Microsoft takes CRM Online international, ties in GP

Microsoft is adding three languages and four accelerators to its online CRM product and will offer it in 32 countries next month.

Microsoft's annual business software conference kicked off Sunday morning with new features for Dynamics CRM Online, a new version of Great Plains and an appearance by the head coach of the Super Bowl champions.

Steven Elop, president of the Microsoft Business Division, said the company has released the fifth update to Dynamics CRM Online in the past two years. It features new language support, portal accelerators and cloud-based developer tools to improve business connectivity.

Three years since Microsoft made the SaaS-based CRM system available, the company intends to invest heavily in the cloud moving forward, Elop made clear. Microsoft spent $9.5 billion investing in research and development this year and about 70% of its engineers' efforts today are focused on cloud computing activities. Within the next two years, that will grow to 90%.

"We are all in," Elop said.

Microsoft also continues to bring together its diverse set of ERP products with CRM. Executives showed off the new version of GP 2010, which includes integration to Dynamics CRM Online and on-premise, allowing insight across sales, service, supply chain and financials.

The GP to Dynamics CRM integration held a lot of promise for Nikos Odysseas Papagapitos, manager of technology and special projects for Travel Dynamics International, a New York-based educational travel company -- just not right now. Travel Dynamics is running ACPAC for its ERP system but would consider a move to Microsoft down the line.

"It's a logical step, but it's not on the radar for the immediate future," Papagapitos said. "Maybe four or five years down the line. Give some time for the connector for the two to work out. Hopefully, the connector will be a little more tried and true and proven."

Microsoft also launched a new promotion that allows Microsoft GP users to get Microsoft Dynamics CRM licenses at a discounted price of $19 per user per month. Microsoft continues to compete in the CRM market with rivals like Salesforce.com and Oracle CRM On Demand and has focused on price in some of its marketing.

Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions, said in his portion of the keynote address that InFocus, the video projector maker, switched from Oracle ERP and some unused Oracle CRM licenses to Microsoft AIX and Microsoft CRM. The changeover happened in the midst of a company-wide effort to outsource its manufacturing and dramatically reduce its workforce. It saved the company $1 million a year on its ERP system and reduced IT costs from $5 million to less than $2 million, Tatarinov said.

Yet Microsoft's CRM story is not purely about price, according to Ray Wang, partner with the San Mateo, Calif.-based Altimeter Group.

"CRM is a critical part of their business. It is the growth engine," Wang said. Discounts for existing GP customers "keeps the Salesforces, RightNows out of their base. It's important for them to show the integration."

In fact, for all the talk of SaaS being the preferred alternative for small and medium-sized businesses, among Microsoft's existing ERP base, many are choosing the on-premise version of Dynamics CRM, Wang said.

Tatarinov shows off the future

With "Today, Tomorrow, Together" the theme of this year's show, Tatarinov spent a fair amount of his presentation on the future, with a demonstration of the potential for integration across Microsoft's products, social networks feeding CRM to ERP and BI and collaboration with unified communications.

"Social networking now plays an enormous role not only in personal lives but in our business lives," Tatarinov said. "We're focused on embracing social networking on all our dynamics products."

Yet Microsoft has work to do providing and delivering on this vision.

"What they have are connectors to unified communications and Twitter, but they're channels," Wang said. "They're baby steps to social CRM. They need sentiment analysis and the ability to tie back to support. They have the vision. The question is: When will they deliver it?"

Microsoft also added Portal accelerators to Dynamics CRM Online. They include Event Management, eService and Partner Relationship Management and allow organizations to extend their reach and extend CRM to external constituents.

The March update also includes multilingual capabilities for customers who have French, Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese requirements. In addition, it will add Dynamics online to 32 international markets in the second half of this year. They include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Customers in these countries will be able to subscribe to Dynamics CRM Online directly from Microsoft.

Tatarinov ended the morning session with an appearance by Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints. Payton came to the show fresh off the NFL Draft, where he said the Saints had for the first time used touch-screen technology in evaluating and discussing players and "it was unbelievable."

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