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MS releases CRM software to manufacturing

After a little more than one month's delay, Microsoft has released its inaugural CRM software to manufacturing.

After a little more than one month's delay, Microsoft has released its inaugural CRM software to manufacturing...

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Users will be able to choose between two actual offerings. Microsoft CRM Professional Edition, which enables more complex CRM functions like workflow rules, customization and ERP integration, sells for $1295 per user, plus $1990 for service or sales servers. Microsoft CRM Standard Edition, which offers stand-alone CRM without extensive business automation and integration requirements, costs $395 per user, plus $995 for service or sales servers.

"It's a huge sigh of relief," said Ben Holtz, president and CEO of Green Beacon Solutions, a Watertown, Mass.-based reseller and systems integrator that signed on to carry Microsoft CRM in June 2001.

Green Beacon plans four add-on services to the software, including Web lead capture, an org chart, a relationship manager and a forecast manager. Holtz said he already has a few customers lined up and hopes to begin his first implementation next month.

With Version 1.0 Microsoft is hoping to appeal to those eager for tighter integration with Outlook. It is also promising to add integration with Great Plains applications later this quarter and to integrate with its Navision ERP suite by year's end.

Karen Smith, research director at Boston-based Aberdeen Group, said "any Microsoft software is worthy of attention." Yet she said those eager for functionality beyond sales and service may not gravitate toward Microsoft.

"Other CRM vendors don't have to run and hide," she said. "Users need to determine their application priorities. Some components aren't part of this." Specifically missing, Smith said, is marketing automation, which may or may not resonate with midmarket customers.

Erin Kinikin, vice president at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group, also thinks the software is missing a few key components: ERP integration beyond Navision, support for international users and vertical industry customizations. She said the price brings down the cost of CRM and will be adopted by Redmond enthusiasts who "bleed every color that Microsoft is."

Kinikin said hosted CRM providers like Salesforce.com and UpShot may stand to lose the most from Microsoft's arrival because the functionality is similar to what they offer.

Ingram Micro Inc. has already signed on to distribute Microsoft CRM, as have 600 other resellers. Microsoft says it already has 200 customer orders.

In the second half of 2003, Microsoft expects to release version 1.1, available in seven languages.

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