Integration with Microsoft Outlook is the Key for any CRM Solution to Work

Updated: September 15, 2010

It is both necessary and required that any CRM suite must accommodate integration with arguably the most prevalent and effective office productivity suites, Microsoft Office. The heart of MS Office is the Outlook application. It is the interface through which time management, human and information resources interact. Any CRM requiring more than a modest amount of data processing requires the scalability and portability of Outlook.

To cite a specific example of counterproductive CRM tools, consider the on-going issues with Sales Cloud, the SalesForce.com CRM suite designed to interface with the Office productivity manager, Outlook. While on its face, the Sales Cloud CRM does interface with Outlook, what the SaleForce.com has neglected to specify is that they meant it integrates with Outlook 2007 and the 32-bit MS Windows operating system. It does not integrate with either the Windows 7 64-bit operating system, nor Outlook 2010 in either 32-bit or 64-bit environments, while Microsoft Dynamics CRM integration with Microsoft Outlook is effortless.

SalesForce.com has offered a number of workarounds in lieu of having a turn-key CRM product that is seamlessly integrated with Outlook 2010. All of the workarounds proposed involve additional expenditure, typically several hundred dollars per workstation. For example, they suggest third-party applications which do not provide complete access to some of the more critical components of Outlook, such as the calendar and synchronization functions. The painful process of trying to set up MS Office 2010 and Outlook 2007 to run concurrently involves more than routine installation, there are potential licensing issues and simultaneous running of different versions of the software is neither supported nor endorsed by Microsoft. Another proposed solution involves setting up a VM environment, however, most users and many engineers are not familiar with Virtual Machines, unless they are UNIX - or similar non-Microsoft designed operating systems - qualified. Such engineers are usually in high-demand and may not be readily available.

SalesForce allows that the "update" to their Sales Cloud software is slated for next year, and it is expected to be rolled out before Spring. Of note, there are no sandbox releases nor beta versions available for testing, which makes a seamless transition seam all the less likely. Further, it is unlikely that both 32-bit and 64-bit versions are released simultaneously, as operating system issues and application issues can manifest with similar symptoms and differing causes.

There is also recent history to consider. SalesForce.com had similar setbacks with the release of Outlook 2007 and their existing CRM suite. Given the high-profile nature of SalesForce CRM, they should have had ready access to the MS Office and Windows 7 code base and beta test releases long before either MS product was officially released to the public.

The problem exists and persists. While workarounds are possible, they are expensive. In addition for capital outlays for licenses - typically on the close order of $500 per user in a VM scenario - there is the wheel-spinning waste of manpower from your high-priced systems engineering staff or out-of-pocket expenses for your outsourced systems integration provider to attempt the transition. If you are running Enterprise-level server farms, then corporate-wide implementation can become very expensive, very quickly.


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