One year late or two weeks early depending on your point of view, Microsoft Business Solutions has released the long awaited Dynamics CRM 3.0, complete with increaed Outlook and Office integration and a new subscription pricing model to enable hosting of the apps.
"It’s available today in the UK," says Brad Wilson, general manager of the MBS CRM division. "We’ll be rolling out to other langauages and countries from January." French, German, Dutch and Russian versions arrive on 1 January.
Wilson has been in the CRM hotseat at MBS for almost a year, following senior positions at Epiphany and PeopleSoft. One of his first actions was to can a planned 2.0 release following criticism from some beta customers that the product needed to be more robust.
There are still functionnal omssions - still no sign of home grown VAT support, for instance. Nonetheless version 3.0 is a radically overhauled product with one of the biggest selling points is its tight integration with Outlook and the familiar Microsoft interface. From MBS perspective, it’s all about making life simpler. Previously users had to move between familiar Microsoft desktop applications and the CRM applications. "I knew that there was a demand among customers for greater simplcity," argues Wilson. "The response from customers has been so enthusiastic. The appetite for simplicity is there."
So with Outlook as a de facto interface, MBS hopes to overcome the deployment barriers that have hindered so many CRM implementations across the industry as well as kick start the MBS CRM business which has not exactly soared of late. According to AMR Research, Microsoft’s CRM revenues in 2004 were $202 million, relatively low compared to SAP’s $1.7 billion and Siebel’s $1.4 billion.
But Wilson is still unconvinced that MBS will offer its own hosted applications service a la Salesforce.com. Instead he sees MBS as providing an enabling platform for partners to provide hosted services locally and in the future according to vertical industry needs. "The specialism that can be provided is in the vertical sector, not in the hosting itself," he notes.
One of the first hosting providers in the UK is Aspective which offers both 3.0 and Microsoft Exchange for £60.00 per user per month. It also offers an Interim Hosting option that gives them access to hosted Microsoft CRM for a set period of time until they are ready to take the system on-premise. Interim Hosting agreements include an agreed transition cost, thus ensuring that customers can budget correctly.
"We can offer flexibility of choice," says Annette Giardina, CRM Business Director, Aspective, adding that five layers of security meant that users could be confident that their data was secure. She noted that vertical expertise in markets such as higher education meant that Aspective could offer specific functionality to meet the requirements of those markets.
In late 2006, the follow-on to Version 3.0, code-named Titan, will be available. Titan will further enhance the suite's multi-tenant architecture by making the web server multi-tenant capable.