The collaboration alliance between powerhouses Microsoft and Cisco Systems announced earlier this year has produced its first product: the Cisco Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Communications Connector for Microsoft CRM.

The product is designed to link IP telephony infrastructure with

Microsoft’s customer relationship application in order to allow information to move from one to the other.

The most obvious application of such technology is in the call centre, said IDC Canada Ltd. analyst Warren Shiau. “”Now you are going on the path towards even greater automation of basic call centre tasks — more productivity per (person) in the call centre,”” he said.

“”Whether it was Microsoft or any other (enterprise software) vendor, forging these sorts of link-ups with a communications player (helps) move towards a CRM world like that.””

The product features screen pop-ups, click-to-dial, call duration tracking, call information capture, and customer record creation. With this release Cisco is also establishing a new partner specialization called CRM Express and will offer it as an extension to its Value Incentive Program (VIP).

VIP partners with IP communications and security specialization for Cisco Call Manager and Unity Express solutions will now qualify for a 10 per cent rebate.

The Cisco CRM Communications Connector will be made available as a free software application to all qualified Cisco channel partners.

Richard McLeod, director of IP communications solutions for worldwide channels, said the reason for making it free is to boost reseller margins.

“We want to give them the tools to move into a solution space and make it affordable. It is another opportunity to add profit to their business and they can take this at no charge and clearly build onto their professional services,” he said.

McLeod added that when a Cisco partner collaborates with any of the 30,000 Microsoft partner worldwide to deliver a “complete” business solution to an SMB customer, an additional 20 per cent in incremental revenue will be created for both partners.

McLeod said that CRM has, somewhat unfairly, been viewed as a tool only for call centres. He believes it can be extended to every area of business and that Cisco, with this new product, can bring “it every desktop for every customer phone call.”

He acknowledged that Microsoft CRM is in its first market-place versions and that there are other more established CRM solutions. However, he said this is a broad market for Microsoft CRM because the company holds the lion’s share of the office productivity market as well as the e-mail communications software market. “I think Microsoft has a leg up on many other CRM companies and the other enterprise CRM players are coming downstream,” he said.

Beyond the new product, Cisco and Microsoft will work with each other’s sales teams to match up partners. While McLeod said no official partner programs have been created for this alliance, local Microsoft and Cisco sales teams work in partnerships with their resellers which could lead to additional benefits.

“Both partners believe this will increase the sales opportunities where one plus one will equal three. It creates new opportunities for both sets of partners and CRM can build more applications and professional services,” he said.

According to the latest Forrester Research report, VoIP and other IP telephony products are on the rise. Forrester surveyed 1,000 business decision-makers of which 20 per cent said they plan to purchase VoIP or other IP-based solutions.

— With files from Neil Sutton


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