Microsoft to take on CRM market

Claiming the customer relationship management (CRM) market is currently under-penetrated, Microsoft's new Business Solutions division will launch a CRM product next year based on .NET technologies.

Speaking at the PartnerConnect2002 Asia Pacific conference in Melbourne (last week), Flemming Beisner, managing director of Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) Australasia, said MBS has huge growth aspirations for the mid-market.

"The CRM market is under-served and we think we have the goods and with new technology comes new benefits, so the benefits for IT managers will be having the latest technology and have their investment assured," Beisner said.

He said MBS planned to capture a third of the mid-sized business solutions market from vendors including PeopleSoft, SAP and JD Edwards within the next five years.

"We are seeking to compete for business right across the markets and we will come across competitors, but I think we have the best offerings. All our competitors in the market will have to migrate to the latest technology to keep up with us. It is important that CIOs and IT managers are not stuck with old technology, so by us going into the business solutions area, it is a commitment to boost the market."

The CRM offering will be the first product launched by MBS since the division was formed in July this year after Microsoft acquired software companies Navision and Great Plains. One of Microsoft's seven core businesses, MBS represents $1.2 billion of Microsoft's $60 billion yearly turnover.

Beisner said MBS had a growing base of 1200 customers and 70 partners in Australia and New Zealand. He said MBS would help drive Microsoft's .NET strategy by creating a common and widely available platform for the standardisation and further verticalisation of mid-market business solutions. MBS international business solutions vice-president Dave O'Hara said the division had invested heavily in research and development of the mid-market business solutions market, which was worth about $US29 billion.

"With 250,000 customers in 132 countries, our belief is that the 250,000 customer figure will get to well over a million. The growth will come as people see these great advances in technology," O'Hara said.

The CRM product, which will be targeted to medium-sized enterprises with one to 1000 users, will offer integration with Outlook, Word, Excel and other MBS back-office editions. The CRM offering is the first MBS product to be built from the ground up on Microsoft .NET architecture. Local pricing for the product is not yet available.

MBS Asia Pacific strategy and business planning director Richard Johnstone said the CRM offering would be available in two editions – standard and professional.

Johnstone said while many details were still being finalised, MBS was aiming for a mid-2003 global launch.

"We are very aware that CRM has a reputation for not delivering on its promise. Technology alone, most often, doesn't solve the problems, so we are committed to train people as well so they can make the most out of this great technology," he said.

"We have completed the first round of beta testing with partners in Australia, and there will be at least two more [beta tests] before the launch. There's not a lot we've done differently compared to typical CRM offerings, but what makes us different is the browser base and .NET technology under it. This sets Microsoft CRM apart from competitors."

- Lauren Thomsen-Moore attended PartnerConnect2002 Asia Pacific in Melbourne as a guest of MBS.

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