CRM User Group Event Rome January 2013

Special Early Bird Pricing for the CRMUG Event in Rome 2013 ends on December 15th, so complete registration now for a great 20% discount.

The CRMUG Event in Rome on January 31st to February 1st is a great opportunity for Dynamics CRM users from loads of different countries to come together and share experiences and ideas that they can take back and use to get even more out of their own CRM projects.

There will be plenty of opportunity to mingle with your peers and discuss how you are getting value out of your system, share tips, suggestions, good practices and maybe recommendations for third party add-ons which have filled a gap you could not have built in-house.

The main sessions will be split into tracks to suit end users / business managers, system customisers and administrators, and developers. Formats will vary between sessions to use the most appropriate way to cover different topics, from workshops to round-tables to deep-dive presentations.

All for only €199 + VAT before December 15th, €249 thereafter.

Bonus – FREE CRMUG Premium Membership for 6 months

As an added bonus, your registration for the CRMUG Event also includes a free 6-month Premium CRMUG membership!
Not only will you get to take part in this great learning and networking event, but you’ll also have access to CRMUG’s full range of benefits, including webinars, CRMUG Collaborate (our online community), special interest groups, CRMUG Academy training courses, Global Branch meetings, and more!

What are you waiting for? Find out more and register now:

rome2013.crmug.com

When and How to use Child Workflows in Dynamics CRM

Girl on Dads shoulders_smallWhen is the right time to have your first child?

A difficult question with a whole range of possible answers, I’m sure you will agree, and there are other websites and forums much better placed to answer it. So instead I’ll answer something slightly easier and with more definitive answers which often comes up when I am delivering training for CRM customisers and super-users who build their own workflows:

When should I have my first child workflow?

There are simple answers to this and some more esoteric and more complex answers to this. Generally I would say there are six main use cases for child workflows, which I will discuss in this post in approximate order of obviousness (most to least).

1: “Let me get on with my job”

A very simple scenario for CRM 2011 – you want the user to work through a Dialog process and provide some details or make some decisions, at the end of which they should get on with other things while a workflow runs to do some other steps which can run on their own with no further intervention (such as creating related records, updating links or sending an automated email).

You don’t make your users stay in the dialog a second longer than necessary once their useful participation is over (“leave, puny human!”), and this also means you can call a child workflow which involves waiting for a while before doing something (like sending a reminder) – you can’t do a wait step in a dialog.

2: Wash, rinse, repeat

Shampoo BottleOften in a workflow you have several points at which you want to do one or more identical steps. Maybe you have to set up several conditions which set various fields to different values, then inside some of the conditions you do a step such as creating an activity which is essentially the same but takes lots of fiddling to get right? It can be pretty tedious to do all of this. And you can’t move or copy the tricky step if you later need to change the flow of the logic.

For example you might run a workflow against a service Case which checks the customer type and service level, or maybe the related product or contract line, sets fields on the case such as the expected completion date and assigns it to an appropriate user or team. For important customers you want to send an email to the account manager to let them know the Case has been logged and including details of who is dealing with it, and for high priority Cases you want to create a Task to get things moving, with a due date related to the SLA type and time the Case was logged.

The actual steps of creating the activities are not especially complex but to do all those dynamic fields and get them right several times over takes a while. And then takes even longer when your user acceptance testing asks you to change some of the detail – several times over.

Build the activities in a child workflow (or possibly two separate ones). Then each time you want to do the same step, call the child workflow (running against the same Case record). Now you only have to build it once and only have one place to make changes.

A nearly identical use case would be when you have several similar workflows which are triggered by different things such as record creation, fields being updated or status changes. In each of the workflows you can call the same child to do some of the work. Read 4 more scenarios where child workflows will help you out »

Help get better and more helpful tooltips on forms in CRM 2011

One of my frustrations in CRM has long been that there is no easy way to get useful tooltips to appear to help end users when they are filling in forms.

