has inked a deal with Network Associatesto marry a customer help-desk system into its CRM software.
Microsoft CRM, which targets midmarket enterprise customers, will now be integrated with Network Associates' Magic Solutions HelpDesk IQ, a single-software system gives help-desk staff access to customer information, service requests, e-mail, and a variety of specialized functions.
More importantly for Microsoft, which has struggled to deal with lax security in key software products, the customer service help-desk system from a known Internet security firm gives it a credible partner to build into the CRM offering.
Financial terms of the partnership were not released. The integrated product ships in June. Network Associates already has a deal to license its anti-virus software to Microsoft.
By marrying the HelpDesk IQ system to Microsoft CRM, a customer service worker can simply convert an e-mail message into a work ticket and vice versa, simplifying the trail of messages needed to process a customer query.
Magic HelpDesk IQ also promises to extend customization capabilities for administrators using Microsoft CRM. In addition to the simplification of work tickets and the processing of customer queries, it also offers self-service Web automation, inventory tracking and jazzed-up audit capabilities for complete visibility into the process of each service request, the companies explained.
"By allowing IT and help desk information to be instantly available via the self-service portal, help desk administrators can easily and quickly reduce problem resolution times, facilitating increased productivity and lower cost of ownership," Microsoft said.
The deal was officially announced at Convergence 2003 in Orlando, Florida, an event that lets Microsoft's Business Solutions unit showcase new applications and technologies. High on the Convergence 2003 agenda this year is Microsoft CRM, the first business application built on the .NET infrastructure.
The CRM offering, which puts Microsoft up against the likes of PeopleSoft, Onyx and Pivotal, was designed to facilitate a simpler connection of disparate systems and improve integration with external Web services such as credit checking, analytics and marketing automation services.
Microsoft CRM is priced at $395 per user plus $995 for the server. For a more advanced version, midsized businesses must pay $1,295 per user plus $1,990 for the server.
It is Microsoft's first foray into the enterprise resource planning (ERP) market since its massive $1.1 billion of Great Plains in December 2000. The product launch of Microsoft CRM got off to a rocky start last December when technical hiccups pushed back its release to resellers.
During beta testing, The CRM suite reportedly had trouble integrating with the Small Business Suite, which was also part of the Great Plains acquisition.