Microsoft Corp. is on track to ship the first version of its CRM software by months end, but customers hoping to benefit from easy integration with the companys Great Plains and Navision back-office applications will have to wait.
The first iteration of the customer relationship management software will not support Microsoft Business Framework, a .Net-based platform that provides a common user interface and development environment across all Microsoft business applications, said David Thacher, general manager for CRM at Microsoft.
Thacher declined to give an exact date for support of the framework, saying only that it was a "long-range project."
"Well provide a common foundation for our partners to build a set of vertically tailored solutions," said Thacher, in Redmond, Wash. "Our customers will be enabled to fully participate in the Web services model and extend the applications to their partners, suppliers and customers."
A source close to the company said support for the framework isnt due until 2005.
IQNetSolutions Inc., an early beta Microsoft CRM customer, has already experienced some issues with front-to-back-office integration.
"We couldnt just roll the data in from our Great Plains [financial] applications like price lists and accounts created," said Tom Racca, vice president of sales and marketing at IQNetSolutions, in Westboro, Mass. "It had to be manually entered. Wed like to have visibility into the product on the back end."
Still, Racca has been generally satisfied with the beta to date, praising its real-time visibility into account information, workflow capabilities for assigning tasks and passing on leads, and ease of use. He was also pleased that it is suitable in a hosted environment; IQNetSolutions uses ManagedOps.com Inc. to host the software.
"I feel like were getting a lot of large-company function at a small-company price," said Racca.
Although not a full-featured CRM application suite yet, Microsoft CRM is expected to have some definite strengths in its first version.
PROS AND CONSStrengths
"Im surprised how much thought theyve put into the product this early," said Holtz, in Watertown, Mass.
Where Microsoft CRM is lacking for Holtz is in its customization capabilities, which are limited, he said. As a result, it most likely will not have the same degree of vertical-industry support as more mature CRM products. Conversely, Microsoft CRM should offer a lower TCO (total cost of ownership) and higher ease of administration, Holtz said. In addition, Microsoft CRM will allow business users to add fields, tabs and screens without IT intervention.
Some observers said Microsofts push should strengthen the CRM industry. Officials at ManagedOps. com, in Bedford, N.H., said Microsoft CRM is already pulling new customers into the company.