Taking the next step in its walk toward an on-demand version of its Dynamics customer relationship management software, Microsoft announced Jan. 10 that its releasing the code for its next major upgrade, Titan, to about 300 partners.
The early look-see could help ease some partner fears around the impact of an on-demand model from Microsoft.
Titan, expected this summer, has a couple of major attributes that bring it into the realm of SAAS (software as a service), or on-demand software: multi-tenancy capabilities (a shared infrastructure for all users) and a single code base across on-premise and on-demand versions.
While both attributes help partners decrease their development and infrastructure costs (and pass those savings on to customers) it also changes a partners revenue stream from one of annual license fees to monthly fees.
That shift has led to a lot of questions for partners.
"The biggest change [for partners] is that CRM becomes a multi-tenant, host-able application," said Rob Boise, an analyst with AMR Research in Boston. "The early fears were that Microsoft was going to host [Titan] themselves and that most on-demand applications tend to be sold direct, rather than indirect," cutting partners out the equation.
During Microsofts PartnerWorld conference in the summer of 2006, when Titan was announced, the topic of conversation seemed to center around how its introduction would affect partners.
"There is a fundamental shift going away from a license model to on demand," said Mike Mazur, vice president of channel sales and alliances at NaviSite, a Microsoft partner, in an interview with eWEEK at the conference.
"Right now, Microsoft partners are judged on how many licenses they sell. With on demand that goes away … now were selling access to servers that are running applications. There is a shift that needs to happen so people understand where their cheese is, and where its moving to, to make it successful."
AMRs Boise said that Microsoft has done a pretty good job dissembling Titans role with partners, both at PartnerWorld last year and with this early release of Titan.
"Theyve released pieces of the Titan code to partners that includes a preview of Microsoft CRM Live. A subset of Titan, Microsoft CRM Live is geared toward very small businesses—those with about 10 employees—and is hosted in Microsofts Windows Live data center.
"Both are built on the same code base, but Live is going to be hosted directly from Microsoft," said Boise. "Titan will be hosted by partners or partners of partners."
Early adoption partners have access to the Titan code through Microsofts Technology Adoption Program. The idea is that with an early peek at the on-demand code, partners will have the ability to develop a fuller understanding of the on-demand model to determine how it will jive with their business model.
Brad Wilson, the general manager of Dynamics CRM at Microsoft, said that the 300 partners using Titan now are building mash-ups, vertical solutions and plug-ins. Over 1,000 partners will have access to Titan by the second quarter of 2007.
"Many of the things [partners] can do on premise, they can do with on demand—streaming news feeds, collaborative applications—all things are equally applicable," said Wilson, in Redmond, Wash.