If it’s October, it must be time for Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s annual user gig and my, how its grown. A few years ago there was goofing around on a Segway in the ballroom of a San Franciso hotel; this year you had over 5,000 people milling around in the neo-brutalist hell that is the city’s Moscone convention centre. In the event, there was much to commend the announcements that were made.

We’ve said before that the biggest problem with Siebel was that it had one really good idea and then lived off that for years afterwards. (Actually it did have other ideas but none of them were terribly good, which is pretty much the same thing). Whatever else critics can throw at Salesforce.com, it would a bold person who tried to claim that the firm does not innovate.

This time around we had the IdeaExchange, a way for users to add their requests for and comments on new features in an open forum – nice of Salesforce.com to alert competitors to what its punters want to see in future product development. But the most startling development was Apex, which at first sight appears to be a bold (cheeky?) attempt to outsource feature enhancement and customisation to customers. Basically Apex allows customers to make changes to the vendors’ applications or write their own.

Customers can also use Apex to build completely new applications – including functional areas such as HR and ERP that Salesforce.com is not touching – and have Salesforce.com store and run them in its datacentre on its Apex service platform. “Apex gives customers the same power as Salesforce.com’s internal developers to build their own applications,” says CEO Marc Benioff. “If you want to change our software you can do it.”

Finer details are yet to be ironed out – including pricing – but there’s time for that. It won’t be turning up for a couple of quarters yet. But the announcement does take Salesforce.com to a new tipping point: from its CRM roots to being a full-blown Software as a Service platform. CRM drives the majority of Salesforce.com user seats today but web services API calls already represent 45 per cent of total transactions.

It’s possible to envisage a time when native CRM transactions become the minority of those running through the company’s servers. It’s all a far cry from goofy antics with a Segway all those years ago.