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Will Microsoft's CRM delay mean a better product?

An analyst and an integrator weigh in on what the postponement of Microsoft's CRM software means for those who plan to use the applications.

Software production delays are nothing new to Microsoft, but with the IT market already fixated on the giant vendor's first attempt at building enterprise CRM tools, the company's latest postponement has raised a number of eyebrows.

On Wednesday, Microsoft told partners and the media it would not meet its promise to deliver version 1 of MS CRM before the end of 2002. The company gave little information on why it was again pushing back the release. Microsoft originally said it would launch the package sometime during the fall of this year.

Now, Microsoft says it is focused on gathering more feedback on its existing Release Candidate 1 (RC1) test iteration of the CRM software. The company also said it will move into the trial stage shortly with an RC2 release.

"It's hardly the first time that Microsoft has been late with a software release," said David Bradshaw, vice president of consulting at London-based research and consulting firm Ovum. "I'm not in the least surprised that they have had problems, whether or not this has led to the delay."

Bradshaw believes Microsoft spent more time building CRM architecture around its .NET framework than it originally counted on. However, Bradshaw said that doing so would lead to "cleaner overall architecture," as opposed to integrating CRM technologies the company already controls through its Great Plains and Navision divisions. This may have necessitated the need for extended trials, he said.

"Without [using] those fragments, they have no practical experience of what works and what doesn't work," Bradshaw said.

However, Bradshaw said a larger dilemma for MS CRM was the recent announcement that version 1 would arrive without the Microsoft Business Framework or connectors to the Great Plains or Navision software. These features were supposed to be among the big advantages offered by the product, Bradshaw said.

On a functional level, Bradshaw was even more surprised to hear that the only way for users to create new customer accounts in the existing version of the software is to manually re-type them. This would be an "awfully big step backwards" from almost any other product on the market, he said.

However, Microsoft CRM partners remain optimistic that regardless of the delays and functional shortcomings, the Release Candidate 1 version is still winning over potential customers. Ben Holtz, president and CEO of Green Beacon Solutions, a Watertown, Mass.-based midmarket consulting and systems integration firm, said that despite a number of "sniggles" in the beta release, users have responded favorably to demonstrations.

In order to augment any perceived functional shortfalls, Green Beacon is already marketing its own add-on tool sets to customers, including a Web lead capture system that allows entry of data outside a firewall into MS CRM.

"[MS CRM] is still missing pieces," Holtz said. "But we think the value proposition remains strong."


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