Microsoft Monday made available free code samples and technical information for a project the company undertook to make its Outlook client the centralized GUI (graphical user interface) for its in-house CRM (customer relationship management) applications.
Microsoft hatched the project, called Project Elixir, in July 2002 to solve common problems its salesforce faced when trying to access customer information from disparate back-end CRM applications, said Tim O'Brien, senior product manager, platform strategy group for Microsoft. Those problems included having access to multiple records of often disparate customer contact information while lacking access to the right CRM repository for other information, he said. Microsoft uses Siebel CRM and ClarifyCRM, as well as some custom-built applications, he added.
The result of the project is an add-in to Outlook called Customer Explorer that allows salespeople to access all accounts, activities and opportunities stored in various CRM applications through one interface, O'Brien said.
Code samples, a case study and technical guidance for how the company implemented Project Elixir are now available for free on Microsoft's Web site.
O'Brien said that Microsoft is like many enterprise companies in that its back-end CRM applications are separate silos, and its salesforce must toggle back and forth between different applications to access information that just as easily could be stored in one place.
"People forget that we're an enterprise customer and we have the same challenges they do in terms of trying to get more value out of existing stuff over the years," he said.
Microsoft used Web services technology to integrate information through Outlook, because its sales team "began and ended their day" in that application. Outlook is the client for doing e-mail and storing contact information in Microsoft Office.
Microsoft is positioning its Office productivity suite as a unified way companies in the future will access back-end business applications, and merging contact information through Outlook is just one way to do that, O'Brien said.
Company executives had said they are planning tighter integration between Office and Microsoft's Dynamics suite of business applications in the next release of Office, Office 12, which is due out in the second half of this year. Microsoft also plans to make Office 12 more of a tool for providing business intelligence such as reporting and analytics from within the various programs themselves.