MS to tackle CRM market

Microsoft will target the mid-range market when it launches a customer relationship management (CRM) product in the middle of next year.

The company will initially go for sites of five to 50 users says Microsoft Asia-Pacific head of business solutions Dave O'Hara.

Microsoft sees the mid-tier market as having plenty of growth as mid-size companies have shied away from CRM because of its expensive. Pricing of MS CRM hasn't yet been set but will be "affordable", O'Hara says.

Pet food company Masterpet, which uses Navision, is exploring the possibility of CRM but isn't yet convinced of its usefulness.

"We might not have to go any further than contact management, which is contained with in Navision," says financial controller Graham Stirling.

However, Masterpet pays attention to products that can easily be integrated with its existing systems, where the cost can be justified, he says.

MS CRM will be released in two editions. The standard edition will include sales and services automation functionality and the professional edition will eventually be integrated with Great Plains, Navision and Axapta, Microsoft's mid-level accounting packages. It will enable detailed analysis, store product catalogues, have a built-in workflow engine and also be integrated with Microsoft Office. It will be accessible via an Outlook client or browser.

MS CRM will be built on Microsoft Business Framework, a version of Microsoft's .Net framework optimised for business applications development.

O'Hara says there will be opportunities for software developers to extend functionality; for example, through integration with computer telephony software, or in handheld devices.

The head of CRM company Pivotal, Helen Robinson, says she doesn't expect to compete against Microsoft, which she sees tackling the lower end of the market. She is surprised the company will be aiming at up to 50 users.

Peter Radich, managing director of Onyx distributor Sybrel, says Onyx CRM for the Enterprise is also aimed at bigger companies than Microsoft's target market.

"Microsoft 's move is good news for CRM in general in that it will raise CRM awareness.

However, there is a concern that people will mistakenly perceive CRM as a technology-led initiative, whereas CRM must be business-led, starting with a business strategy."

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