In the wake of announcements last week that Microsoft is delaying the consumer version of the next-generation Vista operating system, the company issued a statement on Sunday to highlight a few of its software initiatives on the business front.
Most notably, Microsoft announced it has created a hosted version of its customer-relationship management (CRM) application and has developed prepackaged "connectors" with the aim of giving users more flexibility in deploying CRM applications in multiple divisions in a company.
Unveiled at Convergence 2006, the Microsoft Business Solution Group’s customer conference, the new version of the company’s Dynamics CRM application is called Microsoft Dynamics CRM Professional Edition for Service Providers. According to Redmond, the software has been optimized for deployment in hosted environments.
Microsoft’s entry into the hosted-software market is not surprising to many analysts. Over the past year, hosted CRM software has been gaining considerable momentum, with both large enterprises and small companies turning to the software-as-service model.
In rolling out a hosted version of its CRM application, Microsoft has chosen not to offer the hosting service itself, but to put that capability in the hands of its partner network.
Microsoft emphasized that customers will find it easy to move data between on-premise and hosted environments because the applications will share code bases, business logic, and data models.
Microsoft also announced at the show a broad application-integration initiative designed to provide prepackaged connectors and templates to customers and partners. The connectors are designed to streamline and simplify data flow between Microsoft CRM and other prepackaged and custom applications.
"Software as service is compelling," said Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft CRM. "This will enable our partners that are building off of hosted CRM to develop interesting offerings."
Microsoft feels that it has an edge over its numerous rivals in the space because it has put a great deal of emphasis on building a tool that can be customized to focus on specific needs in vertical markets, Wilson noted.
"Many hosted providers do a lot of handwaving about customization and verticalization, but then customers find out that some of the software may actually be more horizontal," he said. "With our model, it has the maximum amount of customization, much more than in a typical hosted CRM environment."
With the addition of the hosted option, Microsoft now can offer a product range similar to what other CRM vendors offer. Wilson noted that the hosted version can be used alone or in a hybrid environment.
"We’re taking further steps to expand customer choice and help minimize the risks of successful CRM deployment and adoption," he noted.