The CRM 2013 Quick Start is a first look at Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 and all the new features that have been included. In the CRM 2013 Quick Start you will find details that can help … Get the book
As you may have heard, the long running Microsoft Dynamics CRM & ERP conference Convergence is no more. Microsoft has revised their event catalog and is now instead encouraging people to attend either the brand new Envision conference for business level discussions or Ignite for the technology platform updates. However, since both these events are much more generic in nature than the Dynamics focused Convergence used to be, it does leave quite a gap in the market for the CRM application deep dive content. Also, there’s nothing in the MSFT event calendar that would directly cater to the Envision and Ignite crowd in Europe, so anyone from around here who doesn’t want to spend too much time on a plane (and mentally in between time zones for the relatively short period of the conference) may not be quite as excited about these changes as the marketing message coming from Redmond might want them to feel.
Luckily the Dynamics CRM ecosystem isn’t dependent on only the events that Microsoft arranges. CRMUG has been building up their presence also on this side of the Atlantic and is now launching their first European Congress this spring in Stuttgart. eXtremeCRM is a long running event that has been catering to both the US and Europe partner audience for many years already and they’ll also have an event nearby very soon, as eXtremeCRM 2016 Warsaw takes place on April 18-21. So, whether you’re working on the customer’s side of the table or consulting a variety of different organizations on how to best take advantage of Dynamics CRM, there’s bound to be the right event for you where you can meet professionals like yourself, exchange ideas with them and hear presentations from knowledgeable members of the #MSDynCRM community on what’s hot (and not) in the CRM space.
It’s been a while since I’ve been to a CRM conference myself but this year I decided to make room in my customer projects calendar for attending one, since one doesn’t simply survive in this business with content you can find from online sources and social channels. So, I registered for the eXtremeCRM Warsaw event early on and then decided to also suggest a topic I could do a presentation on. The suggestion got approved, which means… well, the picture of yours truly right underneath Jujhar Singh says it all!
I’m honored to have the opportunity to join such a prestigious list of speakers in the eXtremeCRM 2016 Warsaw event. I wont of course be competing on the level of Jujhar (who BTW seems like exactly the right man for the Dynamics CRM GM position, based on our encounters at the MVP Summit) but will rather be focused on preaching what I know. Which is all about how to make the most of the XRM platform when you don’t know how (or just don’t want to) work with the API’s but rather need to leverage the built-in customization tools. My session is titled “Killer UX: Delivering a Great CRM User Experience without Custom Code” and what I’ll try to do is show how anyone who knows his or her way around the solution configuration UI can make a real difference in what Dynamics CRM as an application feels like for the end users to work with.
Now, I should of course be working feverishly on my presentation slides already, but here I am just reading and writing blog posts like I always do. If you’ve ever encountered a situation where instead of focusing on completing the important work that has a deadline approaching in the distant but all too inevitable future, you find yourself wondering around between Twitter and YouTube instead, then you know the feeling. Well, speaking of online videos, there just happens to be an excellent TED Talk from Tim Urban on the topic “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator”. You really should watch it because A) the Instant Gratification Monkey inside your brain will totally love the distraction, and B) it’ll help you better understand the dynamics of (not CRM but) procrastination.
“Hey, get off the wheel, you Monkey! We haven’t even finished this blog post yet! Grrr…”
In addition to myself, there are also eight other awesome CRM MVP’s who are coming to Warsaw. We’ll all be having our own sessions of course, but in addition to that, there will be a joint session where the audience can present questions to all the CRM MVP’s in the room on the latest CRM 2016 Spring Release in particular. Now, as we were thinking about what’s a good way to coordinate such a session, it occurred to me that “hey, why couldn’t we use CRM for this?” More specifically, wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to showcase the new Voice of the Customer functionality that’s very recently been made generally available for CRM Online customers?
As it turns out, Voice of the Customer (or “VoC” as we’ll all end up calling it) allows you to easily design surveys on any topic that you’re interested in collecting data on. If you haven’t yet explored this great new addition to the XRM family of add-ons that Microsoft has integrated into the core Dynamics CRM product offering, you could start by watching this introductory VoC video on YouTube. Or, you could see a VoC survey live in action by answering our eXtreme MVP Survey.
The survey is mainly targeted at those who are planning to attend the eXtremeCRM 2016 Warsaw event, but there’s nothing stopping you from taking it if you can’t make it there. The survey starts with some questions about the event and closes with a “feedback form” that you can use for submitting your questions to the CRM MVPs in advance, to be answered in the live event (time permitting). It also contains a few questions about how you feel about the upcoming CRM 2016 Spring Release, so I’m planning to also experiment with some of the analytics capabilities that these XRM style surveys offer us. I might even write a blog article about how the VoC experiment worked (unless the ‘Monkey gets its way again), so it’s all conducted in the name of science! (No marketing spam will come from this survey, it’s my personal CRM Online trial org that will disintegrate within a couple of months.)
