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Microsoft to integrate CRM with Office 2007, Vista

Microsoft's Dynamics CRM will leverage the new Office suite and operating system when they become available next year. CRM will also lead the company's Live efforts.

Microsoft will release a new version of its Dynamics CRM application that integrates tightly with Office 2007 tools and the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system.

Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, delivered the news today at the software giant's EMEA Convergence conference being held this week in Munich.

The new release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, called Version 3 for Office 2007, and Windows Vista, V3C internally, will feature deep integration with the new system, according to Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft CRM.

"It's not just compatibility; we've done a lot of work to take advantage of Office 2007 and Vista," he said. "There's been billions of dollars in investment in these products from Microsoft, and this leverages the look and feel of this new experience."

The new Microsoft CRM follows the new "ribbon" user experience of Office 2007 and will continue to allow users to access CRM data through Outlook and Explorer. Microsoft has also improved data visualization with Excel, making it a richer BI tool, Wilson said.

The new Windows gadgets functionality will also be a part of the CRM release. Gadgets are desktop icons that provide information such as news feeds that bring information directly to a user's desktop. CRM users will be able to quickly access information such as sales to payment processes or key performance indicators for service or marketing departments. @28708

"We've always said that it is easier doing CRM through Office and Outlook than in a separate application," Wilson said. "Now you can have CRM information and activities serviced through your Windows desktop."

Microsoft's integration with its ubiquitous Outlook and Excel programs is one of its biggest advantages, and this new release should help extend that, according to Rob Bois, analyst with Boston-based AMR Research Inc.

"In the past, I always questioned why Microsoft CRM wasn't more integrated to Office," Bois said. "I'm a big proponent of making CRM applications as consumable as possible for users with the least amount of training possible. Excel and Outlook are pretty widely used CRM tools as it is. This is a natural extension. Six months ago, I didn't hear as much about CRM from the Office people. They seem to have closed that gap."

The new version will be available in conjunction with the release of Office 2007 and Vista, set for some time in the next quarter, Wilson said.

Microsoft delayed the release of its CRM 3.0 product several times, but many agree it was worth the wait, and Microsoft has seen strong momentum with the product. Bois doesn't foresee customers holding off on their Microsoft CRM investments this time, however. Rather, if companies are considering Microsoft CRM, they are more likely to go with the 3.0 version. It could be a year before some companies, particularly the more conservative ones, make the move to Office 2007.

"Version 3.0 is new enough [and] I think they'll go with 3.0. The Office 2007 rollout won't even happen in the next couple of months," Bois said. "CRM investments are still being driven by fairly urgent need. That's driven the success of Software as a Service [SaaS] vendors."

Gates says CRM first to go Live

Microsoft is also prepping its own SaaS push. Today, Gates announced that Microsoft will be launching CRM as part of its Live platform in the middle of next year.

The Dynamics CRM product will be the first to go on-demand, Wilson said, but the rest of the Dynamics suite of ERP applications will follow. Part of the initial offering will include an application to integrate keyword placement in MSN, into marketing campaigns in the CRM system, giving marketers a firm grasp of how keyword spending is performing. Partners will provide similar integration into Google and Yahoo!. The tool will be similar to products recently launched by Salesforce.com and NetSuite.

Finally, Microsoft is also making CRM available under the licensing options currently offered with its ERP products. Dynamics CRM 3.0 can be purchased under the Business Ready Licensing and Modular Based Licensing models, making it easier for customers to buy and deploy the full suite of Dynamics products. The new ordering options will be available Dec. 4.

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