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CRM Export Security – Mitigating Data Leakage Risk

When implementing a Customer Relationship Management system, whether as a new endeavor or as a replacement for an outdated system, there will inevitably be conversation regarding data security.  With good reason, as a lack of appropriate planning could be costly to the organization resulting in lost sales to competitors, lost employee productivity, and potentially legal action.

Data Leakage is real

Most data in a CRM is sensitive–with the real question being the degree of sensitivity.  When this data goes outside the walls of the organization, it can be quite problematic.  Consider what it would mean to your organization if one of the following happened:

  • A list of all customer records is stolen by an employee before accepting a position with a competitor.
  • An employee leaves their laptop unlocked and unattended at a coffee shop, where someone seizes the opportunity to email themselves a full list of recent transactions.
  • Information regarding purchases made by government agencies was exported to a file, left on a USB drive, and lost.

You can imagine the questions that will be raised as a result of any of the above….all driving back to the questions of whether appropriate measures were taken to safeguard the data and who was responsible for enforcing them.

USB Flash Drive by Ambuj Saxena, on Flickr. Creative Commons Licensed.

Ernst & Young published a brief last year on data loss prevention, which is a great overview of the issues, costs, and considerations of data loss.  The brief’s overlap with most CRM implementations is in the Customer Data and Corporate Data areas.  Customer lists, prospect lists, contact history, and purchase history are among the most common, each of which have a cost associated with them in the event of a data breach.

Appropriate precautions should be taken

The major CRM applications have security models that allow permissions to be granted based on a wide array of business rules.  The key to setting these up is to first understand the use cases behind accessing the information, then gain agreement of what the appropriate result should be.  Often this CRM security dialogue raises awareness of situations that haven’t previously been considered and perhaps already exist as a risk for data leakage.

CRM technologies provides a great framework to begin guarding this data, but don’t discount the importance of process and training when it comes to data protection.  During the course of outlining the usage scenarios there will be corner cases that fall outside of the systematic rules.  Often this will stem from a project (perhaps cross-functional) that requires a one-time deviation from the standard security procedures.  Having the processes to follow when accessing the information as well as the clear expectation of how it should be handled by all parties is critical…and not a problem that’s solved inside of a CRM system.

Finding the right balance

A very common pitfall is to skip the analysis of the usage scenarios, and instead rely on more heavy-handed security policies.  These often end up getting in the way of user productivity, resulting in frustration and the opinion that the CRM is more of a burden than an enablement tool.

When I’m working with clients as a Manager at Hitachi Solutions, we discuss balancing many factors as part of this discussion.  Some of these include:

  • Functional System Requirements
  • Regulatory Compliance
  • System Auditing Capabilies
  • Education Delivery Capabilities
  • Incedent Response Procedure
  • Corporate Risk Management Strategy

These are just a taste of the many factors involved when considering a CRM system’s export security.  It is crucial to begin this conversation early, as it will save time and testing later in the process of deployment.

Conclusion

The power of a CRM system lies in enabling users to leverage relevant information when interacting with a customer or prospect.  Sometimes, this includes extracting details from the system in the form of a report or a standalone file.  When approaching this situation, the right solution will include well implemented technologies that will enable productivity while still protecting data.  It will also leverage clearly documented processes that guide the desired interactions with the system.  Finally, it will include sufficient training for the people who will be accessing the data regarding the proper way to conduct themselves when doing so.

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.

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Importing a list of records into MS CRM

In the last post, we downloaded a Dynamics CRM Import Template.  Now, it’s time to get some data INTO the system…since that’ll be much more useful.

Contacts are a pretty common import, being something that most sales users will want to do early on.  Fortunately, it’s a super simple process to do this!

Objective: Download the import templates specific to your organization from the CRM application.
CRM Version: CRM 2011, any version
Valid as of: 8/27/2012
Permissions Required: Read/Write Import Job and at least User level Create permissions for the Contact entity.

Steps:

  1. In the navigation pane, click File->Tools->Import Job
  2. Browse to the .xml/.csv/.zip file that has been prepared
  3. Click Next
    Select A File
  4. In this example, since we’ve used the templates that came from CRM, there’s no need to modify the data map (We’ll cover data maps in another post), so click Next
    Select Data Map
  5. Accept the default duplicate setting (do not allow) and choose yourself  as the record owner.
  6. Note, the Owner field can be set in the import file, so this is really a means to set the fallback owner if there’s not an exact match
  7. You’re ready to Submit the Import Job
  8. The import will be queued up, and the CRM Async Service will do the rest
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Download Data Templates for Importing Data into MS CRM

Whether I’m just starting a CRM project, or there’s a list of [something] that someone needs imported into Dynamics CRM.  One of the easiest ways to get a list of records imported is using a file import…and the biggest hassle of that is making sure the field mappings are set up.

The vanilla product has an easy way of handling this, providing a way to download a template, specific to the record type you want, which includes all of your customized fields as well.  It’s pretty slick not having to set up this field mapping on your own, and if you have some Excel data that you can copy/paste into the appropriate columns, you’re in business.

Objective: Download the import templates specific to your organization from the CRM application.
CRM Version: CRM 2011, all versions
Valid as of: 8/20/2012
Permissions Required: All default security roles.

Steps:

    1. In the navigation pane, click Settings.
    2. In the System section, click Data Management
    3. In the main window, click Templates for Data Import
    4. A window will pop up.  In the dropdown, select the type of record you will be importing.
    5. Once selected, click the Download button.
    6. Save the file to the desired location.
    7. Repeat steps 4 , 5, and 6 for each record type template.
    8. Click Close when complete.
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