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Microsoft details e-commerce Web services

The giant software maker says ClearLead, an online service that manages customer leads and information, will debut this spring.

Microsoft is slowly making good on plans to deliver Web-based services for e-commerce.

The software maker today announced ClearLead, an online service that manages customer leads and information. The service, one of Microsoft's so-called megaservices, will debut this spring.

Microsoft said last fall that it planned to create a new crop of Internet-based services. At the time, it was the giant's first major effort to both simplify its software tools message and appeal to dot com companies building e-commerce sites. Other technology providers, including IBM and Hewlett-Packard, have already announced plans to support Web services.

ClearLead, which will run on Microsoft server software, will let businesses respond to and manage customer queries sent over the Internet in real-time, the company said in a statement. From the home page of the new service, users will have access to to-do lists, contacts and contact histories and be able to forward urgent customer requests directly to a pager or cell phone.

Microsoft said its partners, including customer relationship management (CRM) software makers Siebel and PeopleSoft, will be able to extend the new service to their small business clients.

The company also said its car-buying Web site, MSN CarPoint, will be the first to implement the ClearLead service, helping auto dealers more easily manage their Internet sales, respond to more customer inquiries and reduce average car selling costs.

In other news, VerticalNet, which operates and owns about 55 industry-specific business-to-business (B2B) trading exchanges that enable companies to buy and sell goods and services online, is licensing the ClearLead platform, and will incorporate it in its vertical markets.

Last week, Microsoft invested $100 million in VerticalNet. The companies said they will work together to jointly sell B2B e-commerce services and content to small and medium-sized businesses. Microsoft said it will also provide VerticalNet with distribution and marketing support through multiple Microsoft products such as MSN's network of Internet services and Microsoft bCentral small business portal.