When Microsoft came out with Office 2010, I heard one complaint over and over again from small and medium-size businesses: They wanted the Business Contact Manager for Outlook, just as they had with Office 2007, but Microsoft wouldn't give -- or even sell -- it to them. Microsoft would only give BCM to companies with Office 2010 Volume Licenses.
That didn't, and doesn't, make sense. BCM has always been targeted at small businesses, many of which buy only one or two copies of Office. Volume Licenses require a measure of faith (and an accommodating budget) that just don't make sense in many small businesses.
[ Read the InfoWorld Test Center's reviews of Office Web Apps and its picks for the best business features in Office 2010 and the best Office 2010 capabilities for remote and mobile users. ]
In a rare display of empathy, Microsoft suddenly reversed its decision last week and announced it would give BCM to businesses without Volume Licenses.
Microsoft Business Contact Manager extends Outlook, infusing it with many Customer Relationship Management capabilities. Big businesses frequently spend an arm and a leg on custom CRM software, but many small businesses find Outlook's BCM more than adequate. The price is right: BCM ships free inside the box with Office 2003 Pro and Small Business Edition, and Office 2007 Pro, Small Business, and Ultimate.
BCM is an Outlook add-in with a SQL Server back-end database; as such, it takes advantage of the Outlook interface to help track customer accounts. Anyone with a nodding acquaintance with Outlook can quickly build accounts with multiple contacts; keep track of emails, documents, and phone conversations; stay on top of tasks; and generally manage interactions with customers and potential customers.
With a bit of prodding and rigorous attention to data entry, BCM can even follow the progress of an advertising or marketing campaign. It isn't a sophisticated boiler room application, but for a small organization with a handful of people who interact with customers, it does the job nicely.