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Microsoft Site to Offer 3 New Services

November 08, 2000|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Microsoft Corp. is upgrading its bCentral small-business Web site.

The site (http://www.bcentral.com) will soon offer three new fee-based services: customer relations management, e-commerce and small-business finance services, Microsoft Vice President Satya Nadella said.

The new offerings will make it easier for small businesses to sell merchandise on their own Web sites and in online malls operated by Microsoft and other e-commerce companies. And bCentral, which already helps businesses sell online and accept credit cards, will integrate sales data into an online accounting system and allow businesses to keep better records of their online customers.

There is nothing unique about any of the new tools that Microsoft is launching, but together they provide small businesses with an integrated set of resources that had been primarily available to larger companies. Each service will cost $24.95 per month per user, plus additional fees such as commissions to online merchants who help you market your products.

Microsoft's Commerce Manager, rolled out this week, will let you create an online sales catalog that will appear on other high-traffic Web sites. More customers will be exposed to your company and to your products.

The Commerce Manager includes a "catalog manager" feature that will let you enter information about each product you want to sell. Once you've created and entered items into your catalog, you can use Microsoft's "marketplace manager" to "push" your products onto participating e-commerce sites, including MSN Mainstreet Shop, FairMarket Auction Network, MSN Auctions and Lycos Auctions. Microsoft, according to Nadella, is negotiating to expand the service to other e-commerce and auction sites.

With this feature, a small business can set up shop within a larger and well-branded e-commerce site. Customers who may never have heard of your business are more likely to go to well-known sites where they can find merchandise from a variety of small businesses. The goal of this process, of course, is to generate orders and, if you're successful, Microsoft continues the process by giving you access to the "order manager," which allows you to monitor your sales activity on the multiple Web sites using a single "seller console." The service also allows for credit card processing online via Cardservice International.

By the end of the year, Microsoft also plans to launch what it's calling the Customer Manager, which serves as a basic customer relations management system allowing you to track customers' past and current orders along with the complete history of any contact with that customer.

Finally, the software behemoth plans early next year to roll out its Finance Manager, which will help you keep track of all the money you're making as a result of its other services. The Finance Manager helps you keep track of transactions using a general ledger: accounts receivable, accounts payable and other tools typically found in small-business accounting packages.

This is an early volley in what Microsoft hopes to be its next wave of software services as the company changes from an off-the-shelf software company into an applications service provider under its new "Microsoft.Net" moniker.

Because the software and your data reside on Microsoft's servers rather than your own PCs, there is no need to purchase, learn or maintain software or worry about backing up your data. Microsoft does that for you. Also, you can access the software and data from any Web-enabled device whether you're at the office, at home or on the road.

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Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard at 2:10 p.m. weekdays on the KNX (1070) Technology Hour. He can be reached at larry.magid@latimes.com. His Web site is at http://www.larrysworld.com.

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