Loads of discussions take place during planning meeting about what fields will be included, what their purpose is, what should or should not go into a particular field and what will happen when a user fills it in (eg scripts or workflows, or how the data surfaces in a report). Most of that detailed consideration gets buried in project documents, some of it may be covered in user training, and even less may actually make it into end-user support articles and training hand-outs.

Some of these are common misunderstandings, such as what should you use “Address Name” for? (hint – it’s not the building name nor part of the address, it’s the name of the address, i.e. what do you call this place? answer might be “Head Office” or “North West Distribution centre” for example).

The most obvious place to put this stuff is on the form, and the most logical place is right next to where it is needed, by adding tooltips to the field labels. Yes, I know they do have tooltips, but these simply repeat the text of the field label! Zero value is added by having them there, they don’t even go as far as using the “normal” display name or the description.

There are ways to create tooltips by adding an “onmouseover” event to the field, but since this is a direct DOM hack, this won’t be supported. It is also yet another bunch of scripts being delivered over the wire, which also need to be written, maintained and updated, usually by system admins with at least a basic level of Jscript coding skills.

There must be a better way…

For me the ideal answer would be a property of a field on a form where a system customiser (i.e. not admin, no coding skills required) can easily add text they want to use as a tooltip. Either directly as custom text or perhaps simply ticking a couple of boxes to include the field display name and/or description and/or schema name and/or custom text as well.

So I went over to the Microsoft Connect site where you can give feedback about CRM and other products. This is intended for product suggestions and definite bugs, rather than support for things that don’t work in your particular implementation. Other site users can vote up or down the importance of your suggestion, and can comment or provide information about workarounds.

I posted a new suggestion to provide useful “tooltips” on rollover/mouseover of form labels and/or allow supported customisation of them and within two weeks it had already reached the all-time top ten most upvotes. It is continuing to rise and I really hope this is given serious consideration for the next version (either a quarterly release, or more likely the next “full version” given that it might require changes to xml schema for exporting and importing customisations).

You can help get this idea implemented

If you like the idea go and vote it up and if have useful input add a comment so that if and when it gets implemented they can make it fit people’s real-world needs as closely as possible.

There are loads more great suggestions in the Dynamics CRM section – have a look round and vote for those you would most like to see built first.

Copy2Contact gets contact information into Outlook and CRM

I discovered a really handy utility a while ago called Copy2Contact but have only just got around to writing this article about how I use it to take unformatted information and create CRM Contact data from it. Copy2Contact sits in the system tray and allows you to select a chunk of text in pretty much any application, hit a shortcut key and it will create a new Outlook contact using that information (I use Ctrl+C, C, so this is just a “double tap” on a normal Ctrl+C for copy). Typically this might be text in an e-mail but it does not have to be – it could be from a web page, Word document, pdf file or anywhere else really.

Better still, it uses some pretty clever algorithms to figure out which bit of the text is the name, job title, company, address, telephone, mobile, email and so on. Any data it can’t interpret it adds to the notes section so you can a) see what it was and b) copy and paste it somewhere else if needed.

It’s not perfect, and sometimes gets bits of the information in the wrong places but it is a heck of a lot quicker than creating a new contact by hand then copy and pasting information across by hand, which is usually very painful. While the new contact is still open you can use the program’s “Utils” menu to swap some things round which may be commonly mistaken, such as name<>company or job title<>company, which is easier than copy / pasting these via notes to get them in the right places.

A very common use for this is with someone’s email signature as the source text. Select, hit your shortcut and you have a new contact record pretty much ready and waiting to be saved.

Copy2Contact is not free, but I have easily earned back the $40 cost of the personal edition through the time I have saved by using this. There is a Pro version as well which has additional features to help do things like consistent (US style) formatting of phone numbers, capitalizing city names and so on which I don’t really feel the need for.

To be absolutely clear: I have no affiliation with Copy2Contact and have my own paid-for copy of their software, I have not received any freebies or review copy or anything else in order to write this article.

