12 February 2004 Cisco Systems and Microsoft have announced joint plans to start selling to small and medium sized businesses IP telephony, customer relationship management (CRM) and other applications that have traditionally only been available for major organisations.
The two companies have pencilled in an April 2004 release date.
This will be the first time that the two companies have developed such products specifically for SMBs, said Cisco vice president Peter Alexander. Both companies are now targeting organisations with 500 or fewer employees as a key source of future revenue.
The principal aim is to make it easier for SMBs to deploy IP telephony systems, as well as integrating them with low cost CRM software. Many SMBs are put off buying such software and hardware because of the cost and difficulty of implementation.
Microsoft is only just starting to drive into the CRM sector in earnest, with the release last year of Microsoft CRM, while for Cisco, setting up IP telephony on SMB’s ‘greenfield’ sites ought to be a considerably easier sell than persuading a major organisation to migrate from legacy telecoms systems.
Microsoft CRM has been criticised for being simplistic compared to competitors’ products, but the company has been developing it fast and integrating it with common Microsoft applications, particularly Outlook, in a bid to make it easier to use.
“Small businesses are moving to higher speeds, Internet telephony, more security,” said Cisco. “SMBs will now have one complete, communications solution that can quickly, reliably and cost-effectively be installed and maintained.”
Darren Huston, corporate vice president of US small and mid-market solutions and partners at Microsoft added: “Our two companies want to share the knowledge we have each gained from working with SMB customers. Through our partners, we hope to use this knowledge to offer robust an cost-effective solutions that help our customers increase productivity and realize their full potential.”
The first equipment to appear will be the Cisco Ethernet broadband router, designed for companies with less than 20 employees, and Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2003 Standard Edition, a combination of the Windows Server Operating System and Microsoft’s Exchange e-mail server software. Integration support and software will be included so that the router and server software can work together.