Microsoft Dynamics Aims to Steal a Little Salesforce Thunder

Microsoft is set to release both the online and in-house versions of its new CRM package this fall. Along with the beta release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, the company will be opening an app store for third-party developers called “Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace.” That’s according to a company announcement made at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. The online version of the upgraded software will be available in September, said Microsoft.

It’s a good move, given the large network of Microsoft developers worldwide, William Band, principal analyst with Forrester Research, told CRM Buyer. “This makes sense,” he said, “and it’s part of Microsoft’s overall strategy in the CRM space to leverage developer partners.”

Chasing Salesforce

Of course, already has its AppExchange, so Microsoft is following suit in this case. However, Redmond still has some advantage in the apps store endeavor, according to Rob Enderle, principal with the Enderle Group. “Given that Micosoft, at its core, is a platforms and tools company, they should be better at something like an application store than can be,” he told CRM Buyer.

Microsoft should be better, that is, if it can deliver the goods. “If they execute to potential, this should give them a significant advantage in the CRM space — assuming that people want to treat CRM as a platform,” Enderle explained.

Another possible edge is that Microsoft has both an online and on-premise version of CRM software, said Band, and is the one CRM package to be available in both forms. “But their online version is way behind in terms of visibility and adoption,” he noted. However, the software giant “has had trouble executing to their potential of late and tends to under-resource efforts like this,” he noted, “so success isn’t a given.”

An online catalog will allow partners to market and distribute third-party apps to Microsoft Dynamics customers, said Microsoft. The app tool will be integrated within Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, allowing users to search for applications from directly within the CRM software.

User Interface, Personalization Beefed Up

The new version of the software, both online and on-premise, will sport enhanced Microsoft Outlook functionality. This will include previews and conditional formatting. A new, contextual CRM Ribbon for Outlook and browser clients will make navigation consistent with Microsoft Office.

Enhancements have been made to forms to make them role-based, said Microsoft. Thus, companies will be able to block employees from access to information they are not authorized to view. Users also will be able to create personal views, add commonly used records to their own screens, and design personal dashboards to measure performance according to metrics they establish.

On the analytics side, users will be able to create and share inline charts with drill-down intelligence in the new version, said Microsoft. Multiple real-time business performance dashboards will be available, along with key performance and business health indicators that track against organizational goals and metrics. Guided process dialogs will allow companies to give employees online, step-by-step guidance through business processes and interactions.

In addition to the 32 new geographic markets announced by the company in April, Dynamics CRM Online will be available in an additional eight markets by the end of the year: Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Cyprus, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Overall, it’s a strong offering, opined Forrester’s Band. “In [Forrester Research’s] latest review of their product, it’s rated highly compared to a lot of other players,” he said. The move portends a possible strong push against, predicted Enderle. “The potential for them to move aggressively against, and others, with this effort is very strong,” he said.

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