Category Archives for "Miscellaneous"

Talk with your CRM Administrator Soon: Are your CRM 2011 plug-ins ready for this year’s scheduled application updates?

The MS Modern Style Account form

The MS Modern Style Account form

2013 is a big year for CRM Online and CRM 2011 On-Premise.  Microsoft has an amped-up roadmap with a ton of great functionality on tap.  Some of this has already hit with the December Update for MS Online customers.  One of the most notable is the UI refresh, which brings the “MS Modern Style” that is hitting oh-so-many MS apps.   The visual update is fantastic as it takes great strides to free users from having so many windows open when using the application.  This is fantastic news both on the desktop as well as on mobile devices.  Business leadership (and most users) will expect to receive these benefits soon after they’re rolled out.

So, what’s the catch?

Well, I don’t really want to call it a catch, but this certainly introduces some additional considerations as you look forward with your CRM deployment.  These considerations could have an impact on the user experience and ultimately impact productivity and usability if not addressed prior to upgrading.  There are new wrinkles when it comes to form layout, in-form scripting, and plug-ins.  Today, plug-ins are in my crosshairs.

Historically in MSCRM, users would have to click a Save button when they’ve worked with a record (Save, Save and Close, etc.).  The MS Modern Style form brings the web 2.0 concept of automatically saving a record that is being edited.  From a user’s perspective, that’s mostly good (though an undo button would be nice).  The specific mechanism triggering this save is a timer, which saves saves changes to the CRM database every 30 or so seconds if there have been changes.

Right there, that’s a little interesting.  It’s time-based, not event based.  Sure there’s still a Save button you can click, but if I take 90 seconds to update a record, 2-3 saves will have taken place during that time.  So, let’s consider a plug-in that fires when a record is updated.  In the soon-to-be-old-world, it would have executed one time (when I clicked save).  In the soon-to-be-new-world, it will have executed 2-3 times (or maybe even 4 if I ended up clicking the save button manually when I was done).

This can get you thinking of a handful of questions about existing plug-in design…

  • Are your plug-ins resource intensive?  What if they’re running at 2x the frequency as today (or 3x…4x)?
  • Do any of your plug-ins trigger a chain of events?
  • Do any of your plug-ins rely on the fact that today they only execute when you’re finished working with the record?
  • Do any of your plug-ins rely on something that’s been done to the record via client-side scripting?
  • Do any of your plug-ins do a validation that requires certain groups of fields to all be updated (think address city/state/zip code validation)?

So what do the answers to these questions mean?  They give a picture to how much of an impact some of the 2013 updates may have on your users.  Generally speaking, these aren’t likely to stop the business in its tracks.  That said, it would be unfortunate to introduce performance and user experience issues that cloud the positive impact of the fantastic new functionality users are getting this year.

In a quiet nod to this, the CRM Team Blog recently posted a couple of items.  One detailing the specifics of the save behavior (along with a note that it can impact the items called out above), another about plug-in design.  The posts are quite technical, so if you’re not feeling geeky today you can instead read the following commentary:

The CRM SDK describes plug-ins as “custom business logic (code) that you can integrate with [Dynamics CRM] to modify or augment the standard behavior of the platform”.    This means plug-ins are beyond the platform that MS is responsible for (Read: it’s your problem if it’s not working right).  MS felt like it’s important to post information about plug-in design in parallel with the news about product updates.  Change is a-coming, and it may not play nice with your existing customizations.

Talk with your CRM Administrator about the plug-ins you’re using and assess the type of impact these updates will have.  Most of these issues can be addressed…but remember: plug-ins are written in .NET, which means you’ll need a developer, which means you’ll need regression testing, which ultimately means you’ll need cycles from multiple teams of people.

Now is the time to get the conversation going.

Dynamics CRM Online: iPad Support

After years of anticipation, the first official browser support for Safari on the iPad has come to CRM Online customers. This is a huge step forward for Dynamics mobile support, and more importantly an important milestone in keeping relevancy with the changing needs of the workforce.
CRM On the iPad!
Recent updates to the CRM Online technology are  a key  enabler with the December service update from MS, which brought customers the “New Style” forms. Specifically, the New Style forms drive activity without relying on pop-up windows. This is a must on a mobile device, as there’s not an alt-tab to rely on or consistent ability to show two windows side-by-side: It all has to be on a single page.

The downside to this, of course, is that it requires an administrator to opt-in to the new user experience and means only a selection of the entities currently leverage the New Style form. This is going to begin a game of tug-of-war for some organizations, as there are more considerations beyond iPad support that come along with opting-in to the new forms. A big example here is in-form Scripting support (JScript) which is not supported in the New Style forms. (yet?)

Much more detail can be found at the CRM Team Blog, where they recently posted details regarding iPad support.

On-prem folks still have some waiting to do, with this initial release set for the Orion release later in 2013. Still, this is a great step forward and a slick looking alternative to buying a separate app to view CRM.