Spring is in the air, at least if the Dynamics CRM 2016 Spring Wave announcement is anything to go by. It’s pretty amazing that only 2 days after we were given the 2016 update for our CRM Online environment there’s already the next batch of updates to pay attention to. Now here I was thinking about spending some time experimenting with the new v8.0 functionality like the Interactive Service Hub or Knowledge Articles and OH, LOOK, A NEW RELEASE WAS ANNOUNCED! (Welcome to my goldfish bowl…)
Another thing that further contributes to the growing inability to concentrate on just a single CRM version at a time is that, well, there aren’t really any proper versions anymore. Sure, there are still official announcements regarding the major (Fall) and minor (Spring) releases, but it’s not like there would be a single point in time when the product bits become available for you to download. To a certain extent they still do, for the type of software that’s shipped as bits on MSDN, but if you’ve been working with Dynamics CRM for a while you might have found yourself thinking “all the fun stuff’s in the cloud”. I certainly have, and I don’t even see anything wrong with this, because pulling off this type of continuously updated application delivery is in practice only really feasible for customers when it’s consumed purely as a service.
By the time the CRM 2016 version became generally available, as in new CRM Online trial orgs were provisioned with v8.0, there was a slight feeling of “meh” when you discovered that most of the coolest new features touted in the Release Preview Guide were actually not yet there. No Mobile Offline, no Voice of the Customer surveys, no Relevance Search, no External Party Access… Many of the features being developed didn’t appear to have made the release train of v8.0 and were instead moved to what seemed like a Plan B, meaning rolling them out in limited Previews rather than the big fanfare of the GA. This would have been quite controversial back in the days of “one release every three years”, but these days it’s not really such a big source of concern at the end of the day, because there is no “gold master” disc to signify an RTM product anymore.
Recently Microsoft released an official Roadmap site for Dynamics CRM, which may be a small step for content management but a giant leap for the release policy around the CRM product. Following on the footsteps of many other MSFT product teams, like Office 365, this further moves Dynamics CRM into the service delivery model as the traditional product versioning gets pushed behind the scenes and the application functionality is brought to the forefront. Yes, the sysadmin will still need to be aware of the specific release that his or her CRM Online instance is running on, but from a business perspective this is becoming less and less relevant. New things will arrive in a continuous stream and the decisions for how to deploy a particular application functionality and what actions are needed for ensuring user adoption is an ongoing task for the persons in charge of making their workforce more productive and building customer facing processes that meet or exceed their ever going demands.
I guess it’s fair to say the world of CRM software reflects the bigger picture of how we the individuals are also operating when it comes to acquiring the things we desire: as a service. Instead of making big upfront investments in gaining the full possession of physical goods or property, our consumption patterns are increasingly leaning towards making a few clicks in an electronic environment and gaining access to the missing piece that will fulfill the needs we’ve identified. Our magic wands with wireless connectivity can be used to conjure up pretty much anything that you can imagine via a “buy now” button somewhere, almost at the exact moment you’ve thought of it. The end product may still be a physical package that gets delivered to your door, but the experience that the customer receives from your company is increasingly being evaluated against not how well the physical gizmo has been crafted but rather how well the various interactions around the customer lifecycle stages of information acquisition, financial transaction and ownership/service consumption are in line with the expectations that the customer had when he or she embarked on this journey. [Read more…]
There’s been a significant enhancement to the Dynamics CRM solution framework in the 2016 release. Here’s what the TechNet article on CRM solution segmentation promises us:
To gain tighter control over what you distribute in solutions and solution patches, use solution segmentation. With Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution segmentation, you can export solutions with selected entity assets, such as entity fields, forms, and views, rather than entire entities with all the assets. To create the segmented solutions and patches, you can use the CRM user interface, without writing code.
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? I’m sure there’s hardly a CRM customizer out there who wouldn’t have encountered the challenges with the lack of granularity when it comes to how Dynamics CRM defines some of the solution components to be inseparable from their parent entity. For example, if you just wanted to add a custom chart or modify a system view you always had to include the whole entity into your solution to distribute it from your development environment to other CRM orgs. With this type of “all or nothing” approach, it’s very easy to end up overwriting customizations in the target organization for components that you had no intention of modifying. The worst part really is that you can never be sure if you’ve done some damage after clicking on “publish solution”.
The TechNet article immediately starts talking about concepts like patching and cloning solutions, so it’s important to note here that these really are mostly relevant only to people who ship managed solutions. If you’re an ISV developing an add-on product or work in a large enterprise developer team with automated release processes, this will surely be what you do all day everyday. If, on the other hand, your work is more focused on customizing and configuring Dynamics CRM environments in projects that don’t contain a large amount of custom code and only target a single customer specific production instance, I bet you’re dealing a lot with unmanaged solutions. I know I am, since the price you pay for deploying unmanaged solutions is most often a lot lower than what you’d face when committing to the path of the managed solutions (and crossing that scary point of no return while at it).
