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I am a new entrant to Salesforce (force.com) world coming from Java world. My team is migrating customer service functionality from Siebel to SFDC leveraging Service Cloud. We also have B2B commerce which is currently done through a custom java application. Since the majority of the business process automation (Order Management) is being implemented through Service Cloud, the team is considering creating a Customer Community for B2B customers and expose customer facing functionality using communities. Majority of my team are "Point and Click" developers with limited understanding of other polyglot technologies. While I do agree that Communities provide a quick way to setup customer facing sites, I am still not convinced that communities will be a better option against a customer web-app on Heroku or some other PaaS. Also the licensing and other limitations of force.com may not let the app scale.

The options I have in front of me are

  1. Leverage Community Builder and build a working site (Preferred by leadership)
  2. Leverage force.com sites (Visualforce + customizations) - Preferred by technical team
  3. Leverage Heroku and connect to SFDC using API and Heroku Connect - Preferred by me !!!

Are there any compelling arguments or any criteria which defines which way to go and when ?

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    You've not really told us the kind of numbers (users or hits/month) for anyone to give you an intelligent response. Communities generally scale very well for most organization's uses. You need to tell us what yours are if you want a useful answer. – crmprogdev Jan 1 '17 at 16:44
  • I think your comment makes sense. We are a medical device company which manufactures devices and also ships supplies needed for imparting therapy. As such we have 2 types of external users 1. Big Hospitals (B2B) 2. Patients (B2C) – modek Jan 1 '17 at 18:24
  • Hit "enter" too soon... – modek Jan 1 '17 at 19:03
  • I think your comment makes sense. We are a medical device company which manufactures devices and also ships supplies needed for imparting therapy. As such we have 2 types of external users 1. Big Hospitals (B2B) 2. Clinics and Patients (B2C). We have a pretty predictable volumes when it comes to B2B customers since these are the accounts we have contracts with. The Clinic/Patient volume although known, can vary based on how often they need to order/re-order their supplies. Also we have plans to integrate Cases, Knowledge. – modek Jan 1 '17 at 19:03
  • Just an observation - heroic Connect is Expensive. Communities would be a cheaper option and MUCH easier to maintain (generally). When in doubt always go with point and click (generally) – Eric Jan 2 '17 at 5:03
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At the moment only Napili template can be used to build community using Community Builder(Koa & Kokua do not support Lightning & have tons of limitations). Napili template itself has limitations. It doesn't work in Salesforce1 and doesn't support all of the objects(Opportunity flow, Orders)

force.com sites (Visualforce + customizations) has no limitations to customizations or object access. It also scales really well for upto ten million customers(& may be more if you are willing to pay). However creating jazzy look & feel takes more time & effort as compared to Community Builder.

Heroku and connect to SFDC using API and Heroku Connect doesn't work on Salesforce1. Typically, it takes more time to create a web app using Java as compared to Aex/Visualforce. Integrations are hard and bug prone. Lot's of out of the box functionality can not be leveraged(Reports & Dashboards, Chatter Answers, Knowledge, Ideas). Yes it might scale but do you really need ten million plus users?

Everything else being equal, force.com sites (Visualforce + customizations) should be your default approach.

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we had to make the same decision regarding using customer communities vs heroku.

Salesforce gave us unlimited customer community license when we bought service cloud license for our internal users. If you have a java application thats already running you can with bit of customization move it to heroku as it can host java applications. in Heroku you will buy dynos to scale up your users.

in favour of communities the biggest advantage is if you stick to lightning napili communities you can build re-usable lightning components and maybe reduce your re-build effort.

If you are using case object you can leverage service cloud console features easily as knowledge and other good widgets are integrated.

If your comparison is based on just cost then compare your current user base cost (SF communities vs heroku(dynos based)) and talk to salesforce as well and make a decision on which way to go.

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