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Microsoft brings CRM to UK small businesses

Microsoft has launched its CRM application in the UK, but customers will not be able easily to integrate it with other Microsoft business applications until next year

Microsoft has launched its Web-based, small-business-focused customer relationship management product in the UK, but says that customers will not be able to easily integrate the product with their existing applications till March 2004.

Microsoft CRM 1.2, which has been available in the US since January, was written specifically for the small business market, unlike the company's Great Plains and Navision applications, which it bought in over the past few years. This is also Microsoft’s first business application written using .Net technology.

CRM 1.2 is designed to provide a quick sales automation solution for companies with between 25 and 1,000 users.

Michala Alexander, CRM product manager at Microsoft Business Solutions, said Microsoft launched CRM 1.2 as a Web-based application in order to allow fast deployment and minimal total cost of ownership: "Small businesses don't want to wait eight months to get their CRM system working and they can't afford 10 or 20 days of consultancy in order to have a new field added," she said.

Alexander said Microsoft will ship BizTalk, its application integration tool, with CRM 1.2 and expects to be able to provide out-of-the-box integration with its Great Plains and NaVision software by March 2004. The software modules, called connectors, which BizTalk needs before it can integrate CRM with Great Plains and Navision, are still in beta testing. Until that time, CRM 1.2 users will not find it any easer to link with other Microsoft software than to software from competitors. "It is a matter of us building the connectors to Great Plains and Navision," said Alexander. "The integration technology is there if companies want to integrate to other products -- and if they want to integrate to Great Plains and Navision it is fine for them to do that; but this is about what we will build and ship out of the box."

According to Alexander, software integration between business applications is still in its infancy: "If you look back a few years, when you bought a PC, you would have a challenge getting it to integrate to your printer. We are at that stage in the business applications arena," she said.

Such integration is important because it helps information flow freely through existing enterprise resource planning applications, and means that data entry does not have to be duplicated across several applications.

Microsoft CRM 1.2 will compete directly with Salesforce.com's Web-based CRM services as well as a recently launched offering from Siebel and BT.

A ten-user licence on the standard sales product, on the Microsoft Open Licence scheme (which means the software is licensed for life but only includes free upgrades for two years) will cost around £4,500.