Microsoft To Enter CRM Business

Baseline Magazine's Mary Jo Foley has uncovered details on Microsoft's planned entry into the customer resource management marketplace. Known internally as MSCRM, the software is expected to emerge in the first quarter of 2002, and will be focused toward mid-sized companies. A professional edition for small enterprises is expected to follow shortly thereafter.

This push by Microsoft comes nearly one year after it purchased Great Plains Software – a specialist in small business applications. The company has also worked to bolster its bCentral product line which serves nearly 100,000 customers. Microsoft's bCentral faces direct competition from, among others, the world's number two software maker Oracle.

Microsoft's Janelle Poole, Marketing Manager for bCentral, refused comment on MSCRM, and did not commit to any plans for hosting CRM services. However, a whois query on the domain mscrm.com revealed to BetaNews that it was backed by an international array of Microsoft servers.

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Additionally, a job description seeking a software test engineer to work directly out of Redmond can be found on Microsoft's jobs Web site, BetaNews discovered. According to the listing, "Microsoft's CRM team is building a product to compete in this space. Designed using .Net technologies, MS CRM will allow businesses to keep track of their customers, leads and opportunities anywhere, any time and on mobile devices, both online as well as offline."

The MSCRM vision document, from which Baseline derived its report, outlines Microsoft's vision to layout a full CRM suite complete with modules for sales force automation, customer service, and marketing. The core platform will include, specifically, a business rules engine called "Dragonfly," contact and lead management, e-mail, instant messaging, and routing. A plethora of other technologies developed by Microsoft will be included as well. According to Foley, Microsoft SQL Server is a prerequisite for running the suite.

Customers waiting on marketing automation will have to wait for version 2.0 of MSCRM set to debut in early 2003. The module will consist of campaign management, campaign planning, ROI analysis, and telesales scripting functions.

The company is expected to aggressively market its new line of product offerings. Foley told BetaNews, "I am surprised Microsoft waited this long to get into the business applications game. But now that they are moving in, I expect them to come at it, no holes barred."

Despite aggressive sales tactics and the incentive of having fully integrated and volume licensed software customers may remain hesitant before switching over IT solutions to a relative newcomer in the business.

"I think people will be interested to kick the tires, simply because it's a Microsoft product. But CRM has proven tough to implement correctly. Customers are cautious now. So it probably will take Microsoft some time to make any real inroads in the corporate market -- even the mid-market," said Foley.

Pricing will be dependent on individual modules with the basic version expected to run $750 per desktop and $1,500 per user for the professional version. Software developers familiar with the project remarked that the server version is slated to sell for an estimated $2,000 per machine.

Microsoft will offer two different purchasing options, hosted/per user-per month and on-premise.

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