The Queen City is a long, long way from the West Coast. But that’s where Microsoft unveiled its new “Business Solutions Business Portal” to the general public.

“The only questions I’ve gotten all day have been about Business Portal,” said Jeff Gelderman, one of the Microsoft employees on hand for the premier, which took place at InfoVision’s TechExpo 2003..

There’s been a buzz about Business Portal for months among Microsoft partners, such as InfoVision, the main sponsor of the Charlotte event. But the program — designed for users of Microsoft’s Great Plans and Solomon software — wasn’t available until April 30. The Charlotte show marked its debut to the general public.

Business Portal provides an organization’s employees, suppliers and customers with easy access to information and processes critical to maximizing efficiency and profitability, all from a single, Web-based portal.

“When someone makes a call to someone else in the company asking for information, we have found it costs $23 for each phone-based transaction. A Web-based transaction costs $1.77,” explained Jay Richardson, global product manager, Microsoft Business Solutions Business Portal.

Richardson said that most Microsoft customers were aware of Business Portal, but had lots of questions about what was needed to make it operational and how it could be customized.

One visitor to the booth, for example, wanted to use Business Portal for setting up a company Intranet, but discovered that Great Plains 7.0 is required. His company is still using 6.0, but plans to upgrade so they can use the portal.

Many attendees also were attracted to the show because they wanted to learn about CRM. The customer relationship management solution pulls together data from every customer contact from every department.

Laurie Leonard of Charlotte-based Suite 1000, a contract customer service center, was one of those attendees. “Our customers are using CRM, and we need to connect with them, so I wanted to see how it works,” she said. “The demo was very good. They explained CRM conceptually and concretely – and all in 30 minutes.”

A public draw for InfoVision

The event was the fourth tech expo hosted by InfoVision, one of the first companies to receive Gold Certified Partners Designation from Microsoft. The first two years, the show was just for clients, but last year, the company opened the doors to the public. According to company president Greg Aker, about 300 people attended last year; this year, they had 600 registered when the doors opened at the Merchandise Mart.

“It was originally a way to let our customers know what was on the horizon and to put customers and vendors together,” Aker said. “We want to be a trusted advisor to our clients, like a CPA or a lawyer, but in tech.

“Last year, we decided to open it to the public and prospective customers as well. We were able to track a quarter of a million dollars in new business as a result of the show.”

Other products are a hit, too

Some two dozen other vendors also had booths. Information sessions and demonstrations were also held during the day. Among firmsrepresented were Hewlett Packard, Cisco Systems, Time Warner Telecom, Blue Moon Industries and Bank One. And while the Microsoft products may have garnered the biggest buzz, other products also made an impact on attendees.

For example, Karen Atkins, the controller for Monroe-based Rx Textiles, came because she wanted to learn about CRM. But it was WebHouse Business Intelligence from Professional Advantage that struck her fancy — and professional interest. “It would make my job so much easier,” she said.

John West is the IT manager for the Mint Museum of Art, an InfoVision customer who came to the show to get a sense of what is available. After attending a session on wireless technology, he knew what he was going to ask his boss when he got back to the office. “The museum needs to go wireless,” he said. “We’re in an old historic building. If we do anything in our conference room or theater, we have to string out cable. Wireless is something we definitely need to investigate.”