What makes the new solution segmentation concept important to understand for any CRM customizer is that each and every one of you will come across it when adding default entities into your solution in CRM 2016 and beyond. After you select an entity like the opportunity, for instance, you’ll be presented with a brand new screen asking you to “select entity assets to include in the solution”:
This is where you now can pick just the components that you wish to ship with your solution once you export it out from the development environment. You could choose just a specific set of fields, for example, or go to the views tab and click the top left corner of the grid to mark all the assets of type “view” to be included in the solution. Want to see how it can be used in practice? Okay, let’s go ahead and pick from the opportunity entity just the Sales Pipeline chart into our solution, so we can modify it.
Let’s say we want to change the pipeline chart to use weighted revenue instead of estimated revenue values. So, where do we get those fields? You create them! CRM doesn’t ship with a weighted revenue field OoB but instead it contains the tools for building it, thanks to the great calculated fields feature introduced in CRM 2015. We’ll therefore need to create a new currency field and set its formula as “estimated revenue * (probability / 100)”. Even though we’re referencing other fields in the formula, there’s no requirement to include them in our solution, as these system fields will be in place in the target environment regardless of our actions. What we might want to pay attention to is something that the solution segmentation engine doesn’t worry about, which is including the system generated “Weighted Revenue (Base)” field into the solution, as that’s where the base currency version of our calculation will be automatically stored. Better safe than sorry! Furthermore, the new solution segmentation model means we can remove any individual component from the solution if we later deem it unnecessary (as shown below).
Now that we’ve got our Weighted Revenue field, we can update the Sales Pipeline chart to use this new value. To test the segmented solutions functionality in more depth, let’s also pick another system component into our package: the Sales Activity Social Dashboard. We’ll update the elements of this dashboard and see how they transfer into the target organization. Once we’re ready, let’s export the solution as an unmanaged package like we’ve always done. We’ll get the warnings on missing dependencies (again, like we always do), but since the whole exercise is about updating just selected pieces of the CRM puzzle, we don’t need to worry about any of those.
Upon importing the solution .zip file into the target org, there are no differences to how things worked with non-segmented solutions. If we want to peek inside solution details before hitting publish, we’re only presented with the high level components, which means there’s no way to tell at this point if the package contains the entire opportunity entity or just a couple of fields from it. If I was importing an ISV solution received from an external source, I would actually like to know what’s included on a very detailed level, but for now we’ll just need to keep on trusting the publisher.
Let’s see what happens to our updated dashboard now. As a starting point I have a CRM Online demo environment from my previous post regarding “preferred vendor solutions” offered by Microsoft. As you can see, one of these solutions (probably FieldOne) has turned the flat CRM 2016 funnel chart into a retro 2011 style 3D version. Yeah, that’s precisely why solution segmentation makes a big difference, as you no longer need to overwrite things just to add new things.
Once we import our new solution and publish the changes, we’ll see that the funnel chart has now been restored to the flat version that we exported from another CRM 2016 org. More importantly, the stages are now different as we’re mapping the opportunities into the pipeline based on our custom field Weighted Revenue instead of Estimated Revenue. The Top Opportunities chart has also been replaced by another custom chart I included into the solution. Looks like our segmentation is working great so far!
Picking the entity assets one by one is perfectly fine for a scenario where you are deploying a very specific change like the one presented here. However, when you aren’t just performing minor tweaks to an existing CRM environment but rather deploying a brand new CRM system for a customer, you’re likely going to be touching a very large number of components. For instance, this week I’ve been working on a deployment project where the current sprint focuses on sales process management functionality. The number of tweaks I’ve done during two straight days of CRM customization is pretty massive, when you start from an out-of-the-box Dynamics CRM environment and turn it into something that actually works the way the users expect. If I would have had to plan in advance which components I need to be touching, or alternatively adding them into the solution one by one as I realize they need to be customized, I would have probably spent ~20 days instead of 2 while waiting for the CRM Online customization dialog windows to open.
What I’m saying is that while having the full granularity of solution components available to you is awesome, there are common scenarios where you actually may want to keep on working the way you’re used to – adding the whole big entity chunk into your solution. Let’s say I’m building a “base customizations” solution package in a development environment which should contain all the core data model and UI customizations for a new CRM org. I know I’ll be messing with the opportunity entity big time, so I want to ensure every change to the OoB configuration is covered. Instead of picking the individual assets, I can tick the box in the top right corner to “add all assets” into the solution at once.
Nice, now I’ve got the best of both worlds! My base customizations package looks like things were before CRM 2016 so I’m comfortable with building the customer specific solution with it. So, with that I’ll conclude my feature overview of a CRM 2016 highlight…
“Wait, hold on just a moment there! Are you telling me there’s not a single “gotcha” discussed in this blog post? This is Surviving CRM! You never do a happy path walkthrough of CRM features without finding some issues in them.” Okay, you got me. I wasn’t really going to stop there. Let’s keep exploring this segmentation path a little deeper, shall we? [Read more…]