Business Contact Manager (BCM) is a Microsoft Office 2007 add-on available in the Small Business, Professional, and Ultimate versions of Office 2007. It can also be purchased as a separate product. It’s aimed at small companies of about 25 users or fewer, but larger companies can certainly use it where only a small group of users needs access to a customer relationship management (CRM) application. If the company requires more than 25 users, then an enterprise-level solution should be employed.

BCM integrates with the Outlook user experience and shows the potential of using Microsoft Outlook as a development platform for business intelligence (BI) applications with the ability to access and present data in a useful manner. Figure 1 shows a clean installation of BCM 2007 in Office Outlook 2007. BCM has its own drop down menu options and as shown in Figure 1 a placeholder in the folder view that renders customer, account and project data from a SQL database.

BCM does not use Exchange resources or an Outlook PST to store data. It requires SQL Server 2005 Express edition. This can be installed locally or on a remote, shared location. Interestingly, PST files are not supported across the LAN for reasons outlined in the Microsoft knowledge base article 297019, but SQL Server is made for that purpose. BCM for Office Outlook 2003 used Microsoft SQL Desktop Edition (MSDE). SQL Server 2005 Express has compatibility issues with beta and RC versions of Windows 7. You must install SQL Server 2005 Express separately and apply SQL Server 2005 SP3 before running SQL Server 2005. When installing on Windows 7 RTM, SQL Server will prompt the installer about this requirement.

BCM was also available with Outlook 2003, but lacked many features typically found in basic CRM applications. Many of these deficiencies were addressed in BCM 2007. Performance remains an issue on weaker hardware as it was in Outlook 2003. I would consider the system requirements outlined on the 2007 Microsoft Office system requirements site (additional 500MB of RAM and 500MB of drive space just for BCM over and above Office or Outlook) as the bare minimum. The SQL database adds to resource consumption, competing for disk I/O, memory and CPU cycles. Limiting the amount of memory allotted to SQL and using multiple hard drives to split read/write activity can help ensure that the workstation does not get overwhelmed serving SQL processes.

BCM continues with Office Outlook 2010 and has many improvements (such as an improved, gadget-driven dashboard) to compete with more formal customer relationship management applications. I’ll cover BCM integration with Outlook and other applications in future Tips and Techniques columns.