Microsoft Skips to 3.0 for CRM

The company is skipping its Version 2.0 and plans to release Version 3.0 with general availability early in 2006.

Microsoft has decided to skip its long-delayed Microsoft CRM 2.0 release and jump right to Version 3.0, the company announced Tuesday.

The much-awaited version is scheduled to be released to manufacturing in the fourth quarter with general availability in the first quarter of next year. Partners will get access to the new version in August, with a customer beta due to ship in September, company officials in Redmond, Wash., said.

Microsoft CRM 2.0 was originally planned for the first quarter of 2004.

An alpha version of the product became available in the fourth quarter of last year.

In February of this year, Microsoft announced a roadmap similar to the current one and began discussing the future version as Microsoft CRM 2005. That version has now become Microsoft CRM 3.0.

"There are things on the 3.0 roadmap that our customers and partners asked us to do [for this version], so we re-scoped, and the vast majority of the 3.0 roadmap aligns with what we said [2.0] was going to be, so thats why we changed the name," said Brad Wilson, general manager for Microsoft CRM.

The company will preview the new release this week at partner conferences in Minneapolis and Amsterdam.

Chief new features in this release include long awaited marketing automation applications including list management, campaign management, marketing response management and marketing resource management.

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"It allows more casual users to have powerful marketing functionality," said Wilson, in Redmond.

Microsoft will introduce a Small Business Edition of Microsoft CRM with this release designed for companies with up to 75 employees, and a subscription-based pricing model wherein customers would pay a per-month application rental fee rather than a perpetual license. Microsoft partners would host the applications.

Microsoft is also focusing on ease of use in this release with a user interface thats "indistinguishable" from the native Microsoft Outlook client interface, Wilson said.

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"When we first came out [in Microsoft CRM 1.0], we were based on Outlook, but it wasnt as seamless as we wanted it to be in terms of windows popping up, icons and user metaphors," Wilson said.

"We put a lot of effort into redesigning it to be as indistinguishable [from] the normal Outlook experience in terms of screen flow and layout."

There are also roles-based interfaces in this release plus a new high-performance synchronization engine to improve the user experience from disconnected laptops and handheld devices, Wilson said.

Other improvements include support for tracking of e-mail threads associated with customer accounts, a workflow engine for triggering external applications, and improved reporting, particularly for exporting data to Excel spreadsheets.

This release will include a complex service scheduling module, designed to automatically find the best times to schedule service calls for field service or timeslots for professional services employees.

Microsoft CRM 3.0 will support 23 languages, up from the current 16, with support added for Swedish, Finnish, Turkish and both simple and traditional Chinese, among others.

Microsoft CRM is sold exclusively through channel partners, and Microsoft will continue to rely on those partners for add-on development, customization, implementation, support and integration.

Microsoft offers pre-built integration for Microsoft CRM only to its Great Plains back office applications.

Pricing for Microsoft CRM 3.0 has not yet been determined, but will remain on a per-seat basis, Wilson said.

Microsoft CRM currently has over 4,000 customers worldwide and more than 100,000 deployed users, according to Wilson.

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