Microsoft Ships CRM Suite

The long-awaited suite focuses on sales and customer service apps, with future versions expected to add marketing apps and more foreign language support.

Microsoft Corps Business Solutions group announced Tuesday that version 1.0 of its Microsoft CRM Suite has been released to manufacturing and that it will greatly expand the partner channel that the software is to be delivered through.

The suite, targeted at small-to-medium sized businesses, was first announced in late February 2002. It was originally slated to be available by the fourth quarter of last year. But as December drew to a close, the company announced that the product would be delayed until the first quarter of 2003.

The software is available in two editions, Standard and Professional. The Professional edition is the more feature-rich of the two, with support for work-flow rules, customization and back-office integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Professional edition will include Microsofts BizTalk application integration server Partner Edition with two ports each for internal and external applications.

Customers looking to implement Microsoft CRM Standard can order through either Microsoft Business Solutions partners (MBS) or Microsoft reselling partners. Microsoft CRM Professional can be ordered only through MBS CRM-certified partners.

Previously, the software was to be distributed only through the 600-odd CRM-certified partners. The move announced today expands the partner channel to about 20,000 to 30,000, according to Holly Holt, group product manager for CRM strategies at Microsoft.

Ingram Micro Inc. is the initial distributor of the software to the reseller channel.

Integration between Microsoft CRM Professional and Microsofts Great Plains back office applications will be supported in the first quarter of this year, the company announced today, with integration to Microsofts Solomon, Exacta and Navision back office applications delivered throughout the year.

The applications will not however share the same database or be deployed on the same application framework.

While the initial release will focus on sales and customer service applications, the 1.1 release of Microsoft CRM is expected to add marketing applications and more foreign language support. That release will be available in the second half of this year, Microsoft announced today.

Orders can be taken now, with software scheduled to ship later this week, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman.