Microsoft enhances partner access to next CRM release

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Microsoft Corp. is previewing the next major version of its Dynamics CRM (customer relationship management) software, code-named “Titan,” with a growing number of its partners in the run-up to the mid-2007 product release.

Microsoft announced the move Wednesday.

“We said last summer that Titan will be out in summer 2007 and it will,” said Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Titan, which will probably be officially known as Dynamics CRM 4.0 will be the first Microsoft CRM release based on a multitenant architecture and using a single code base to support three types of usage — on-premise, hosted by partners or Microsoft. The Microsoft-hosted offering will be called Dynamics Live CRM, the third member of the vendor’s growing Live software-as-a-service (SAAS) product family, joining Windows Live and Office Live.

Multitenancy is the ability of a SAAS vendor to host multiple customers’ applications on a single server instead of dedicating servers to individual customers. Since multitenancy requires fewer servers, it’s a cheaper way for vendors to run their hosting operations and they can pass some of those savings to customers, offering them a less costly service.

Microsoft plans to give around 300 of its partners early access to Titan in the first quarter of this year, increasing the number to reach more than 1,000 partners during the second quarter, Wilson said. The idea is to give partners time to get comfortable with the concepts of multitenancy and hosted software in general as well as to encourage them to start building extensions to Titan and providing Microsoft with feedback on the new version. A customer beta program for Titan will come out closer to the release of the software, he added.

CRM Live will be available initially only in North America. Microsoft expects to announce international expansion and pricing details later this year.

“We want to make sure we do terrific job getting CRM Live up and running in North America and get all the operating kinks out,” Wilson said. “We aim to move it out internationally as fast as we can.”

Microsoft will offer an online marketplace as part of the CRM Live service where partners can offer users technology extensions and as a way to build a community, Wilson said. The marketplace is similar to what Salesforce.com Inc. originally established with its AppExchange site, as a place where users could access add-ons to its on-demand CRM software.

Like rivals SAP AG and Oracle Corp., Microsoft is looking for ways to give more users more ways to access its CRM applications. With Titan, customers will be able to access the software from Microsoft’s Office Outlook, via a Web browser or a variety of mobile devices. At the same time, all three vendors are becoming more serious about SAAS, which has been pioneered in the CRM space for many years by Salesforce.com and NetSuite Inc.

Titan will be available in 24 languages with the new release also able to support multiple languages in a single deployment, Wilson said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is continuing its own internal deployment of Dynamics CRM as the company gradually moves off Siebel CRM, software that’s now owned by Oracle. Currently, more than 3,000 Microsoft staff are using Dynamics CRM, with plans to get to 10,000 this quarter, Wilson said.

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