Microsoft’s CRM Delay Draws Mixed Reactions
Announcement of a delay with version 2 rankles some users, but most are taking it in stride
Earlier this month, Microsoft Corp. surprised customers when it disclosed that CRM 2.0, the much-anticipated follow-up to its Microsoft Business Solutions CRM offering, wouldn’t ship before the end of the year.
Microsoft had promised to ship CRM 2.0 sometime in the first or second quarter of 2005, so the announcement of a delay came just as some customers—such as Gautam Sachdev, a business analyst and consultant with New York-based professional services firm Tulip Soft Corp.—were planning for deployment.
Sachdev says his current client—a company that provides managed messaging services to meet SEC regulations and other compliance requirements—was both surprised and inconvenienced by the delay. “We had initially put a hold on various customization efforts, hoping to upgrade to the new CRM 2.0 at the earliest,” he notes. “Due to the delay in the same, we have to reschedule the customizations, which are now going to cause further delays.”
It’s a not-insignificant slip. For many users, Microsoft’s CRM offering is a work-in-progress proposition, with only two full-fledged releases under its belt since it first shipped in 2003. As a result, Sachdev’s client and some other adopters bought into it with the expectation that the software giant would hew to its published roadmap and flesh out any shortcomings with timely new releases.
Another adopter is Timothy VonDerHaar, a Microsoft CRM administrator with a manufacturer of clutch and brake systems used in industrial applications. VonDerHaar says he’s eagerly awaiting the release of CRM 2.0, which he hopes will address some of the current CRM 1.2’s shortcomings.
“There are numerous small issues with CRM that I am told will be fixed in 2.0. Without seeing 2.0 for myself, I cannot be sure,” he says. "Many of my problems revolve around the lack of features.”
Among other shortcomings, VonDerHaar cites CRM’s lack of support for customized forms or views; a broken feature whereby activities that are assigned to a contact do not get associated with the correct account; and a broken sorting feature whereby contacts are not filtered to the correct account. “The lack of quote printing was another problem that took significant man hours and extra money to resolve,” he continues.
VonDerHaar’s other gripes include CRM’s inability to do a range search and replace on ZIP codes when sales regions change; the inability to customize fields in mail merge; and tedious Workflow capabilities. “I could go on and on,” he adds.
A Manageable Inconvenience
Like most users, David McGuire, a systems analyst with a Microsoft Gold partner in upstate New York, concedes that the current CRM 1.2 release has its fair share of feature, function, and reliability shortcomings. In this respect, he says, Microsoft’s announced delay is something of an inconvenience.
Nevertheless, McGuire says, it’s a manageable inconvenience, thanks in large part to the ecosystem of business partners and ISVs—such as c360 Business Solutions Inc.—Microsoft has enlisted to support the CRM product. “We are still working with customers and we have not notified them of the new version coming soon. Besides, with some of the add-on products available, we get most of the functionality of the new version without much hassle."
With a few exceptions, many users seem to be taking the delay in stride, even if, as some concede, it’s disappointing news.
“My company had to spend a great deal just to install the system. We began with only a peer-to-peer environment and had to step up to the full domain environment with Exchange and SQL,” says VonDerHaar. “At this point, ownership is very disappointed with the return on investment thus far and have not authorized money for the upgrade.”
At the same time, VonDerHaar adds, he believes Microsoft made the right move. “Any new software, whether from Microsoft or not, will always have shortcomings. A company has to make a choice between features and market opportunity. It is easy to see that the version I am using lacks many features but is fairly stable,” he comments. “I expect version 2.0 to be a major step in features while also improving on stability. I would rather Microsoft ‘make it right’ in regards to features and stability than to get a bug-ridden mess.”
Other users echo this perspective. “We all want functionality, but I will take stability over rushing a product out the door any day,” says Jake Horn, a CRM Practice Manager with Quest Business Solutions (http://questnbs.com/business), who believes that the delay is “absolutely a good thing.”
Horn acknowledges that the current version of CRM could be improved on in several ways, but believes it’s more important for Microsoft to deliver a stable, feature-rich release version 2.0 release: “I am glad they are working to get it right. I am very confident that when Microsoft CRM 2.0 hits the street, it will be the product that everyone is hoping it will be.”
Some Users Exasperated
Not everyone took the news with equanimity, of course. Microsoft’s announcement exasperated users such as Brandon Smith, a CRM administrator with a provider of document finishing solutions.
For starters, Smith says, there are many shortcomings associated with the current CRM 1.2 release that directly impact his company’s business operations. As for CRM 2.0, Smith isn’t sure what to expect: “Microsoft hasn't given enough information yet to know if these problems are fixed in the next version, although I have seen a demo of the alpha version of CRM and it looks like some of the difficulties have been improved on.”
Smith believes that CRM was and is a not-ready-for-prime-time release. “Microsoft should have delayed the initial release of CRM—they definitely released it too soon. But you would think that after more than 1.5 years after the release of version 1 they would be able to ship a version 2 on time,” he says. “To me, their delay doesn't show their commitment to quality as much as it shows their inability to attain quality. In other words, their product is so broken that when the beta is reviewed by their partners, they have to delay shipment for another six months. That tells me there are some serious problems that didn't get addressed in the initial development of version 2.”
The lack of an available beta is a sticking point with several users. “I would have appreciated if they would have launched at least a Beta so that we would have seen some of the promised improvements and then hoping for the rest we would have been assured that work is on the way,” says Sachdev. “As of now, everything seems so unrealistic and we are still unsure if it’s really going to happen by the end of the year or if we are just waiting for another rescheduling.”
Systems analyst McGuire says his company hoped to get a head start training its consultants on the new CRM 2.0 code. “The CRM 2.0 delay has affected us most of all. We are trying to ramp up our in-house training and certification program and we can't get training on the new stuff, and we're afraid that the old stuff's training won't be applicable to the new stuff,” he says.
Nevertheless, McGuire concludes, the delay is almost certainly for the best. “I think that Microsoft is finally focusing on integration this time around. They've taken the input from the users. … They've seen the shortcomings and are trying to address them. Also, the product technologies associated with this product have matured since [the] initial release, .NET in particular. With maturity comes experience; with experience comes a more robust and reliable product.”
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.