It's been fascinating to hear the spin that so many CRM companies have put on Microsoft's planned entry to the sector. Mostly it's taken the form of a dismissive and vaguely condescending wave of the corporate hand and a remark to the effect that they won't be playing in the same space.
The consensus view is pretty much that Microsoft CRM will be desktop application, an add-on to Microsoft Office and as such likely to be popular among the smaller users, but not really having much reach up into the mid-range or enterprise spaces.
If pressed on what role Great Plains might play in these ambitions, the usual response has been to smile slightly smugly and suggest that Great Plains plays at the bottom end of the mid-range market and as such is of minimal threat. Indeed, say most of the CRM leaders, we'd be more worried about Navision than Great Plains.
Oooops - spoke too soon then, didn't they? If well-placed speculation is to be believed, by this time next week Navision is likely to be part of the Redmond Empire, so where does that leave the CRM market?
Well for one thing, it means Gates is serious about doing some damage in this space and that's not good news for anyone else who wants a slice of the action. He's clearly prepared to buy his way into being a serious proposition. Look back at how he won the browser wars and it will be a foolish applications company that doesn't start to re-evaluate its perception of the threat Microsoft poses to it.
Navision has a pretty strong brand recognition and is highly regarded among the analyst and end user communities. Assuming that Microsoft can position it correctly alongside Great Plains and its own home grown CRM offering, there's a pretty powerful looking software stack building up there.
There's still the wider question of whether it's really wise for infrastructure companies to be pushing their way into applications markets, but that's largely theoretical now. For the Siebels et al. of the world, there are some challenging times ahead. For example, Great Plains resells Siebel software. For the moment, there are no serious conflicts of interest in sight, but who wants to bet against a fair few emerging over time if Microsoft becomes a serious player?
But that's all to come. For the moment, we can be sure of one thing: the game's afoot!
Further signs of Bill's plans can be found:
Microsoft Navision plans show it means business in the CRM space.