The announcement of salesforce.com’s planned acquisition of Jigsaw is an interesting move in the world of cloud-based ‘content’. I am loosely defining ‘content’ here as stuff that goes on top of software applications in order to provide additional value to the users (in effect, make the plain vanilla application come alive) – this is also routinely called ‘data’. In this particular case, users of salesforce.com would be able to (in the right context) seamlessly use the contact information provided by Jigsaw as opposed to having to enter it manually.
There have been many attempts by On Premise application vendors such as SAP and Oracle in the past to get into the content business. SAP tried this with Business Content within the Business Warehouse (BW) data warehouse while Oracle got a leg up in this through the acquisition of Siebel (whose industry specific Analytics made significant use of content). These initiatives have met with mixed results – one could argue that one of the reasons for this is because the vendors have not really pursued a hybrid model i.e. On Premise applications pulling in content On Demand. Trying to get On Premise content out to tens of thousands of customers to be integrated into their On Premise applications (that have in many cases taken months, if not years, to be implemented) is not an easy task. Plus, there is always the interesting debate around how content should be priced when your main source of revenue is from application licenses.
A number of these challenges become easier to solve in the on-demand world. Obviously, the coming together of the content and the application can take place in a much more seamless and timely manner with the end-customer having to do very little of the work involved to make this happen. If you share the increasingly common view that the typical on-demand stack goes from Infrastructure to the Platform on which the Applications are built and Services are added on top to make these applications useful/usable, the merging of content with applications fits in very well into the Services layer. So, salesforce could offer the Jigsaw content as a value-added service (priced separately) to its customers.
What makes this entire space even more interesting is that the 800 pound gorillas of ‘content’ such as Nielsen and D&B have started moving upstream into the applications space in the recent past (see an example here). It will be interesting to see how they take advantage of the on-demand sales, pricing and deployment models in order to make this transition happen in a much faster, cheaper and more scalable manner than they could have even a couple of years ago.