Microsoft delays release of CRM suite

Microsoft Corp. has pushed back the date it will release to manufacturing (RTM) its entrant into the CRM market.

Up until Wednesday, Microsoft has said that its first CRM suite would RTM by year’s end.

“We should be at RTM by the end of December. We’ve got people working on this and they are taking off for the holidays, so the goal is to get it out the door before the holidays,” said Holly Holt, senior product manager with Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash, in an interview earlier this month.

Holt added that Microsoft wouldn’t release the software with known problems just to make that deadline.

A spokesperson on Wednesday reiterated that Microsoft will send the software to RTM when the company feels it has met the quality standards it set for itself. The spokesperson added that Microsoft anticipates that will be early next year.

The primary cause for the delay is Microsoft’s inability to deliver the seamless front-end to back-end integration it has touted as its mid-market advantage, said Cheryl Kingstone, an analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston. To date, Microsoft has relied on its BizTalk server coupled with connection licenses out of the box to integrate the CRM with the Great Plains accounting software, but links to other applications, such as Solomon, are not in place, Kingstone added.

“They really need to have seamless integration with the Small Business Suite, and it’s not up to snuff yet,” Kingstone said. “What they really need to do is make it more seamless. If they don’t, end-users are going to have to pay more for professional services costs.”

In addition, Microsoft’s CRM offering doesn’t feature deep account roll-up capabilities, Kingstone said. While the product rolls up sales opportunities, it does not effectively roll up all the details around an account, such as tasks and sales call data, to provide a single view of an account. In addition, the only way Microsoft supports customization of views is via a software development kit; competitors offer easier ways to customize software, she added.

“This one is a little bit harder to add in tables and modify fields,” she said. “Can the home page…be configured by the end user? No. All the resellers are gearing up marketing programs around the [previous] release date. That is going to annoy the channel. Again, Microsoft delays.”

RTM marks an important milestone in product development for Microsoft, since that is when the code is declared complete and is sent to OEMs and partners for distribution.

Microsoft’s Holt said that it will take three to four weeks after RTM to make the CD versions of MSCRM widely available.

MSCRM has been a much ballyhooed product during the development process, and Microsoft is bringing it in aimed at the small business and mid-market, areas where analysts expect Microsoft to do well, in due time.

“Microsoft is not going to get it right over night,” said Erin Kinikin, an analyst at Giga Information Group, in Cambridge, Mass. “There are a lot of things the CRM industry has learned over the last 10 years that Microsoft can’t perfect right away.”