You can try the software for free for 14 days from the trial download page to see if it suits you. There are versions for Outlook, salesforce.com, Google apps and more PC-based tools, as well as Blackberry  and iPhone/iPod/iPad.

Read on to find to more about using Copy2Contact for capturing data for CRM»

Do you need a custom county field in CRM 2011?

Pedro Innecco posted an article on his blog recently about considerations for customising handling of addresses in Dynamics CRM. This had some great advice clearly based on real-world experience and you should go read it now, then come back here for some more titbits on this topic.

I agree with Pedro’s view that some users get unnecessarily knotted up over labels sometimes because they are creatures of habit rather than purely logical data processing machines (which is probably a good thing most of the time). But if you re-label state as province or canton for their ‘convenience’ and they want to add an Account which is in another country they can get all flustered rather than using common sense.

The choices to make can also depend on the context of the business. If you only really do business in one US state then you might feasibly want to divide up records by the next level of hierarchy for sales territories, or service visits using counties even if they are not used for postal addressing. If your business is nationwide, then it is far less likely that anything below the first level state/region/province would be necessary.

Read more about the best approaches to use for storing state on addresses»

CRM 2011 Training Options

There are loads of resources for official and unofficial CRM training available, so to try and make things easier, here’s a few starting points.

Official E-learning, classroom training and books

The easiest way to find all the official Microsoft options in one place is to start with the Microsoft Training Catalog for CRM.

This includes Online training courses and instructor-led classroom training which map to the exams, as well as some courses which are more general (such as 80442 Introduction to CRM  2011). The classroom training also provides links to search for training providers near you, although this simply lists partners that may or may not offer the specific courses you are looking for, so you will need to check their own websites to see if they have public scheduled courses to suit you.

You will also find links to the exams with full details of the objectives covered and their weightings. There are also links to “Learning Plans” which guide you to resources specifically aimed at gaining the skills to pass a particular exam, but it seems that all the plans available describe the CRM 4 tracks, not CRM 2011
Read more about training options and free resources for learning about CRM 2011»

CRM 4 MCITP Certification tracks updated

The exam requirements to become a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) in Applications for Dynamics CRM 4.0 have been updated slightly. Now you will be able to take (or use an existing pass in) exam 70-680 Configuring Windows 7 instead of the out-dated 70-620 Configuring Windows Vista Client. Hurray!

Dude, where’s my transcript?

The only strange thing here is that whether you have already passed this exam or take it now, it won’t count towards making you an MCITP on CRM 4 until September. Why would that be? Answer: because internally at Microsoft Learning, the matrix of which exams count towards which qualifications is handled by the Transcript Database, and there is a planned update to that taking place in September.

This means that any exams you take now which are not already featured in the database / matrix simply don’t count towards anything, and will not show up on your official MCP / MCT transcript that you can access through the Microsoft Professionals portal or share with anyone else. Essentially, you can’t prove you have passed any of the new CRM 2011 exams, for example, because they don’t have a pigeonhole for that yet, so “computer says no”.

Update October 2011: They have fixed one part of the transcript database so it does at least show up the exams you have passed, but for MCTs it is still frustrating as the whole Dynamics range of products is shown in strange ways. I can apparently teach subjects in which I have no knowledge at all, while on the other hand I can’t cover courses for which I have passed the relevant exam. Hopefully this will be largely resolved when they finally release the requirements for the CRM 2011 tracks.

What about the tracks for installers and developers?

While this is only a small change to the Applications track, I wonder if this is a sign that the other tracks will follow, such as allowing exams in Exchange 2010 rather than 2007 for the Installation track.

This also bodes well for the MS Dynamics CRM 2011 Certification Tracks and Exams which look more likely to use current versions rather than older ones, which will make them more relevant and achievable for a longer time into the future.

