Microsoft delays CRM product release until 2003

Microsoft has backed off its promise to deliver a CRM package for the mid-market before the end of this year. Instead, the company reported it would continue to work with partners and beta customers around the Release Candidate 1 (RC1) test iteration, collect feedback on RC2 in January, and begin manufacturing version 1 of MS CRM shortly thereafter.

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Microsoft Corp. has backed off its promise to deliver a CRM package for the mid-market before the end of this year.

Early Wednesday, the company announced to partners and members of the press that it would not release the debut version of Microsoft CRM next week as expected. Instead, the company reported it would continue to work with partners and beta customers around the Release Candidate 1 (RC1) test iteration of the software and said it would shortly move to testing the RC2 version.

According to at least one recognized MS CRM partner, the company gave no warning of a delay to its channel despite conducting training and functionality-related conference calls as late as Monday.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft told the press via a statement that it plans to collect feedback on RC2 in January, and begin manufacturing version 1 of MS CRM shortly thereafter.

Microsoft reported that it does not expect the last-minute shift to alter the planned release of MS CRM version 1.1, tabbed for the second half of 2003. The software vendor originally slated the arrival of its first enterprise applications package for fall 2002 and then pushed the 1.0 release date to late December.

Ben Holtz, president and CEO of Green Beacon Solutions, a Watertown, Mass.-based mid-market consulting and systems integration firm that works with Microsoft, said he was "disappointed" to hear of the delay.

Holtz said that while he has been impressed with many elements of the CRM Release Candidate 1, the package still has "some missing pieces." One of the most glaring tools left out of the beta release is marketing automation, which is not expected to arrive in any form of MS CRM until version 2, slated for arrival in late 2003.

"Clearly there are some functional areas [Microsoft] hasn't been able to polish off yet, but I don't see this as a major roadblock to initial sales," said Holtz. "By the time the first wave of users have fully implemented, I feel confident that there will be updates waiting for them."

Microsoft believes its primary CRM opportunity exists among companies with 50-500 employees that have historically remained dubious of investing in more expensive CRM products.

Microsoft is pricing its CRM offering at $395 per user, plus $995 for related server software, for its most basic package, and charging $1,395, plus $1,990 for the server, with its professional suite.

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