Exchange to Support CRM

Microsoft messaging software to get MSCRM link; tighter integration with Outlook in works.

Microsoft Corp. will enable developers to build applications that link the companys Exchange messaging software with its recently announced MSCRM platform.

Exchange will expose SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol)-based interfaces into the CRM (customer relationship management) platform, and developers will be able to use .Net development tools to build applications on top of those interfaces, according to company officials.

Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., will leave it up to third-party developers to add MSCRM-specific application development tools, the officials said.

Also planned is tighter integration between Microsofts Outlook e-mail client—one of the clients with which users will access MSCRM applications—and Exchange. This will allow data such as contacts, appointments, tasks and e-mail to be bidirectionally synchronized between Outlook and MSCRM. As a result, remote users such as traveling salespeople will get offline access to CRM applications.

Microsoft will also put user interface hooks into Outlook, including an Outlook shortcut bar and folder menu links, that will enable MSCRM application to run inside Outlook.

Microsoft officials would not say when these enhancements will be in place, although MSCRM is expected to ship by the end of the year.

All this should please small-to-midsize businesses that already use Exchange and are expected to be MSCRM target customers.

Any improvements in Exchanges CRM application development capabilities as well as in Outlook as a CRM application client should be welcome among Exchange developers. Chris Swinney, IT consultant at FAB Solutions and Systems, in Swansea, Wales, builds small-business CRM applications using Exchange and Outlook and finds their CRM capabilities fairly limited.

"The problem is that Outlook in its raw form, even when teamed up with Exchange and the other Office products, is no more than a good personal information manager—with the emphasis on the personal," said Swinney. "Without a lot of reworking, it is not really a decent CRM package."

Its that reworking that FAB does for its clients, hoping to give them a CRM add-on to Microsoft Small Business Server 2000 thats less expensive than packaged CRM software targeted at small businesses. FAB also looks to add Microsoft SharePoint Team Services to provide integrated contact and document management.

Officials at IBMs Lotus Software division dismissed the Exchange CRM application development efforts as ground that Lotus Domino messaging and groupware server has already covered.

Domino 6, expected at midyear, has some application development improvements of its own that could benefit CRM application developers, such as interface improvements designed to make end users more productive.

Domino 6 will allow customer data to be stored natively in IBMs DB2 databases, providing faster and easier access to CRM applications, said Lotus officials in Cambridge, Mass.