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Microsoft makes CRM move -- finally

Microsoft finally anted up on the long anticipated and often postponed release of its new customer relationship management software for small- and mid-sized businesses. Originally due late last year, Microsoft's first CRM application is now available in North American through the company's Business Solutions Division. It is expected to be in the hands of resellers within a few weeks.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant says the Microsoft CRM is designed to help businesses track sales leads, accounts and orders, as well as to help customer service representatives track and resolve cases. The app is accessible both as a browser-based application and through Microsoft Outlook, according to company representatives.

''Microsoft CRM is a key component of Microsoft Business Solutions' overall mission to give mid-market businesses the tools they need to succeed on their terms, schedules and budgets,'' said David Thacher, general manager of customer relationship management at Microsoft Business Solutions. Microsoft CRM is the first Microsoft-developed business app built on .NET infrastructure, Thacher added.

The company is billing the new software as an alternative to what Microsoft officials call the sprawling, often hard-to-implement offerings from CRM stalwarts like SAP and Siebel Systems. And it's banking on the tight integration of the product with its widely implemented Outlook client. The company calls CRM an entry-level application intended for companies with fewer than 500 employees, and the product's pricing structure reflects that strategy. Licenses for the Standard Edition of the product, which is designed for a standalone CRM environment without extensive business automation and integration requirements, start at $395 per user, plus $995 for a server component. The Professional Edition, which enables more complex features such as workflow rules, customization and back-office integration with ERP systems, sells for $1,295 per user.

Both versions require Windows 2000 Server, SQL Server 2000, Active Directory, and Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher. Microsoft also recommends using Exchange Server 2000 and Office 2000 or XP in conjunction with the product for optimum performance.

Integration for Microsoft's Great Plains applications will ship later this quarter, and integration with the rest of Microsoft's Navision products will come by year-end 2003, Microsoft officials said. The company plans to provide versions of the product in seven languages and in several countries by the second half of 2003.

Certified Microsoft reselling partners will begin distributing and implementing the Professional Edition immediately, the company said. The Standard Edition will be available to reselling partners in North America through Santa Clara, Calif.-based distributor Ingram Micro.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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