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Microsoft bCentral Expands Its Offerings

Microsoft's bCentral small business service on Wednesday (Nov 1) announced three new subscription-based core business process web services that will launch beginning this month.

Commerce Manager, Customer Manager and Finance Manager are the latest additions to bCentral's offerings, joining existing web hosting, email and marketing services. These services mark evolution of the vision of bCentral to make core business processes easier any time, any place and on any device.

"To date, relatively few small companies have really begun to harness the full potential of web-based technologies. The Internet is still mostly used for marketing or information gathering," said Kathleen Hebert, vice president of the Small Business Division at Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT). "With bCentral, we have the opportunity to provide small businesses with a completely new level of services: real-time customer interaction, customer self-service, powerful communication and information exchange, buy and sell capabilities, supply chain efficiencies, and process automation."

One of the core obstacles to small-business adoption is the fact that many services, while solving specific business problems, may actually complicate the way small businesses work. For example, companies that sell online through one service and manage customers with another may end up with customer and transaction data in multiple systems or services. Through bCentral, Microsoft is delivering the simplicity and flexibility small businesses need by building on next-generation technologies that enable integration, seamless information flow, a shared data model and a common user interface across multiple services.

To deliver on its vision, Microsoft bCentral will focus on three things: deep investment in solutions that streamline and automate core small-business processes; development of a platform that will build on Microsoft .NET foundation services and other next-generation technologies to enable truly seamless integration; and a partnering strategy that will enable third parties to extend the value of bCentral services through customization.

The first of the new services, bCentral Commerce Manager, will debut in early November, and will allow small businesses to submit products to multiple online marketplaces. It will be followed later this fall by bCentral Customer Manager, a contact management service to help small companies manage their customers and increase sales success, and a beta version of bCentral Finance Manager, a web-based business finance and accounting solution that integrates with e-commerce and customer management functions.

Commerce Manager is designed to help small businesses manage their e-commerce activity and reach buyers well beyond their own site. Commerce Manager helps business owners manage catalogs, orders and credit card processing. Small businesses can list once and sell everywhere. Using marketplace manager, businesses can move their merchandise and services into another online marketplace with a simple point and click of a mouse. Commerce Manager also makes it easy for small businesses to "plug in" and start transacting with larger trading partners. A consolidated view of orders gives small businesses one view of the entire scope of their e-commerce activity.

Customer Manager, launching later this fall, provides small businesses with one centralized place for managing leads, customers and partners efficiently in the Internet-driven business world. It delivers a host of features that automate the customer-relations process, such as automated lead-importing from a company's website and a task list that notifies business owners of urgent information.

Finance Manager, launching in early 2001, is a web-based application that small businesses can use to manage their finances and accounting. Finance Manager manages accounts, receivables and payables. A single fin