Users excited about Microsoft CRM upgrade

Users are welcoming the news that Microsoft Business Solutions has at last wrapped up work on its much-awaited CRM application upgrade. Microsoft's CRM 3.0 product was originally slated for release in the first quarter of 2006, but the company now plans to ship it early next month.

Microsoft has added a number of features, including the ability to customize the software without extensive code working and more native Outlook integration. It will also be offered in a subscription-based format, said Brad Wilson, general manager of the CRM division. Potentially, this sort of licensing takes away some of the risk involved in deploying CRM.

Asked about the release, several users this week said they are looking forward to CRM 3.0's rollout.

Michael Kruger, information systems manager at Designer Doors Inc. in River Falls, Wis., said he hopes the new version will correct some of the shortcomings of earlier iterations. Designer Doors currently runs CRM 1.2 for "limited functions" to support customer service operations and is awaiting a copy of CRM 3.0 to give it "a long and critical evaluation."

Kruger plans to start that evaluation in December but expects that process to take at least three months. "We are hoping to get from 3.0 what was promised with 1.0 -- in short, a collaborative sales tool that would tie together our sales force with our customer service and allow all customer information to reside in one searchable location."

Because of glitches in CRM 1.0, Designer Doors had to take the application off the desktops of its sales force. Those workers now use Outlook to support selling processes.

Another user, Bernard McMahon, was more upbeat. McMahon is chairman of the U.K.-based venture capital and business services provider Just Good Business, which uses Microsoft's CRM software both internally and to assist clients. "I'm eagerly awaiting CRM 3.0," McMahon said in an e-mail. "The extended functionality, full Outlook integration, more powerful reporting and the campaign management tools will turn a good product into a great one. We'll be using the new version as soon as possible and I'm already recommending it to all the companies we work with and meet."

Darryl Nitke, CIO at Cosa Instruments, also plans to move to 3.0 as soon possible. His Yaphank, N.Y.-based company distributes sensors, meters and industrial controls, and currently runs CRM 1.2.

Nitke said he isn't interested in the subscription licensing changes from Microsoft. "The hosted model wasn't that great for us," he said, noting that Cosa had moved from hosted CRM provider Salesforce.com Inc. to its current in-house installation. Salesforce.com's service lacked integration with Cosa's accounting and e-mail applications, he said, and had limited reporting and customization capabilities.

Liz Herbert, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, said CRM 3.0 includes significant enhancements, including new or improved marketing and customer service capabilities, along with the ability to create role-based user interfaces.

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