Microsoft, Onyx Link for CRM Push

Vendors will target large enterprises in vertical industries, commencing with financial services

Microsoft corp. has signed a partner to tackle the CRM software market for large financial services companies. Passing up market leader Siebel Systems Inc., which counts financial services as its largest vertical, Microsoft chose Onyx Software Corp. The vendor of customer relationship management software, based in Bellevue, Wash., a few miles from Microsoft, in Redmond, has been looking to move upstream from the midmarket.

Under the terms of the partnership, Microsoft and Onyx will combine their sales, marketing and technology development efforts to bring CRM solutions to large-scale enterprises in vertical industries, starting with financial services. Officials from both companies declined to say what vertical segments the companies will attack in the future.

The first phase of the partnership calls for Onyxs Investment Management Edition software package to be delivered with Microsofts .Net enterprise servers and CRM strategy, along with implementation consulting services from RevenueLab, which Onyx acquired last month.

The companies will focus on investment management and retail financial services.

Bank Direct, a 3-year-old New Zealand-based Internet bank similar to ETrade Bank in the United States, already uses both Onyx and Microsoft software. The new partnership between those two developers should bring new technologies to his company faster, said Kevin Leith, a marketing manager at Bank Direct.

"It can only help us in our ability to strive forward in our development and bring new services to our customers," said Leith, in Auckland. "We see ourselves at the forefront of new technology. Were early adopters, and so are our customers. This should only enhance our ability to move forward with new technology and continue to be a strong force in Internet banking."

The move comes on the heels of a partnership agreement between Microsoft and Onyx rival Pivotal Corp. in December. That partnership focuses on developing demand chain applications—software for integrating e-commerce and customer, partner and employee relationship management—for Global 2000 companies.

Unlike Pivotal, which develops software exclusively for Microsoft platforms, Onyx in December expanded its platform and database support to the Unix operating system and Oracle Corp. database. Neither relationship is exclusive, and Microsoft expects to add more CRM partners in the future.

Craig Conway, CEO at PeopleSoft Inc., which has its own CRM tools, described the Onyx partnership, as well as Microsofts deal with Pivotal and its recent acquisition of enterprise applications provider Great Plains Software Inc., as "puzzling."

"I met with [Microsoft CEO] Steve Ballmer recently, and after talking to him, I dont understand what he is doing in the enterprise space," said Conway, in Pleasanton, Calif. "I dont understand why he would invest in tiny point-solution companies with little impact when Microsoft could take a much more bold initiative in the enterprise space."

Onyx announced last week that its fourth-quarter revenues nearly doubled from the same period a year ago, from $20.2 million to $37.9 million, while pro forma net income fell from $1.4 million to $836,000.