Microsoft Renames CRM Next, Adds Hosted Licensing Option

CRM Next Service Provider License Agreements

What had been called Microsoft CRM 2.0 and then CRM 2005 will officially be dubbed Microsoft CRM 3.0, said Brad Wilson, general manager for Microsoft CRM. The product is still set to be released to manufacturing in the fourth quarter, he said.

The new naming convention isn't just window dressing but reflects major additions to what had been planned for this delayed release, according to Wilson. On top of the planned marketing modules, such as list and campaign management, the product adds what Wilson called a "high-speed, role-based sync engine" and tighter-than-originally-planned integration with Microsoft Outlook and Office. The CRM news emerged at Tech Ed Europe in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and is slated to be discussed in depth at the Microsoft Worldwide Partners' Conference later this week.

For users who sometimes are offline, the new synchronization perks mean that Microsoft CRM updates only data that's relevant to them and their role in the business. "If you're a regional manager, you may not need all of the objects in the system to sync but just those that have to do with your region and accounts," Wilson said.

Microsoft also added a Quick Campaign module for sales staff who might need to devise a fast plan of action for a call. "The main marketing stuff is for professional marketers, with campaign planning and approvals. This is more for a sales guy who finds a prospect and wants to put something together quickly, plan a golf outing and pull a list together," Wilson said. At the same time, the quick marketing campaigns become part of the overall CRM workflow and can be tracked, he said.

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For VARs and software developers, Microsoft CRM 3.0 stands to make it easier to create custom objects for a vertical business. "If you're a builder, you care about customers, but your world revolves around buildings. So you can create a building object and rename any system entity you want. In the old model, you couldn't change things you had already built," Wilson said.

"The point is that partners can now build vertical apps really fast," he noted.

Andy Vabulas, CEO of Ibis, an Atlanta-based Microsoft partner, agreed that the upcoming Microsoft CRM version will enable solution providers to customize applications for their clients more easily.

"One of the biggest things is that you can now modify or enhance the product with new entities. That will make it easier to customize and verticalize in a native CRM environment without going outside," Vabulas said. Microsoft also has beefed up the service side of the product, filled a big gap with the marketing module and improved the product's search capability by allowing users to save queries, he added.

Perhaps more important to partners, Microsoft plans to offer a Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA) with Microsoft CRM 3.0 that will give solution providers an option to host CRM for their customers on a subscription basis. That would enable partners to better compete with on price in hosted situations and continue to offer on-premises CRM. Pricing for the hosted CRM isn't set yet, but VARs would be able to offer prices that are competitive with Professional, which costs about $125 per user per month, Wilson said.

Microsoft had hoped to get the hosting side of the product done last year. But the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant held off to sort out SPLA issues, plus the newer CRM version was architected to better support the hosted model.

Some VARs said they're excited that the product is now nearing fruition. "We now have the ability to compete against with a hosted offering. That's a super addition," Vabulas said.

With CRM 3.0, Microsoft also plans to inaugurate a Small Business Edition that would be optimized for easy installations and to run with Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) 2003. This SKU, too, stands to bring easy information flow for Microsoft Business Contact Manager, a low-end personal information manager that's part of the Office family. "If you're stepping up from Office Business Contact Manager, you can pull that data forward easily," Wilson said.

In addition, the Small Business Edition will feature a wizard-based configuration template selector and fax server integration with SBS. Though not a hard bundle with SBS--an option that Microsoft considered--the small-business version will install in the SBS environment with 10 clicks, Wilson said.

Finally, the CRM 3.0 product will enable "live links" to Excel data, even constantly updated pivot tables within CRM itself, Wilson said. "Within CRM, you can generate pivot tables--not just dead tables, but with a live connection to the underlying data. If you go offline and reconnect, the data is refreshed," he said. That scenario assumes the use of the latest Excel 2003 product, he added.