Microsoft will update its customer relationship management software in August, adding better integration with Office 2003 and Outlook but without additional licence fees, the software giant has announced.

An additional service pack to its existing CRM 1.2 application - which was released 18 months ago - will be available to its 1,800 users. Many of those customers have said the app is fairly stable but there are some performance bumps.

Using the Web services-based Microsoft Information Bridge Framework bundle, creating and tracking customer letters will be easier, and getting hold of customer-related data without having to leave the Office application will be possible. For instance, when a user is writing a letter, a sidebar will pop up and provide relevant case history details, said Holly Holt, group product manager for Microsoft CRM. "It's a way to have fewer clicks to get information," she said.

Increased integration between Office, Microsoft CRM and its Web-based collaboration application, SharePoint Services, are designed to speed up the crafting of sales proposals.

There will also be changes to admin tools to manage user privileges. IT staff can currently access calendar information off-site but are unable to save customer information. The upgrade will also improve synchronisation.

In a separate announcement, Microsoft said it is shipping its Mobile CRM application, which it originally unveiled at the 2004 Convergence user event in March.

These enhancements may not be enough, according to analyst Sheryl Kingstone at The Yankee Group. "A big problem with Microsoft CRM has been performance and usability," she said. Specifically the need for improved Office integration, improved performance and a version of the software for Pocket PCs.
Although the upcoming service pack will fix basic problems it's just a "baby step", Kingstone said. She is awaiting better offline Outlook performance, as well as sales, service and marketing enhancements.