Microsoft CRM welcomed...sort of

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Resellers and other partners previewing Microsoft's long-awaited CRM software ahead of January's Australian release have had mixed feelings about the new application.

Microsoft's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application, from Microsoft's Business Solutions division, was launched in the US about six months ago but the first commercial and international version was only released to manufacturing this week.

Some Microsoft partners have treated the release with scepticism.

Arvi Heikkonen, director of ACT-based ISV Database Managing Pty Ltd, said his company received the software on beta but had adopted a "wait and see" approach.

"There's a lot of products that come out and you hear a lot and then it fizzles out," he said.

Heikkonen said he would install the beta when he understood more about the application and its compatibility with other systems and programs. It wasn't worth installing something that might then immediately need to be un-installed, he added.

"You don't want to start extending to everything, but you don't want to be left behind either," Heikkonen said. "But I am looking into doing some deploying for mid-range customers."

John Watt, CRM product manager at Microsoft Business Solutions, said the software's main advantage was how it integrated with Microsoft Outlook. The program appears as a toolbar within Outlook.

Other CRM applications often required users to switch between programs and people often couldn't be bothered. Further, they were often expensive and improperly integrated, he said.

"You can configure, extend and enable [other products] using Microsoft CRM," Watt said.

Microsoft has claimed the software has no competitors in the small to medium-size business space. The product targets companies with 25 to 1000 staff, Watt said.

Peter Menadue, national business manager at another Microsoft partner, integrator Dimension Data, said his company had successfully extended Microsoft CRM to use across its partner expo at its recent Forum 12 conference in Queensland.

"We wanted to maximise the way in which we managed the relationship with everybody that came along to see vendors [at Forum 12]," he said.

Delegate enquiries and follow-ups were synchronised across the network and customer information received was accessible via Pocket PCs, PDAs, websites and desktops, using BizTalk, SQL and SharePoint Portal Server but with Microsoft CRM as the fulcrum, he said.

"It really showed how easy it was to extend," Menadue said. "By using that, we could really accelerate the time to market for our solutions. It's pretty easy to interface the front-end back through CRM."

George Deligiannoudis, sales and marketing director at Melbourne ISV Wireless IP Technology, said Microsoft CRM worked well with other applications to help create "end to end" mobility packages. When field sales teams communicated better and faster, time and money would be saved, he said.

Wireless IP's .NET-based wireless connectivity product was developed to extend Microsoft CRM. "Our [ConnectiX] ... extends the CRM app behind the LAN," he said.

CRM was XML and web-services based so was easy to integrate across entire networks, Deligiannoudis said.

Microsoft claimed that early adopter customers in 47 countries had shown 'significant interest' in the package.

Some 1,000 clients had used version 1.0, the company said, while about 1,500 of Microsoft's 800,000 partners worldwide had already agreed to sell it. About 300 ISVs were working to extend the software's functionality, Microsoft said.

Microsoft CRM 1.2 comes in eight languages -- including two dialects of English. Smaller businesses could deploy it with Microsoft Small Business Server. Businesses with 20 users could license the software via the three-year Open Licence Value program at $370 a user per year for the sales standard version or $660 for the professional version.

Fleur Doidge travelled to the Microsoft partner conference as a guest of Microsoft.


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