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Dyncamics CRM 2011 Email Sync Options – Simplified

If you’ve ever wanted a quick description of the CRM 2011 Email Router options, and maybe even tried a quick google or bing search, there aren’t a lot of plain-English descriptions.  Sure you can dig up the deployment scenarios document on TechNet, but it’s a 2.4MB Word document that tends to get a bit too technical when explaining to a business user what the difference is.

What are the email options?

There are three options available…and here’s the skinny on each.

Outlook Client Synchronization

An individual user would have Outlook open, which communicates both with CRM and with Exchange (or whatever the email application is).  For email to be copied to CRM or sent from CRM, the person needs to physically have Outlook open with the CRM Plug-In installed, Enabled, and Connected.  This requires the least amount of administration and troubleshooting from an infrastructure standpoint, but introduces time lag in email being tracked in CRM as well as overhead when a user opens Outlook and the synchronization takes place.

Individual Mailbox Monitoring

The CRM Email Router monitors each user’s inbox.  Each email that matches certain rules are copied to CRM.  Depending on the number of Individual Mailboxes, this method can have significant  overhead from an administration and troubleshooting standpoint.  Microsoft puts a figure of fewer than 10 being the ideal number of individual mailboxes to monitor.

Forward Mailbox Monitoring (a.k.a. Sink Mailbox)

The CRM Email Router monitors one inbox (the “Forward” or “Sink” mailbox) that each user’s email is forwarded to.  Emails in the Forward Mailbox that match certain rules are copied to CRM.  A user does not need to be online in order for their email to get into CRM.  As far as administrative overhead and troubleshooting, this is more appealing than the Individual Mailbox Monitoring option.  Though all emails are evaluated through a single mailbox, the resulting emails in CRM are the individual user’s emails (it doesn’t lose the ownership and security, which is consistent with each of these methods).

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A couple of other notable items:

  • Note, it’s not an all-or-nothing game in making this decision.  This can be set up differently for different users connecting to the same CRM organization.  Though there is additional administrative overhead involved with tracking and troubleshooting each user’s individualized setting.
  • The Mailbox Monitoring options do not require a user to have the Outlook application, but the Outlook Synchronization option does.
  • Outbound email does not have the concept of a Sink or Individual mailbox, this email is all processed individually.
  • Outbound email that is processed through the email router does not show in the Outlook “Sent Items” view, the email must be found through the CRM interface.
  • Inbound and Outbound email methods can be set differently for each user.  For instance, inbound email could use the Outlook Client while outbound email uses the CRM Email Router.
  • The email router can be used with CRM On-Premise or CRM Online.

Recent News in Dynamics CRM – October 2012

Lots of MS CRM news the last couple of weeks of this month.  Some that are of note:

MS Acquired MarketingPilot, 

Demand for Marketing Automation has been coming on strong in the CRM market, and MS is embracing this with an acquisition that should increase the pace of enhancements to the MS CRM product.  That said, the post on the MarketingPilot website basically says it’ll be business as usual for now.  Probably going to be waiting until Spring 2013 for changes to hit CRM, but the cadence should pick up from there.

http://community.dynamics.com/product/crm/crmnontechnical/b/crmconnection/archive/2012/10/17/microsoft-dynamics-crm-steps-forward-in-the-marketing-automation-space.aspx

ExactTarget acquired Pardot and iGoDigital

Also highlighting the increased attention on Marketing Automation, long-time MS CRM player ExactTarget made some acquisitions as well.  I’ve worked with ExactTarget and (more recently) Pardot (It’ll be cool to see the melding of these technologies), but have not had the chance with iGoDigital.

http://www.destinationcrm.com/Articles/CRM-News/Daily-News/ExactTarget-Acquires-Pardot-and-iGoDigital—85540.aspx

Hitachi Solutions Selects Inside View

So full disclosure on this one…I work for Hitachi Solutions.  That said, I’m pumped up about the formal partnership with Inside View.  Integrating their product into MS CRM as tool that’s easily at the disposal of a salesperson saves them time.  I planned to do a deeper dive into the Inside View product on this blog…just wish I’d gotten to that a little sooner so I could link to it 🙂  I’ll make sure it happens though.

