The best CRM suite is...

Summary:What's the best customer relationship management suite? We put six of the top vendors to the test to find out in our no holds barred face-off.

Microsoft Dynamics

Leveraging off Windows Server, SQL Server, IIS and Active Directory, Microsoft Dynamics CRM is designed to fit seamlessly into a Windows environment. The system is accessible to users via a web browser or the CRM client, which integrates with Outlook, presenting users with a familiar UI to get them up and running quickly, and also has an optional SQL Server Express component for mobile users to house offline data. The system can route email from an Exchange server or with non-Microsoft systems via POP/SMTP. Dynamics CRM can also integrate with other Microsoft products like SharePoint.

Importing contacts and customer account data into Dynamics is a little different than with other CRM packages. You still export the data as a CSV, but the upload is done using the Dynamics CRM Migration Manager, which is a stand-alone tool you need to download and install and which talks to the Dynamics system via SQL. If you're using Dynamics CRM Online, there is a different Migration Manager package available.

Because of its tight integration with Outlook, Dynamics displays the online CRM data within the shared Outlook views — Calendar, Contacts, Tasks etc — or you can view them separately in dedicated views. This offers users instant familiarity with the UI as it slots into a pre-existing business tool — a distinct advantage when implementing a new system. We particularly liked the "Track in CRM" function which ties together data across all aspects of the system, and when used in conjunction with the "Advanced Find" feature it gives users a complete 360-degree overview of account communications, meetings and relationships with other contacts.

For highly mobile users, Microsoft has its free Mobile Express product for Windows Mobile devices — this uses HTML browsing for online access to the Dynamics system and doesn't offer any offline functionality. There are plenty of ISVs who have written products for Windows Mobile platforms as well as the BlackBerry, Nokia and iPhone, which offer a richer user experience and offline data. There is also a wide network of Microsoft partners who develop custom solutions in Dynamics leveraging off external resources like Silverlight and Virtual Earth, so external support is readily available.

Given the product dependencies, an on-premise solution is best suited to enterprises with a well-established Microsoft infrastructure. Hosted solutions are also available from many Dynamics CRM providers, and these tend to be much cheaper and easier to establish, scalable and suitable for businesses with a highly mobile workforce. The licensing is based on a per-user subscription model so there are significant cost savings to be made, and the offsite system can still be integrated with on-premise Exchange systems. Hosted data can later be migrated onto an in-house system.

Overall: 3.5/5
Product: Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Price: Variable
Vendor: Microsoft
Phone: 13 20 58
Interoperability: 3/5 — only works on-premise in a Microsoft environment
Future-proofing: 4/5 — this is a growing market segment for Microsoft
ROI: 3/5 — better with existing infrastructure or hosting
Service: 4/5 — wide array of Microsoft partners, ISVs and hosting companies

(Credit: James Bannan/

(Credit: James Bannan/

(Credit: James Bannan/

Topics: SAP, Enterprise Software, Oracle

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