Convergence 2013

Oh how I wish I was going to Convergence this year.  Time for a little shameless bragging 🙂

Heads held high, the Hitachi Solutions CRM team has two clients that are 2013 Customer Excellence Award winners in the Productivity category (Sales Force Automation and Customer Care categories), and the broader Dynamics team has four total winners and many more finalists!  We’re also a Platinum sponsor and I’m extremely proud of the presence we have planned for the event (I’ve seen the booth layout…so cool!).

Congratulations to the 2013 Customer Excellence Award Winners!

Way to go team!

For those of you who will be at Convergence, make sure to stop by the Hitachi Solutions “Café Du Monde” (booth #2013) to learn more about the other exciting things our team does.

P.S. I may have forgotten to mention the complimentary coffee and beignets at our booth…

Dynamics CRM Mobile Offerings

With the January CRM update from Microsoft, there are now more mobile access options for Dynamics CRM than ever.  While this is great news when it comes to flexibility, it adds a wrinkle when it comes to making a decision on which method to use.  Fortunately, there’s an upcoming webinar that will explain many of the available options.  See the details below:

Please register for Microsoft Dynamics CRM – Mobile Productivity Overview on Feb 27, 2013 11:00 AM CST at:

Microsoft is making large investments to expand and enhance Microsoft Dynamics CRM’s mobile productivity capabilities.

Join us to see a broad overview of mobile CRM productivity capabilities and options. We will also demonstrate leading edge mobile solutions for CRM Clients.

Don’t miss this exclusive opportunity to see the latest and greatest features and functionality in Microsoft CRM.

Register now – attendance is limited.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Full Disclosure: This webinar is hosted by my employer, Hitachi Solutions

Broken eggs…

So I was reading XKCD last week, and I laughed out loud when I saw the “Workflow” comic that had been posted:


I’ve been on both sides of this one. [xkcd]

It’s funny because it’s true.

It can be hard to let go of a process that works, even when the foundation it’s built on is fundamentally flawed.  In 2008 I built a utility that would copy records from an Access Database into Dynamics CRM.  Every time the form layout changed, it would break the simplistic little utility and it irked the heck out of me.  Eventually, we were able to strike a balance in the release schedule so it wouldn’t hit at an inopportune time.

I work with companies every day where we are re-engineering applications and the related processes to better support their business as a whole.  Eggs get broken and when those eggs are yours.  It’s unrealistic to expect that everyone will inherently find the value in a change–and even with communication like the post above, it’s easy to fall short of contented adoption.

When I think back to the most successful projects I’ve been part of in the last year, effective Change Management is a key theme.  Understanding the scope of the change and the degree to which folks will be impacted is critical in providing a path showing how they can best navigate (and take advantage of) the change.

LongTimeUser4: There are better options than holding down the spacebar 🙂

Learning the basics about Microsoft Dynamics CRM

For those of you who are just starting to evaluate CRM options, Michelle Groen of Hitachi Solutions will be holding a free introduction demonstration webinar next week.  It’s scheduled for  February 6th, 2013 from 2-3pm EST and will be covering the following information:

  • Outlook – Converting an email
  • Dashboards – Drill down, Exporting to Excel
  • Marketing – Lead Qualification
  • Sales – Opportunities, Workflows
  • Service – Case Management, KB’s, Dialogs

This is a great way to get a feel for the application and inspiration for what it can do to help transform your business.

If you’re interested, please register (the last one exceeded capacity and only pre-registrants could get in) using:


Full Disclosure: I am employed by Hitachi Solutions.


CRM 2011 UR 12 Released

MS posted UR12 downloads for on-prem installations yesterday!

Here’s a couple of highlights for UR12:

  • Cross Browser Support (details)
  • Improved performance for bulk data load through the API
  • Fixes for some nagging bugs

Cross browser is finally here!  Originally slated for release with UR9, MS really stepped up the depth in what’s actually supported.  Worth the postponement?  Yes.  Definitely!

Also notable, there’s a fork in the functionality present in CRM Online vs. CRM On-Prem.  Specifically, they’ve begun the re-facing of the app (the “Modern” styling) and introduced a new optional form style and ProcessUX.  According to MS, it’s a temporary fork, and they’ll be leveling out in the near future.  Details can be found here.

Full release details and downloads can be found at  Release history can be found here.

Scripts and the December 2011 Update

I’ve heard a few stories in the wild about some issues with custom JS in online CRM organizations that have recently received the December update.  MS has published a blog post about the same topic, which goes into details regarding script differences between browsers and how to identify potential problem areas with a validation tool they’ve published.

