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Extensions for MS CRM keep on coming

Partners continue to dress up Microsoft CRM. The latest add-ons include vertical market extensions, migration software and contact center integration tools.

Since introducing its maiden CRM offering at the beginning of this year, Microsoft Corp. has extended functionality through its network of 120 independent software vendors (ISVs). A rapidly growing set of add-on tools has already arrived on the market, and new offerings continue to be announced each week.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft has made no secret of its dependence on partners to help fill functionality gaps in the version 1.0 release of MS CRM. Among the applications already available from the ISVs are extended help desk systems, Web lead capture tools, interactive organizational chart functionality, partner relationship management and forecast-management offerings.

A slew of ISVs released new MS CRM-oriented products over the last few weeks:

--Fremont, Calif.-based AltiGen Communications Inc. integrated its contact center products, AltiContact Manager and AltiServ Contact Center, with MS CRM. AltiGen officials said out-of-the-box integration would help reduce system integration costs and deployment time frames related to computer telephony integration between MS CRM and contact center programs.

--Richmond, Va.-based multi-channel interaction management software provider AMC Technology LLC integrated its Interaction Assistant for contact centers with MS CRM. The offering promises to deliver an integrated call center framework and controls from within the MS CRM user interface. The company said the package gives users access to contact information and customer activity history, as well as the ability to search the MS CRM knowledge base, create and view activities, and send related e-mails.

--St. Charles, Ill.-based Epic Global Technology announced that it's built a customized version of MS CRM for manufacturers and retailers in the consumer package goods (CPG) market. Version 1.0 of the new system, dubbed Epic's Collaborative CRM for CPG, targets needs of the retail food industry. The 1.0 release includes trade promotion management and discretionary funds management tools. Collaborative planning and forecasting, collaborative payment, and collaborative deduction elimination modules are slated for later this year.

--Bedford, N.H.-based migration and integration applications maker Scribe Software Corp. released its Scribe Migrate for Microsoft CRM offering. It allows users to perform initial data migrations, recurring list loads, data enhancement and standardization, and lets them duplicate management from other CRM platforms into MS CRM. The company said the tool comes with templates for migrating data from ACT and Goldmine into Microsoft CRM.

--Seattle-based marketing, communications, and shipping automation software vendor Z-Firm LLC announced support for MS CRM in its OmniRush server platform. Company officials said the integrated package allows CRM users to move document libraries created in Microsoft Word into mass marketing and interactive communications via merge-fax, merge-e-mail and merge-print capabilities. Merge HTML and Microsoft Word merge-to-PDF-and-e-mail features are also part of OmniRush.

Karen Smith, research director at Boston-based Aberdeen Group, said ISVs would play a crucial role for MS CRM, as Microsoft builds a following among small and medium-sized businesses.

"These vendors are going to give users more reason to invest now, as opposed to waiting until later versions, when Microsoft has built more functionality," she said. "There are a lot of buyers playing wait-and-see in the SMB market, and whatever Microsoft can do to convince them to buy now is going to help MS CRM build some momentum."


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