Update October 2011: Yes it was a sign of further changes! The Installation and Deployment track now includes 70-432 (SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance) and 70-431 (SQL Server 2005) as an elective alongside the Exchange 2007 and Windows Server 2008 exams. This looks promising for people wanting to qualify as an IT Pro in CRM 4 using 70-432 and being able to count this towards CRM 2011 too (but not the SQL 2005 version which is not supported for CRM 2011).

Does this change make anyone out there an MCITP in Applications or Installation who was not already? What other exams do you think should be included as electives for the CRM 4 or 2011 tracks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Usual CRM Update – Rollup 11

Roll-up, roll-up, read all about it. Yes, the usual updates for Dynamics CRM 4 have been released and you can download the components and versions you need from this page. The knowledgebase article kb981328 has the detailed information about Update Rollup 11 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0, including the prerequisites:

You must have Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 installed to apply this update rollup. Update Rollup 7 is a prerequisite for Microsoft Dynamics CRM for Microsoft Office Outlook and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Data Migration Manager.

Update Rollup 1, Update Rollup 2, Update Rollup 3, Update Rollup 4, Update Rollup 5, Update Rollup 6, Update Rollup 7, Update Rollup 8, Update Rollup 9 and Update Rollup 10 are not prerequisites for the server section of Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Additionally, you must have Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1 installed to apply Update Rollup 11. To obtain Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5, visit the following Microsoft website: Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1 (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=ab99342f-5d1a-413d-8319-81da479ab0d7&DisplayLang=en)

Note that for the server component there is no prerequisite, this rollup can be installed on a base installation (plus MUI if you have multiple languages installed). For the Outlook client you need rollup 7 (same goes for the data migration manager), and for new client installations you can just install the Outlook CRM client with rollup 7 already slipstreamed in. I must admit I find it annoying that the client install is not set up with a proper manifest to trigger UAC elevation – you have to remember to do “run as administrator” (if you are not using the deployment management tools, as many small businesses may not bother to do). The fact that programs prompt me rather than having to remember to do this is one of the reasons I like UAC (since I never run my client machine with local admin rights).
Read about UR11 highlights and the (old) new help files»

Outlook CRM client synchronisation explained

Outlook synchronisation white paper

Another recent find was this page with a link to a pdf file “nuts and bolts” white paper about Outlook synchronisation. This covers the basic concepts effectively, but also drills down into some of the details about how and when exactly the synch process takes place (some things are effectively immediate, others are queued up) This helps answer those peculiar edge-case questions which come up from time to time about what happens if you create a record here, update it there, share it to someone else then delete the original, or mark it as complete, or some other strange scenario. For example:

An E-mail that is deleted in Outlook will not be deleted in CRM at the next Outlook Sync
An E-mail that is untracked in Outlook will be deleted in CRM at the next Outlook Sync if the user designates

So you can track an email into CRM then delete the copy to keep your mail file size down, and the deletion does not “propagate” to CRM. It is this sort of behaviour which makes perfect sense when you think about the implications, but calling the process “synchronisation” seems to confuse many users as they expect that to mean “keep both copies entirely identical”.

Similarly this table explains what happens when you (or someone else deletes something in CRM which is linked to an item in Outlook:

Entity  Behaviour after deletion in CRM
Contacts A Contact that is deleted in CRM will be deleted in Outlook at the next Outlook synchronization if the Outlook user is not the CRM Owner of the Contact. If the user is the owner in CRM, then the Outlook contact will be unlinked after synchronization.
Appointments An Appointment that is deleted in CRM will be deleted in Outlook at the next Outlook Sync if the Appointment Start Time is in the future.
Tasks A Task that is deleted in CRM will be deleted in Outlook at the next Outlook Sync if the Task has not been completed.
E-mails An E-mail that is deleted in CRM will not be deleted in Outlook.

The distinction between synchronised Contacts I own or do not, Appointments in the future or the past, Tasks which are open or completed, all these details matter in real-word implementations. This document is definitely worth a read, then keep a copy handy for when you need the definitive answer for an awkward situation.

