Microsoft To Offer Select VARs Preview Of Next CRM Product

Microsoft said it will invite "a few hundred partners" to try a pre-beta version of Microsoft CRM starting June 13. A broader, general beta is slated for late summer or early fall, the company said. General availability is slated for the fourth quarter.

The next Microsoft CRM--which has been called both CRM 2.0 or CRM 2005--will sport new marketing automation, campaign management and service scheduling modules as well as a streamlined installation when used with Small Business Server, said Satya Nadella, corporate vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS).

Though Nadella told Tech Ed 2005 attendees that VARs can register for the trial starting Monday, a Microsoft spokesman characterized the test run as an "invite-only" event for several hundred partners, to be available later this month.

Also on tap with the next Microsoft CRM is improved support for departmental use within companies. "Bigger companies can use CRM and federate with other instances of CRM," Nadella said. Another focus is easing co-existence with the hugely popular Small Business Server (SBS). If customers install the new Microsoft CRM on SBS, they only need to type in their user name and a key number for a fast, few-clicks install, he said.

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Nadella declined to comment on any hard bundle between Microsoft CRM and SBS. In January, a Microsoft executive indicated that such a bundle was likely.

Microsoft's workflow capabilities also are starting to converge, Nadella confirmed. The current Microsoft CRM has its own workflow, but the upcoming 2.0 release will build on the Windows Workflow Services that are starting to flow within SharePoint Portal Server. And down the road, Microsoft CRM and the other MBS accounting products will use the core Windows Workflow Services, once dubbed WinOE.

Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's Windows Server Division, said the migration of core workflow/orchestration capabilities to the underlying operating system is analogous to the movement of collaboration core services from SharePoint Portal Server to Windows.

Solution providers said they can't wait for Microsoft to rationalize these disparate technologies.

"Workflow is all over the place at Microsoft," said one Microsoft infrastructure partner, who requested anonymity. "CRM has its own, Exchange has workflow, SQL Server has workflow, and then there's BizTalk. Now Groove has workflow, and there's approval process workflow around Content Management Server. They need to get this together."