Microsoft CRM update improves interface, workflow

The first upgrade to Microsoft's CRM offering for small and midsized companies includes enhanced data-evaluation capabilities, lead tracking support and .NET support. A user says the improved user interface and click synchronization are more than welcome.

As promised, Microsoft on Monday announced the first upgrade to its CRM offering for small and midsized compan

ies.

The new version, Microsoft CRM 1.2, arrives nearly one year after the initial release and features enhancements such as data-evaluation capabilities, as well as support for lead tracking and sales territory effectiveness. Those new features were incorporated into the application's workflow. Improvements were also made to the user interface, and installation has been simplified, according to the Redmond, Wash., company.

Bob Lamont, business development manager for the North Highland Company in Atlanta, which uses Microsoft CRM, has not yet seen the upgrade but is excited about an improved user interface and click synchronization.

"I'm not terribly impressed with the offline capability, but performance -- especially with Outlook, if it is indeed improved -- was needed," Lamont said.

The release provides greater flexibility for developers looking to customize Microsoft CRM Sales for Outlook, the company said.

Ben Holtz, president of Watertown, Mass.-based Green Beacon Solutions, a Microsoft CRM reseller, said custom development for the Sales for Outlook component will be easier now that the upgrade is compliant with the .NET Framework. "The technology is much more consistent, which will make life easier," he said.

Holtz echoed Microsoft's assertion that these enhancements are the ones users have been asking for, and he lauded the company for involving users and partners with the enhancement road map.

"What we're seeing is a very concise and clear progression to features and function in the product," he said. "While we want it faster, we also want [it in] a quality and in a well-thought-out fashion."

The upgrade is available now in North America, and it will be generally available worldwide, in eight languages, next quarter. The upgrade is free to current CRM users, and it has been added to Microsoft's volume-licensing pool.

In its first year with a CRM product, Microsoft garnered 1,000 customers, the company said.

The application is designed specifically for small and midsized businesses, and for departments in large organizations. It is accessible both through the Outlook client and through Web browsers. The upgrade also supports Microsoft's latest line of products, including Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003 and Microsoft Office 2003.

According to company officials, value-added tax (VAT) and multi-currency (MC) support were not included in the upgrade because it was determined that there was a greater need for multiple-language support. A timeline for adding VAT and MC support has not been established.

The 2.0 release of Microsoft CRM is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2004.

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