CRM Service Lets Users Access Hosted Data From Office Apps's Office Edition lets customers build applications for sharing data between their Office apps and CRM accounts.
Its pre-IPO quiet period notwithstanding, Inc. this week unveiled a version of its online customer-relationship-management service that uses XML Web services to let customers access their hosted CRM data from within Microsoft Office applications. Built on the latest version of Salesforce's sforce on-demand application server, the Office Edition also is designed to let customers build their own apps for sharing data between Office apps and their CRM accounts, says Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. "The service is the server," he says. As it's offered, the Office Edition is capable only of bringing information downstream to the customer's Office apps.

At least one customer already has built a customized application to support two-way data sharing. Ron Hess, CRM program manager at Neoforma Inc., a maker of Web-based supply-chain-management software for the health-care industry, wrote a Visual Basic application for Microsoft Excel that can perform both queries and updates. This lets the company to do things like automate repetitive changes to hundreds of records--an undertaking that previously took hours and often resulted in numerous errors. "It gives us a real effective way to interface with our data," Hess says.

Hess plans to use the sforce API to build connectors to other parts of the company, most notably to the homegrown system it uses to provide supply-chain services to customers. That will lead to account managers having more current intelligence on customers, which will mean improved customer service. The combination of sforce and Office System also could end up saving Neoforma from investing in licensing fees for software it can now replicate itself by building custom tools that can pull CRM data from Salesforce via Excel, Word, and Outlook.

Gytis Barzdukas, director of Office product management for Microsoft, says the partnership with Salesforce illustrates how Microsoft's efforts to integrate its Office System with other business applications can pay off. Microsoft is investing nearly $2 billion a year in such efforts, says Barzdukas, adding that such integration could help Salesforce expand its customer roster. "This is a great example of how an innovative company can take advantage of the customer base we have," he says.

The Office Edition is available to all of its 120,000 subscribers at no extra cost.

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