Microsoft’s Project Elixir Aims to Tighten CRM, Outlook Integration

Microsoft has posted sample code and technical guidance for an internal project it has been working on for more than a year that integrates Outlook with Siebel CRM using Visual Studio tools in Office.

More of an approach than a product or even a complete code, Project Elixir has been watched closely by 30 or so customers. Some of them are already using Web services to knit together their back-end line-of-business applications with Outlook’s familiar user interface, Tim O’Brien, group manager of the platform strategy group at Microsoft, told CRM Buyer.

“There has been a meaningful enough interest from our customer base that we felt compelled to post guidance and the sample code,” he said.

Not a UI Company

Microsoft began working on this project last year in order to solve its own integration problems. Sales reps were having difficulty using Siebel CRM — Microsoft’s own back-office CRM application. “The sales force pretty much avoided using it — Siebel is not a user interface company,” O’Brien commented. “Eventually they were beginning and ending their day with Outlook, so we decided to make Outlook the default UI.”

Project Elixir is yet another response to the difficulties companies often have in aggregating their back-end systems with stand alone best-of-breed products and customer data, which is often siloed throughout the enterprise.

By now, most companies have been able to stitch together their various applications, either through Web services, custom-built add-ons or commercial integration technology that many of the vendors began offering a few years ago. The missing link, according to many end users, has been an intuitive user interface — especially for front-end applications like CRM.

Hard to Use

Project Elixir is one company’s stab at solving a problem that has existed since the first CRM applications came to market: They can be difficult to use.

Microsoft is also addressing this issue with its own commercial products. It is working with SAP, for instance, on a similar add-on for its back-end application called Mendocino. And its latest CRM release, 3.0, offers native integration between Office and the front end, O’Brien said.

Though unspoken, Microsoft’s probable end goal seems obvious: greater market share for its own CRM application and Office suite.

“Microsoft wants to provide a broader set of users with an easy way to access CRM data,” Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of Nucleus Research, told CRM Buyer. “At the same time, it wants to build further support for Outlook by providing built-in integration,” she said.

Faster to Market

O’Brien could not guess when a practical application of Project Elixir would come to market. “If a company wants to talk about it, it is up to them,” he suggested.

At least one developer will be looking at it closely as it builds its own Outlook integration project. “We are in the middle of this right now,” Paul Rony, SplendidCRM Software founder, told CRM Buyer.

An open-source CRM product licensed in part under SugarCRM Public License 1.1.3, SplendidCRM is built on the Microsoft technology stack; it was written in C# using the Microsoft .Net Framework 1.1 and Microsoft SQL Server 2000.

“Getting this sample code now was incredibly timely — now we may not have to develop our own integration add-on. Hopefully it will get us to market that much faster,” Rony said.

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