Microsoft tightens links between Office, CRM apps

Microsoft Corp. in August plans to add features to its CRM software that are designed to offer users tighter integration with Office 2003.

The software vendor this week announced that it’s developing an add-on feature pack for its Microsoft CRM 1.2 applications, which were released in December. Existing users will be able to install the new functionality without paying any additional license fees, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft is using its Office Information Bridge Framework, which is based on Web services technology, to increase ties between the CRM applications and Office 2003. End users will be able to create and track sales letters and retrieve customer-related data in Office without having to switch back and forth between that software and Microsoft CRM, the company said.

“It’s a way to have fewer clicks to get information,” said Holly Holt, group product manager for Microsoft CRM within the vendor’s Business Solutions unit. For instance, when a user is writing a letter to a customer, a separate window will pop up and provide data about previous dealings with the customer, Holt said.

Similarly, closer links between Microsoft CRM, Office and Microsoft’s Windows SharePoint Services collaboration software should help speed the creation of sales proposals, she added.

There will also be changes to the client administration tools that help manage end-user privileges. IT staffers will be able to configure the system so users can access calendar information while working off-site but be restricted from saving customer data locally, Holt said. In addition, data synchronization can be staggered based on the type of information that’s involved.

The feature pack will fix some basic shortcomings in the CRM software, but it’s just a “baby step” for Microsoft, said Sheryl Kingstone, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston. Kingstone noted that she’s awaiting better off-line performance with Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail client as well as additional sales, service and marketing capabilities. “A big problem with Microsoft CRM has been performance and usability,” she said.

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