Microsofts much-bally-hooed MS-CRM 1.0 has shown itself to be a good Version 1 CRM product. It has its quirks and architectural limitations, but, overall, it is a sophisticated application.
Microsoft has also shown that it is moving quickly in this space. A major quirk that popped up in MS-CRMs e-mail tracking system (the system tagged messages with a spamlike unique identifier) was fixed immediately. Microsoft simply added an option to turn it off.
Other progress has been far stealthier.
The company is accruing third-party partners at a rapid rate and now has approximately 1,000 development and business partners. Many of them come from Microsofts acquisition of Great Plains Software Inc. Others are tagging along for the MS-CRM ride, while some are partners in name only.
For now, MS-CRM is a simple system that has an architectural design that is set up from the beginning to tap into the Great Plains accounting and financial system (
MS-CRM goes far beyond what other CRM systems provide in terms of support for products and inventory. For example, MS-CRM includes the ability to store multiple price lists, information on units of measure and product detail. And while other CRM systems are concerned primarily with the customer record, MS-CRM includes the ability to tap directly into the Great Plains system. Eventually, MS-CRM will provide automatic bidirectional synchronization with the Great Plains system.
However, until Microsoft fully integrates Great Plains (as is expected to happen later this year), MS-CRM is an ordinary CRM system with a very nice interface and a good strategy.
One important partnership for Microsoft is with Surebridge Inc. (which purchased and merged with ManagedOps.com Inc.). Surebridge is an ASP that offers a hosted version of MS-CRM. eWEEK Labs did not test the Surebridge implementation of MS-CRM (we tested the locally installed version), but, unlike other CRM systems, there are only minimal differences between the hosted and installed version of the product.
Fundamentally, all Surebridge does is take care of core IT functions, such as backup, maintenance, security, systems management and network provisioning. This comes at a cost: Surebridge charges a $695 setup fee and $99 per user per month, with a 10-user minimum. Surebridges cost comes in addition to the MS-CRM costs of $395 to $1,295 per user and at least $995 for the server license. eWEEK Labs analysis shows that over a three-year period, the minimum costs of MS-CRM will be between $155 and $200 a year in a hosted environment.
This price is slightly greater than the $125-per-month average cost of the other hosted solutions. However, pricing differences will flatten and may even favor Microsoft if any customization is required or if an integrator is necessary to perform any complex customization.
Microsofts integration strategy is built mainly on its BizTalk Servera package that includes servers, adapters and tool kits for performing software integrations. BizTalk costs between $6,999 and $24,999, but it greatly simplifies integration within the Microsoft environment. In addition, several partners have latched on to the BizTalk framework and now sell highly tuned "quick start" applications that easily tie applications into the MS-CRM system.
In the installed world, MS-CRM has tight integration with Microsoft Office applications. When it comes to the hosted world, some of that integration is lost, especially when using standard configurations.
Surebridge, meanwhile, has solved one problemhow to administer MS-CRM when it is run as a host. Developers at Surebridge have created a separate control panel for managing users and permissions.
Only a few months old, MS-CRM already has clout. The Microsoft system (www.microsoft.com) is very easy to use, but it is still missing some functionality. In the hosted environment, each ASP is forced to take a slightly different approach.
(+) Core CRM product has strong company backing; easy to use; hosted version offers benefits of MS-CRM without requiring IT support.
(-) Costs more than other systems tested; integration and support for offline Outlook is complicated; some functionality is missing.
Price $99 per user per month hosted by Surebridge; $395 to $1,295 for MS-CRM client licenses and $995 and up for server.
CRM Systems Go Head to Head:
Labs Director John Taschek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.