Quick CRM customisations

I recently found some interesting (and easy) customisations for Dynamics CRM 4 that I though I would share.

Linking to LinkedIn

I’m using Office 2010 with the CRM client installed, and I’m also using the LinkedIn Social Connector for Outlook. I had a few problems at first with Outlook 2010 beta, but a quick uninstall of the social connector component and reinstall or the latest version of the OSC beta as per this Microsoft article did the trick. It’s not something I rely on hugely but it can be handy sometimes. Even more useful would be to get information about my CRM contacts directly. This can be done for Accounts (ie companies) as explained in this article by CRM MVP Marco Amoedo. I must get round to going through the solution to see how it might be possible to modify it for individual Contacts, although I expect getting the results to match the right person might be the tricky part.

Copying addresses from Accounts to Contacts

Maybe you imported a load of data and have Contacts with no address, or you have Contacts who work at sites other than the main head office. Either way it would be great to be able to copy any of the multiple addresses associated with an Account directly to a Contact. I found a nice little solution to do just that on the BusinessNone blog. The html code (which is attributed to Microsoft’s Pierre-Adrien Forestier) needs to be published on your web server then simply called from an iFrame on the Contact form.

This presents all the addresses associated with the Contact’s parent Account so you can choose between them with a click of a button. Note that the “Address name” field is used here to distinguish between the sites. I have often seen this field completely overlooked (or even removed from forms) or misunderstood (being used for the name of the premises or building, or simply the first line of the address). The Address Name is simply “how do you refer to this address?” – head office, New York store, Dallas factory, LA regional call centre or whatever.

Visit this page to download the iFrame source for Address Picker (Ben Vollmer’s Skydrive, Hotmail / Windows Live login required) Note: you need to follow the link to the Skydrive page then download, you can’t right click the link here.

Do you find these useful? Do you have any other favourite quick and easy enhancements for CRM? Let others know in the comments below!

Dynamics CRM rollup 10 and SDK update

Update Rollup 10

First, the obvious regular update. MS Dynamics CRM 4.0 update rollup 10 was announced a couple of weeks ago and the various platform versions and components can be downloaded here. A few minor bug fixes, but this one does not seem to be setting the world alight. Rollup 7 is a pre-requisite as with the last couple; this is clearly seen as the new baseline, but it would be good to see an updated client install package with the rollup already slipstreamed in (as they did with rollup 7). Hopefully for most people it is becoming much more routine to get these rollups tested and installed but it is still annoying for new client installations to have to put the client on and then immediately patch it.

CRM 4.0 SDK version 4.0.12

There is also a new CRM SDK version 4.0.12 available to download, and there are some useful articles about it on the official CRM blog on MSDN and David Jennaway’s MSCRMUK site. Slightly annoyingly the self-extracting CAB file does not have the release version in the filename or in the file version info, it is simply “CrmSdk4.exe” so not obvious which is the latest version when you have multiple downloaded versions lying around. Ho hum, just a quick rename needed.

The xRM stuff is new, there are some Visual Studio templates and CSS stylesheet sample files, but lots of things are unchanged (such as the UX style guide, still on v1.0 from November 2007).

There are some other nuggets too – for example the old dynamicpicklist sample code and documentation has been deprecated and replaced by a newer “dependent picklist” sample instead which deals with three levels of dependency category > sub-category > type and is more robustly written to handle greater flexibility such as non-continuous sets of choices for the subcategories and items which may be available for more than one major category selection.

I also noticed this week there is a “User Interface Integration SDK for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0” for developers writing standalone applications which need to get information to or from CRM, described in the overview as:

The User Interface Integration Software Development Kit (SDK) for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 is for developers and system customizers who want to build and deploy composite desktop applications based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0. Composite desktop applications are useful when there is a need to bring information from different systems into a unified application for employee use. This SDK provides an architectural overview, the entity model, and how to register and host applications and workflows in your composite desktop application. Sample code and walkthroughs are provided to guide you through the capabilities.