NU Online News Service, April 4, 2003, 5:23 p.m. EST – Microsoft Corp. has picked Avaya Inc., Basking Ridge, N.J., to help it beef up the ability of its new Microsoft Customer Relationship Management software to handle the phones.
Avaya, a major communications technology company, has agreed to license Microsoft CRM technology and integrate it with the popular Avaya IP Office system, the companies say.
The companies have predicted that the first version of the Avaya IP Office system with Microsoft CRM capabilities could be available by the end of June.
Insurance call center technology experts say the real news may be that Microsoft is leaving room for Avaya and Avaya’s competitors to continue to sell the software that runs the telephones.
Insurers and other companies waited for months to see what features Microsoft would include in Microsoft CRM Version 1.0. When Microsoft introduced the system in January, the experts concluded that the system lacked many of the features needed to manage sophisticated telephone systems right out of the box.
Although Microsoft would prefer that reporters highlight the Avaya partnership, “Microsoft CRM in and of itself does not have extensive call center functionality,” Microsoft spokesman Jamey Chown concedes.
Version 1.0 focuses mainly on managing information drawn from the Microsoft Outlook electronic mail system, according to Microsoft’s own marketing materials and product presentations.
Insurers and insurance brokers that want to add Microsoft CRM to sophisticated call center systems today would probably have to put a team in charge of connecting the system to new or existing telephone management systems, experts interviewed say.
Of course, even if Microsoft CRM had everything a company needed to manage its telephones, some insurers and agencies might wait awhile before adopting it.
“I believe it’s a step in the right direction, but I believe companies are a little hesitant to implement it,” says Peter Kasabov, president of Connextions.net Inc., Orlando, Fla.
Customers worry about the problems that software companies often have with the first versions of complicated new products, Kasabov says.
And Microsoft itself emphasizes that it is aiming Version 1.0 of Microsoft CRM mainly at small and midsize businesses, rather than at giant “enterprise space companies.”
“What we’re doing in the mid-market is trying to design a new system, bringing to market a brand new system designed specifically for these customers,” David Thatcher, manager of Microsoft’s CRM strategies, said in July during a talk in Silicon Valley, according to a transcript on Microsoft’s Web site.
Insurance is also different from other industries, because of the enormous regulatory burden it bears and the huge size of the bigger companies’ processing needs.