Microsoft, Siebel push partners to improve products

Von Ephraim Schwartz

As the competition for CRM customers intensifies, enterprise ISVs are turning to business partners to create value-add features and services for their offerings.

When Microsoft announces Version 3.0 of its CRM suite this week, in addition to a new marketing module, Microsoft will also announce a new subscription-based licensing model for its VARs who sell Microsoft CRM as an on-demand hosted solution.

In the meantime, Antenna Software, a mobile service provider for integration of wireless with enterprise applications, will announce this week a hosted and managed service to extend Siebel CRM OnDemand to any mobile platform.

The announcement follows an intense collaboration with Siebel that makes extensive use of Siebel"s Web services platform.

Previous to Microsoft CRM 3.0, Microsoft"s 1,700 VARs and hosting providers paid for a full license, "up front," according to Brad Wilson, general manager for Microsoft CRM. Under the new model, partners can purchase the license on a subscription basis with fees based only on the number of customers using the product.

According to Wilson, Microsoft relies on its network of resellers to do most of the integration work with other Microsoft business solutions.

While CRM 3.0 does come with out-of-the-box integration for Great Plains software, integration with Navision and Solomon ERP business solutions come from partners. Axapta integration is "coming shortly" from third parties as well, said Wilson.

Josh Greenbaum, chief analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting, said Microsoft has to do even more with the integration of other Microsoft business solution products with CRM.

"CRM is more about integration with ERP, financial planning, order management, and service management. CRM must be functional with respect to these applications or Microsoft will lose an important opportunity for itself and its customers," Greenbaum said.

The new offering continues Microsoft"s theme of designing products around what customers are already familiar with: the Office and Outlook interface.

"You would literally not know you are in CRM," said Wilson

Version 3.0 of Microsoft CRM marketing module includes list management, campaign management, marketing resource management, and closed-loop response management.

The other major enhancement will be Version 3.0"s ability to create customized objects that automatically link to storage, create Web service connections, and track in real-time changes to the data.

Microsoft CRM 3.0 will be available in the fourth quarter to current customers and generally available in the first quarter 2006.

Siebel is also turning to partners, in this case Antenna Software, to enhance its CRM offering, especially for its OnDemand product, and mobile in particular.

Antenna"s A3 SmartClient for Siebel CRM OnDemand will give Siebel customers access to and manageability of Siebel CRM OnDemand on all major mobile devices, using any one of about 200 different wireless carrier nationally and internationally.

In many respects it is similar to a deal Antenna announced in June with Cingular. In that deal Cingular customers will gain access to most of their major enterprise solutions, about 40 in all, on any mobile device that uses the Cingular network.

According to Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, Siebel had been working aggressively to develop these mobile technologies on its own.

However, Antenna already had a mobile/wireless solution for managing Siebel content, so it became apparent that it would be more effective to work with them to enhance the services.

The relationship between Antenna and Siebel also highlights the traditional enterprise question of whether to build or buy technology, only now it is taking place in the mobile space.

"If they have a big, highly trained staff an enterprise might continue to do things in-house, but getting companies like Antenna coming to market with extremely good applications makes a lot of sense," Bajarin said.

The A3 offering includes Smart Connect to extract, transform, and deliver data to unique mobile devices and Any2 Control Center, a hosted NOC (network operations center) with plug-in connectivity to any of the networks supported by Antenna. The NOC also manages mobile security and vulnerability analysis, with an escalation manager offering messaging options if a carrier network goes down.

A3 Mobile Manager includes user device management, version control, and a wipe data function for lost or stolen devices.

This is only the first of several announcements of other CRM OnDemand players Antenna will be supporting, said James Hemmer, the company"s CEO and president.