Microsoft answers CRM critics

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Microsoft has answered critics of its new CRM software, arguing that the application has full functionality targeted to customer needs.

Microsoft has answered critics of its new CRM software, arguing that the application has full functionality targeted to customer needs.

Ross Dembecki, lead product manager at Microsoft Business Solutions Australasia, said Microsoft CRM had a 'full range' of sales and customer service functions and business reporting tools.

North American customer feedback on Microsoft CRM version 1.0 had been used in developing version 1.2, he said.

'We're proud of the functionality Microsoft CRM 1.2 delivers to the market today,' Dembecki said.

The product mainly focuses on sales force automation. However, it did include a customer service module and ASP functionality was under development, he said.

He admitted that 'early customers' tended to see Microsoft CRM as an extension of Outlook. 'Often, the challenge with implementing CRM is the adoption within an organisation, as team members resist change,' Dembecki said.

Critics have argued that Microsoft CRM 1.2 was not built on .NET from the ground up, but was merely .NET-compliant.

'Microsoft CRM is undeniably built on the Microsoft .NET Framework. The Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 is a system requirement before installing Microsoft CRM 1.2,' Dembecki said. 'Microsoft CRM implements web services, publishes XML/SOAP interfaces, and is an ASP.NET application.'

Dembecki said Microsoft CRM 1.2 didn't need similar campaign management functionality to other CRM products because it was designed to work with third-party bolt-on applications.

'Microsoft CRM is built on the Microsoft .NET Framework and as such is highly extensible,' he said.

Microsoft has pushed its CRM software as an SMB option. Yet the only customer trotted out at the launch was transport and logistics giant Linfox - which admitted it had taken six months to get Microsoft CRM fully operational.

Dembecki admitted that 'considerable time re-defining business processes' could be needed, depending on the company involved, to take advantage of Microsoft CRM.

He reiterated that the Microsoft CRM Sales for Outlook client itself took 30 minutes to install and five hours for staff to learn how to use it.

'CRM is a business strategy that needs to be supported by software, senior management and a commitment to business process change,' Dembecki said.

He said the vendor had chosen to 'highlight' Linfox because it had the 'most advanced' deployment of Microsoft CRM to date in Australia.

Linfox is an all-Microsoft shop.

He said that Microsoft CRM 1.2 targeted SMBs and departments of larger organisations. Deployment was 'achievable' for SMBs, he said.

'Implementation costs will vary, and can grow beyond the software costs. This is true for all CRM projects from all vendors,' Dembecki said.

Partners could make money from selling Microsoft CRM from licensing sales, pre-sales support and software implementation services, he said, as well as post-sales support, and could earn total margins of 30 to 40 percent.

'Smaller organisations would typically use a trained partner to maintain the system. Mid-market companies who have their own IT group may choose to have one of their staff trained on Microsoft CRM and manage the system themselves,' Dembecki said.

The software was not being considered for bundling with Microsoft Office, he added.

Dembecki said version 1.2 had workflow enhancements, improved reporting with Crystal Enterprise 9, 'an improved setup experience', and was 'compatible' with new Microsoft products such as Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003, Windows Small Business Server 2003 and Office 2003.

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