Former PeopleSoft and Epiphany exec Brad Wilson, who was named general manager of Microsoft CRM earlier this month--just weeks after Dave Batt, senior director of Microsoft CRM, resigned--says the delays are because of feedback from customers and partners who preferred to see new capabilities added now rather than wait for a subsequent release.
Among the areas Microsoft is addressing over the next several months: easier installation, allowing small businesses to deploy the software in five clicks; additional workflow capabilities for marketing, sales, and service processes; and more componentization and extensions to give developers more flexibility in building custom apps on top of the Microsoft CRM platform.
Wilson says Microsoft polled no fewer than 100 partners and also got feedback from many customers, with the bulk of both groups supporting the delay. Inetium Inc., a company that provides consulting and deployment-support services for Microsoft CRM customers, is comfortable with the delay if it leads to better integration with the Microsoft Outlook client, making it easier, for example, to incorporate an E-mail into a customer record and improve replication between Outlook and the CRM database, says Inetium's CRM program director, Ryan Toenies.
Outlook is the most common app used by salespeople to interact with data in Microsoft CRM. "Salespeople are the last people to adopt technology, so the more you can do to integrate it with a platform salespeople will use, the more successful you'll be," Toenies says. "As a partner, the delay obviously creates some challenges. But on the other hand, it's only a few months away, and it's gonna provide some breakthrough technologies."
AAA Mortgage Services, which is part of Microsoft's alpha testing program, approves of the pending product and isn't concerned by the delay or the high-level management change. AAA Mortgage had provided recommendations on desired improvements to the workflow features and also is encouraged by the plans to shore up integration gaps. "We are not troubled by the recent personnel or schedule changes," Hal Todd, AAA's president, wrote via E-mail. "The scheduled deployment still works well for us. The CRM platform 1.0 and 1.2 were very stable and well developed, and I think they are doing the same with 2.0."
Once Microsoft releases the CRM app to manufacturing, the enhancements will be available immediately for the product's existing 3,500 customers, and off-the-shelf availability will follow within 60 days, most likely in early 2006. But that doesn't mean folks like Toenies and Todd won't be kicking the tires sooner. "Between now and then we'll be doing a lot of code drops with our partners and a pretty broad beta program with our customers," Wilson says. "There will be a lot of early looks."