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/hitachi-solutions-selects-insideview-sales-100000303.html

UR11 released

Microsoft released CRM Update Rollup 11 on October 10.  This comes on the heels of a (not very publicized) re-release of UR10 on October 4.  This update sets the stage for users who will be accessing CRM using Windows 8 and touch devices.

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2739504

MS CRM 2011 – Outlook Client and Web Client Comparison

Though it may seem like a simple question, there’s not a lot of low-hanging fruit when trying to answer the question of “what’s different between the Dynamics CRM Web Client and Outlook Client?”

Web Client or Outlook Client

What’s the same, and what’s different?

First off, they both offer the same core functionality.  You can work with the same record types, Workflows/Dialogs function the same, the customized and role based forms are available in both, records can be created and shared, etc.

The Outlook Client is additive to the experience of the Web Client.  Some of the notable enhancements offered by Outlook include:

  • View CRM-Tracked Appointments and Non CRM-Tracked Appointments in the same place
  • Word Mail-Merge
  • Choose between the Outlook form and Web form
  • Ability to “pin” views (not Pinterest integration…Microsoft Office “Pushpin” functionality)
  • Add conditional formatting to views
  • Native spellcheck in E-mails
  • Offline Sync
  • Single-application user experience for email and CRM

Since the Outlook Client seems to do more, why would I bother with the Web Client?

The very first argument for the Web Client is speed.  Pure and simple.  Not so much the speed of “opening records and navigating between them” but rather the “I have ten minutes to take out my laptop and get a few things done.”  I’ve seen first-hand the frustrations of road warriors who simply want to open Outlook and look up a prospect’s address or phone number, who feel thwarted by the extra load times and resource-thievery of the Outlook Client.  For those who open Outlook and work out of their inbox for a decent chunk of time, the initial delay is well worth it.  For the road warrior, it is going to take longer to load up the full Outlook client (if it’s not already running).

Another argument is that there is no question of exactly when the information will get into CRM.  When you work in the Web Client, the information is immediately committed to the database.  The Outlook Client does a periodic sync, with a minimum of 15 minutes between syncs.  No that’s not awful, and Yes you can manually initiate a synchronization, but depending on the circumstance this can be a potential problem.

The Outlook Client only Synchronizes to one CRM Organization database at a time.  The Web Client doesn’t have this same limitation.  For anyone who has tried to regularly run the Outlook Client Configuration Wizard to regularly flip between the “Synchronizing” organization, rest assured that this is not a good standard practice.  While you can still navigate to records in other CRM Organizations, you don’t enjoy the same benefits as the Synchronizing organization.

Having users synchronize to a local machine (or virtual desktop) has a performance cost at both the Application and Data levels of CRM, as well as a network utilization cost.  The CRM application server and the SQL server take on extra overhead, especially when users are starting Outlook or preparing to Go Offline.  Depending on the size of the the user base and the beefiness of the underlying servers, this could be negligible, or then again it could be noticeable.

The Outlook Client has updates that must be managed.  Every time a CRM update rollup is released, there’s a corresponding Outlook Client update that is also required.  While this can be handled by Windows Update, it’s not a surefire thing that all users are going to be up to date, meaning one more thing to manage for the helpdesk.

If I’m used to the Outlook Client, but I’m in a position where only the Web Client is available, what should I be aware of?

First and foremost, don’t fret the basics: navigation and the overall feel of the application are the same.  You still have the site map (left-hand navigation), view selections, sorting & filtering of views,

If you’re used to the Outlook Client, you’re probably taking advantage of Pinned views.  In the Web Client, only one view is available at a time.  The first view you see when navigating to an entity is the (administrator-set) default view.  You will need to use the view selector dropdown to choose your view.  Alternatively, you can use the “Saved Views” in the Advanced Find window.

For email and other activities, there is not a “Track in CRM” button that you need to use.  If you can view the activity through the Web Client, it’s already been tracked in CRM.  This works great for new email threads that are initiated from CRM, as well as continuations of tracked email threads.  However, if you receive a new email that you want to track in CRM it’s going to be more work.  A few options include:

  1. Copy/paste the email text into an activity manually
  2. Summarize the interaction in one activity (mark as complete), then reply using a new thread that is tracked in CRM
  3. “Attach” the email to another Activity (or Contact or Account) record in CRM, then reply using a new thread that is tracked in CRM

The key here is to make sure that the next outbound interaction comes from CRM, so you can rely on your email tracking settings to pick up future emails.  Unfortunately, any reports that summarize email activities could potentially be missing the original email in the thread, depending on the method chosen.

