PRODUCT PROFILE

Microsoft Unveils CRM Upgrade

Without hiking license fees, Microsoft will roll out its next upgrade to Microsoft CRM software in August, the company announced Tuesday. The new version, Microsoft CRM 1.2, will have several key improvements, including closer integration with Microsoft Office 2003, a new mobile component, reporting enhancements and a tool to ease the redeployment process for IT administrators.

The software is to be offered by Microsoft Business Solutions, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Redmond, Washington-based software giant.

“Our customers take their investments in technology very seriously, and Microsoft CRM helps them maximize those investments by providing opportunities to closely integrate with existing Microsoft solutions,” said Helene Cole, chief executive officer of Altara, a Microsoft Business Solutions partner.

Deep Integration

Perhaps the most important new feature of the CRM product is its deep integration with Office 2003, thanks to the recently announced Microsoft Office Information Bridge Framework. According to Microsoft, users of Office 2003 and Microsoft CRM 1.2 will find it easier to create and track sensitive letters, escalate cases and look up customer data, largely because they will be able to perform these tasks within Office rather than having to switch between applications.

Additionally, the company said, users will be able to create sales proposals more quickly and effectively with the Microsoft Office Solution Accelerator for Proposals with Microsoft CRM.

Maximizing Existing Software

“This feature pack truly delivers on Microsoft’s commitment to integrated innovation,” said Anders Brown, group product manager for the Information Worker New Markets Solutions Group at Microsoft.

“Microsoft CRM and Microsoft Office 2003 … have already proved themselves to be powerful tools for conducting business more efficiently and supporting strong customer relationships,” Brown added. “The deepened integration helps our customers harness the true power of both products and create a business environment characterized by a high level of collaboration and productivity.”

The upgrades will become available in English-language versions of Microsoft CRM in August. In the fourth quarter of 2004, product extensions in additional languages will be delivered: Information Bridge Framework in German, and Office Solution Accelerator for Proposals in French, Spanish and German.

Go-Go Gadget CRM

Another notable feature in Microsoft CRM 1.2 is its mobile component, which was previewed this spring. The software is intended to deliver critical customer information to on-the-go sales representatives and managers. As such, it is designed to work with Pocket PC 2003 devices, providing contact and opportunity management.

This portion of the upgrade will be available in English-language versions only, according to Microsoft.

The new software also includes a redeployment tool to allow IT administrators to migrate program configurations and data among various Microsoft CRM deployments and geographical sites. Although Microsoft CRM traditionally has been targeted toward the mid-market, many mid-size companies do have multiple locations, especially as they grow.

Additionally, the product features improvements to the Sales for Outlook client, plus enhancements to the software’s reporting functionality that could improve users’ ability to create and manage parameter-based reports.

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