Microsoft Previews Upcoming CRM

Jim Wagner

Updated · Jul 06, 2005

Microsoft took the wraps off its delayed CRM software update on Tuesday to show off new capabilities for existing users and new options for small businesses.

The technology preview, announced at the start of the company's TechEd 2005 Europe show in Amersterdam this week, will be available to existing Microsoft CRM customers at the end of the year. General availability is expected in the first quarter of 2006, officials said.

A software development kit (SDK) of the upcoming software is expected later this year on the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN).

Microsoft is banking on the popularity of its Outlook suite to gain new customers to its software, with a user interface consistent with the Outlook and Web clients and the ability to port CRM information directly into Excel.

Brad Wilson, Microsoft CRM general manager, said Microsoft CRM 3.0 provides what customers and partners need: a simple user experience based on Office and Outlook, a flexible CRM platform that easily adapts to fit each business, and fast implementations that can result in a low [total cost of ownership].

The update aims to fill some gips in Microsoft's existing CRM product, version 1.2. When it was released in 2003, analysts called it a limited version of a true CRM product offering.

Microsoft CRM 3.0 plays catch-up with existing CRM functionality found in competitor products: marketing automation and resource management, campaign management and closed-loop response management. The company is also introducing a service scheduling module, which marries service requests to particular resources, skills and people.

Also introduced in the preview was a small business version of the software for customers using Windows Small Business Server 2003 Premium Edition. The Small Business Edition is an alternative to companies currently using Office Outlook 2003 with the Business Contact Manager. Officials promise a simplified installation process and migration path from the business contact manager.

Microsoft is also trying out a subscription-based licensing model on Microsoft CRM 3.0, for those customers who use it on a hosted, or on-demand, basis. The software as a service (SaaS) is hosted by Microsoft ISVs , which charge a monthly service fee but also need to charge a separate Microsoft licensing fee.

The change is a boon for ISVs as subscription-based licensing and hosted CRM gain traction in the workplace. proved many traditional enterprise software companies wrong when its hosted CRM offering found a willing market, prompting competitors like on-premises software CRM mainstay Siebel to revamp its software to meet the demand.

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