If you’re not using the MS CRM email router as an organization, Outlook is required in order to physically send and receive CRM email.  Email send/receive capability in CRM relies on either the email router (set up centrally for the entire organization) or the Outlook Client.  For the latter case, the CRM Outlook Client must be actively running in order to handle email.

Lastly, if the user base exclusively uses the Outlook Client, they’re probably not familiar with the URL they should go to in order to use the Web Client.  This is an easy one to overlook from a planning standpoint, but it’s a good idea to make sure they know the URL (and preferably bookmark the URL so they don’t have to track it down later).

Final Thoughts?

It’s amazing how much businesses rely on Outlook today, yet some of the very major CRM players out there lack a solid Outlook functionality.  Not only does Dynamics CRM offer a slick client, there are some really cool things that can be done, especially with the conditional formatting stacked on top of the excel-style filtering of data.

If you have the means, take full advantage of what the Outlook Client has to offer.

Entering lists of Option Set values into MS CRM

A co-worker recently shared this project with me as we’ve had some experience with clients who had large number of options that needed to be added to Picklists.

List showing state abbreviations

Fifty US States, maybe some Canadian Provinces

Unfortunately, Dynamics CRM doesn’t offer a way to batch import these lists, rather it’s up to the administrator to add them one-by-one.  Adding in a dozen of these isn’t so bad…especially since you should only have to do it once…but when you start looking at two dozen, fifty, or more of these it becomes a real hassle (and a hotbed for fat-fingered garbage data).  That’s where the CRM Option Set Utility comes into play.

The goals of the project are simple enough:

  1. Provide a resource for the download and maintenance of the CRM 2011 Option Set Import tool which is available for download.
  2. Community resource library of contributed Options Sets that can be used by any Dynamics CRM Organization free of charge.
Application Screenshot

You mean all I need is an Excel spreadsheet with the values in it? Count me in!

After spending some time with the application, specifically testing it using on-premise CRM Organizations, there are a few things that I’ve found worth highlighting:

  • It not only imports the option set, it creates the field from scratch (so you can go straight from an Excel list without having to first create a placeholder in CRM). 
    • Once connected to a CRM Organization, it the UI presents a list of entities you want the Option Set created on.
    • You choose the entities, and whether the option set should be Local to each entity or Global.
    • Note, I had some issues during my testing when I tried to specify a global option set and selected entities at the same time.
      • My workaround for global option sets was to import the option set via the tool, then manually create the attribute on each entity linking it to the global option set.
      • I plan to seek assistance in the forum, but have not been able to get a forum account as of yet.
  • There is good flexibility with respect to setting both the “Label” and “Value” for each item
    • 3 options exist.
      • 1) Start with 1, 2, 3…..
      • 2) Use the defined numbering prefix from a selected Solution in the CRM Organization.
      • 3) Define in Column B of the source spreadsheet.
  • The tool is meant to Create these option sets, not to Update existing option sets.

The bit I like is the community aspect of hosting a repository of common option sets.  There’s about a dozen so far, but as this builds out it will hopefully be a first-stop when looking for a cleansed list like this.

CRM 2011 UR 10 released

I’ve taken some time to sift through the MS KB article on the UR 10 release that MS rolled out a couple of weeks back.  That’s right, 10, not 9.  9 won’t be released on its own, in case you hadn’t heard (it was combined with 10).

With UR10, here are a few of the things I’m excited about:

  • Support for Office 2013 (Office 15 :))
  • Support for Windows 8 (makes sense since Windows 8 has hit RTM)
  • Fixes for some nagging bugs

That something, but it’s not a ton.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed about the continued slowness on the cross browser functionality.  That was supposed to come with UR9, which was “rolled into UR10”.  Great…except for the cross browser stuff that’s not in 9 or 10.  I know a lot of folks who are looking forward to using their browser of choice, and we’re knocking on the door of 2013 at this rate.

Pity party aside, the update is much needed after the long gap since UR8.  Full release details and downloads can be found at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2710577.  Release history can be found here.

First Post

I’ve gotten some pressure from folks to noodle a bit on some topics that have come up when working with a Excel and MS CRM system…no time like the present to make good on some material.