting user input.

Thursday
Jun302011

Salesforce S-Controls

Recently, a client was asking me about S-Controls in Salesforce.  He’d been to a user’s group meeting and heard the term tossed around, but had no idea what it meant.  I explained to him what S-Controls are, and informed him that they are now, fairly recently, somewhat antiquated.  But given that they are still widely in use in a lot of Salesforce orgs, I suppose it makes sense to define them here.

S-Controls allow Salesforce developers to leverage HTML and Javascript to create custom pages and UI components.  These customizations are used when an admin needs to work with a small set of records or fields, or if he or she needs to link to an external server.

S-Controls enable developers to add their own functionality to a Salesforce org.  Among some of the possibilities, you can integrate hosted apps, or extend the Salesforce UI. 

Custom S-Controls can contain any type f content that can be displayed in a browser, whether it be a Java applet, an Active-X control, or an HTML web registration form.  The custom S-Control library is where you store and upload the content that you want to use within your org.

S-Controls have essentially been replaced by Visualforce pages.  If you currently have S-Controls in place, they will remain active and can be modified.  But any org that has not created an S-Control before March 2010 or any new orgs will be prevented from using S-Controls in favor of Visualforce pages.

Thursday
Jun232011

Adapting to the Cloud

When I saw the title “12 Ways the Cloud Changes Everything,” I knew I had to read it and when I read it I knew I needed to share and comment.  No promises that you will learn anything revolutionary but when someone has the ability to take a very complex subject and simplify it into digestible pieces I think it’s a worthy read. It's an overview, for sure, but the following list of 12 Ways may be valuable when thinking through future discussions like how your licensing will change or in what ways your IT departments will need to adapt.  This article discusses cloud computing and the future of applications being written for the cloud. Even though cloud computing has been around now for years, it is still a divisive topic. For some yet those who have adopted it fully are feeling very progressive and are even ready for the next wave of innovation but many are still considering whether to adopt the principles of cloud computing and how to deal with legacy systems that have been in place and successful in the past.  The article is titled “12 Ways the Cloud Changes Everything” and the author puts together thoughts and tips from 4 analysts on how enterprise can best be prepared for cloud computing.  The 4 were together as a panel at the recent Cloud Leadership Forum in Santa Clara, CA. She quotes analyst Frank Gens as saying that:

“Some 80% of new enterprise apps will be developed for the cloud in 2011 and, in the past year, adoption has moved into the “early majority” phase."

The author put together the following 12 observations from the panel. I have summarized each of the 12 points and have provided a link at the bottom to view the post in its entirety.

  1. The cloud is the third platform.  First came Mainframe, where applications numbered around 2,000, then client/server came next leading us into the PC revolution. In this period, the number of applications moved into the tens of thousands. Today the cloud has enable the work-anywhere mentality and we are looking at the number of applications moving into the tens of millions. There is a shift to mobile apps, social apps and the analytics/big data that come with that.
  2. Infrastructure vendors will create a fourth leg known as “shared cache” extending beyond servers, storage, and networks. Rick Villers is quoted as saying “The impact of server virtualization is just beginning.”  As IT looks toward ridding itself of silos and moving toward converged IT, virtualization will be an important step in the architecture but must start thinking bigger. There will soon come a day when IT is designing for a hundred VMs instead of the current 8-20. Then you must think about recovery of that much data which leads to data centers needing to have the shared cache space.
  3. Bring your own license. Panel member Robert Mahowald expresses that the enterprise software companies that survive the transition to cloud computing will adapt their licenses so that software can be accessed from multiple locations at a single cost to users. Microsoft is allowing for what they call “license mobility” when a customer moves server applications from internal data centers to cloud computing services.  Other panelists applauded Microsoft for making room for the transition.
  4. The business will view IT’s role as the “internal app store.” IT departments may evolve into an IT services concept which would require a major shift to offering a smorgasbord of services available on many types of devices and within private or public clouds.
  5. Public clouds will become more important than private clouds, says Gens.  Clouds developed within a company’s own data center is missing out on the advantages of the new 3rd platform and all it offers.
  6. Clouds are a big source for big data. This data in storage is creating analytics about customers like never before. Looking inward, this is a grand opportunity to do research on your customers preferences and habits. On the outside there are compliance issues and concerns to be dealt with.
  7. IT organizations will become cloud services brokers. Picture the future of IT as the master of all cloud services agreements. The will be the infrastructure needed to service the business.
  8. The cloud disrupts and potentially scares off the traditional IT workforce.  Where there is change, there is fear but ideally there would be preparation of students entering IT careers. To avoid outsourcing, we need to anticipate the changes coming and avoid a gap in skills.
  9. One-third of your key vendors will become “wiki-trivia,” says Gens. Right now there are vendors embracing the cloud and the services and licensing changes required. Those who choose to hold on to the “way we have always done it” will find themselves a statistic in the long run for failing to adapt.
  10. When it comes to the cloud, vertical specialization will prevail. Customers will seek out companies who have moved their services to the cloud.
  11. You can’t avoid the personal cloud. Much like the PC revolution, the people most successful at this next-generation, cloud-based IT will be the ones who know how to balance the enterprises’ needs with the users’ work styles. End users already have built their own personal clouds on their mobile devices, says Mahowald. These clouds build their personal experience with the cloud and model the enterprise applications they will want to work with.
  12. Cloud services foster innovation. This is by far the most exciting element of the new wave. Rapid adoption of the cloud is ahead, with opportunity for the IT team along with executives to lead the charge toward more efficient and economical IT tools.