Microsoft Marches into CRM

When Microsoft unveils its plans and strategy for its MSCRM customer relationship management software offering next month, the software giant will have a lot of explaining to do.

A number of Microsoft’s CRM “partners” say that Microsoft still has not told them of its plans to enter the CRM market. And the Redmond, Wash., company’s foes are likely to cry foul and hold up Microsoft’s entry into the market as yet another example of Microsoft using its monopoly muscle to advantage.

But it is customers who likely will need the most detailed descriptions of where Microsoft is going with its CRM strategy—and how MSCRM will dovetail, or not, with CRM software from third-party vendors, as well as with the Great Plains-Siebel Front Office software bundle that Microsoft already sells.

Microsoft is planning to take the wraps off its MSCRM application at the Great Plains Convergence customer conference in Orlando, Fla., in mid-March, say sources close to the company. At that time, Microsoft officials, including Chairman Bill Gates and Senior Vice President Doug Burgum, are expected to show off a beta of MSCRM.

Sources close to the company say they don’t expect Microsoft to ship Version One of MSCRM until late in 2002, at best. And customers who want a .NET-ified version of the MSCRM suite will have to wait for a future version to be able to take advantage of Microsoft’s Web-services architectural underpinnings, sources say.

Microsoft is expected to tout MSCRM as a low-end to mid-market market product aimed at companies with 100 to 1,000 employees. But some market watchers have said they wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft point MSCRM upstream to larger enterprises—and do so sooner, rather than later.

“The speculation is that [Microsoft Great Plains] will scale up to the Dynamics SQL platform, but that Siebel will still be for the enterprise,” says Jonathan Taub, president of Rimrock Corp., a Toronto consultant/reseller for Microsoft Great Plains and Siebel products.

“We expect MSCRM to be a mid-mid-market product—not a low-mid-market one,” says Alan Kahn, co-CEO of AKA Enterprise Solutions, a New York-based services provider whose e-commerce applications are built atop Great Plains software. “There could be some competition with Siebel down the road, but the first version will probably be targeted at a different market.”

Under the Hood
According to an MSCRM vision document viewed by Baseline, Microsoft is building a full CRM suite, consisting of sales-force automation, customer-service and marketing-automation modules. (Marketing automation, which will encompass campaign planning, telesales scripting, campaign management and ROI analysis, isn’t slated to debut until 2003 or later, in Version 2 of MSCRM.)

Microsoft’s core CRM platform will include a full range of features, including a business-rules engine (code-named Dragonfly), as well as contact- and lead-management facilities, e-mail, chat, routing and other Microsoft-developed technologies, according to sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans.

A Microsoft public relations representative declined to comment in any way on MSCRM. When asked if Microsoft would launch the product at the Convergence conference—as Microsoft executives in January told some of its reseller partners that it planned to do—the representative said, “There is not typically news announced at Convergence.”

Microsoft has been rumored to be considering options for entering the CRM market for several years. At various times, Microsoft was said to be close to buying a number of mid-market CRM companies, including Pivotal Corp., Onyx and Saleslogix (now The Sage Group).

One of Microsoft’s soon-to-be CRM rivals questions Microsoft’s move into the CRM space. “In his heart of hearts, Gates believes any software that needs implementation services is dumb software. And Gates doesn’t do dumb software,” says Bo Manning, CEO and president of Pivotal. “Microsoft would need a different mindset” to address the level of complexity of a CRM suite, Manning adds.

Seemingly, the Redmond juggernaut thinks it has what it takes. But where this will leave current Great Plains customers—and customers of other Windows-based CRM wares—remains an open question.