Dynamics CRM Blog – Script Errors After the December 2012 Service Update

Validation Tool from MS

Screenshot of the validation tool from MS

Extending Dynamics CRM with Bing Maps

Heat Map of Opportunity Est. Revenue in North America

Heat map of Opportunity Est. Revenue in North America

I’ve seen a fair amount of buzz lately around using Bing Maps as part of tighter integration between location information and business apps.  The basics, in the context of integration with a CRM system, usually include things like displaying a map on a customer account or contact record to give quick access to the user, but MS hopes to inspire folks to have a more complete vision.

The Bing Maps Blog published a post last week that shows some of the capability of using live Dynamics CRM data to create a heat map.  The post is fairly technical in how it’s written (read: I can figure out the gist of what’s going on, but it gets detailed with code examples and my eyes get a little glazed).  It really seems geared to inspire folks to try adding their own heat maps as a way to get more familiar with extending Bing services.  I spent some time reviewing the details and checking some of the associated links and here’s some of what I found.

Choosing the Components

The Heat Map functionality leverages several technologies including  Bing Map community-developed resources (plug-ins).  These are shared in an effort to reduce the development time and cost required to deploy this kind of visualization.  There are over a dozen other Bing Map plug-ins  like this with source code available which fall into several categories:

  • Layout (this is the heat map category)
  • Data (tools for putting data in a map)
  • Extension (tools to give the user additional interaction with maps)
  • Optimization (there’s a cool route optimization plug-in)

Assembly Still Required

These are built in a modular way so you can use what you need to help accelerate development, which brings up an important point:  These are not finished utilities that are ready to be installed, but rather the tools to be leveraged when developing your own.

Even the heat-map post, which gives you the full source code for deploying such a map for your organization, will undoubtedly require some additional development to customize beyond simply showing “All Opportunity Estimated Revenue”.

Map Alternatives

Certainly there are other map services available that have an API that allows this same sort of thing.  Here’s a comparison of several (with much more detail than I care to go through).  I spent some time researching Google Maps in particular, and they do have a heat map capability in their API.  It definitely appears that it could deliver a very similar functionality.

What caught my eye with the Bing Map blog post was that they showed how to use some of their tools to extend their mapping software into a more powerful business tool.   It’s one thing to have a raw capability, but seeing how a few community-developed tools can be combined to rapidly create a professional-looking data visualization makes me appreciate what Bing brings to the table.

I’m excited to see how this continues to develop. 🙂


Dynamics CRM – Follow the North Star

Polaris (the North Star)

Polaris (the North Star)

Out on the Dynamics CRM website you can find details around the upcoming Polaris release. This is a big one!  Microsoft has been steadily increasing their investment into their CRM platform and these next few releases (Orion, Leo, and Vega) promise to showcase some great new functionality.

Q4 Release Preview
Microsoft recently published a preview guide for the upcoming Q4 service release.  Inside are details around the first steps toward a UI that will rely less on pop-ups.  Reducing the number of windows has been a long-time request, so this is exciting news.  We also see a general theme update in this release, dropping some of the images displayed on the main CRM window.  Skype (or Lync if that’s your preference) integration with the forms is now available in a click-to-dial fashion.  The redesigned “flattened” forms will be seen in Account, Contact, Lead, Opportunity, and Case for Q4.
The other notable addition is the introduction of the process-driven UI.  The potential here is very exciting, as it gives a dynamic visual representation (and quick access to) the steps that are involved when working with this record type.  The Q4 release appears to bring this Process UI for Lead/Opportunity (viewed as one record, rather than two) as well as the Case entity, with more entities to follow in future releases.  By surfacing (no pun intended) these key components of the process, it should help to make a user more productive since they are given better guidance by the user interface.
Enlarged view of the Process section of a Lead/Opportunity form

Note, the latest word on the street is that this is online only for the Q4 release. Whether online or on-premise, this update is opt-in for existing customers.

Lastly, this update brings the first iteration of cross-browser support, though I’ve heard conflicting answers on whether Safari on iPad will be supported in an on-premise environment in Q4…I hope so!  We do get confirmation of Chrome and Firefox on Windows (I’ve seen live demos with both) and Safari on Mac OS.

Statement of Direction
Alongside the preview guide, Microsoft has published an updated Statement of Direction for the CRM product, which gives an idea of what to expect as a CRM online/on-prem customer or partner over the next 3 years.
Continued investment in sales force automation functionality.  We can see this already in the Q4 release with the Process UI, but they’re also discussing improvements in team collaboration, quotation/pricing/ordering components, prospecting, planning, and performance management.
Increased investment in customer service.  This will include emphasis on the sharing of knowledge, improved contact center capability, and multi-channel service.

Major increased investment in marketing automation.  While some of this will undoubtedly be newly developed IP for Microsoft, their recent acquisition of MarketingPilot should give them a (much needed) jump-start in this area.

Baby Steps
When I got my first taste of the next updates to CRM, I got really excited.  Now it’s time to be patient, as these releases are made up by a lot of baby steps.
Bob Wiley and Leo Marvin on Good Morning America

“But it did work that quickly, and that’s the miracle of Baby Steps.”