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
Another year, another major Dynamics CRM release! What a time to be alive, eh? CRM 2016 has now been published for new Online trial instances globally and will be coming available as on-premises download within the next couple of weeks. If you haven’t yet explored what’s new with Dynamics CRM 2016 then I recommend starting from the following three links that I personally always refer to when discussing the latest version:
- CRM Help & Training: What’s New in CRM 2016 (for the end users)
- What’s new for administrators and customizers in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016 and CRM Online
- What’s new for developers: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016
Rather than just making it a “go and RTFM” type of post, here are a few notable features in the latest release that I personally think you should pay attention to.
Start From The Top
For folks upgrading their on-premises CRM environments, this is definitely a sizable release, as the features from CRM Online 2015 Update 1 (v7.1) are only now becoming available to them. Working mostly with CRM Online environments these days, it does really feel painful whenever I have to go back to the pre-7.1 Nav Bar, so the new navigation experience should definitely cheer up your users who are now spared from the game of sideways scrolling accuracy Olympics. I’ve yet to find a single thing that the new navigation would be worse for than the old one released in CRM 2013. Don’t forget to configure a custom theme & logo for your CRM while visiting the customizations menu! Oh, and remember to leverage this Theme Generator, since MS apparently had to cut the development budget when it came to “nice to have” things like color pickers instead of hex codes.
Moving from 7.1 to 8.0 may not deliver any immediately visible changes to you, as Microsoft has largely decided not to introduce anything dramatic in the look & feel of the familiar web client. One thing you may notice, though, is a yellow notification bar telling you something about an “interactive service hub” and asking you to “experience it now”. Hmm, sounds interesting, so maybe I’ll click on it and… Whoa, what’s happening?! Why am I seeing the same customization download screen as on the tablet client? And where did half of my menu items from the Nav Bar go all of a sudden?
So you thought there’s not much new in the CRM 2016 UI, huh? There definitely is a lot of new investments to be found here, ranging from brand new “interactive experience dashboards” to updated form layouts with embedded cards, revised components like Timeline (ex Social Pane) and new concepts like the Reference Panel (“Related”). It’s all built on top of the MoCA framework, and it gives you a taste of how the Dynamics CRM application of the future will behave: less like a web page and more like an app.
Why do I say “the future” if it’s in fact already available in CRM 2016, for both Online and on-prem customers? Well, if you’re an existing Dynamics CRM user, the chances are that you’re not going to deploy this into production use quite yet. For starters, it only supports a limited set of the core CRM entities like account, contact, activity and case. Sales opportunities, leads, marketing lists or campaigns aren’t within the scope of this release. While you can show custom entities in the Interactive Service Hub, you’ll not be able to perform many of the more advanced customization tasks that the traditional Dynamics CRM web client supports, like embedding web resources or Iframes to forms.
There’s a lot to like about the new user experience that this “interactive” web client presents us with. The new dashboards especially appear to address many of the requests that CRM users typically have, like the ability to apply global filters to all the charts. The method of presenting related records and streams of activities is definitely more in line with the way modern mobile apps work, even if the experience itself feels a bit too mobile for a full size monitor in terms of information density. Still, in its current state it remains more of an experimental release that’s not meant for wider adoption yet. Much like the infamous Polaris release prior to CRM 2013, this Interactive Service Hub will be best used for learning about and preparing for the direction of future Dynamics CRM web clients.
Explaining this grand scheme of things to the customers will be tricky, as it was with Polaris. For example, in order to leverage the new Knowledge Articles you have to access them via The Hub, presumably because Microsoft hasn’t wanted to build a rich text editor UI for the old web client anymore but has rather focused their investments on MoCA. Within the right feature scope you can probably do cool stuff with this client already, it’s going to required setting the right expectation level right from the start. Oh well, I guess that’s what us consultants are there for…
CRM Via The Apps
On the mobile apps there is now the ability include new types of visual controls for the mobile forms that can make CRM data both a lot more pleasing to the eye as well as easier to work with on a touch screen device. While many of these new controls would surely be great additions to have on normal web client forms as well, Microsoft has decided not to enable them for browser users of CRM in this release. Remember what I said about the MoCA framework being the focus area for MS?
Task Based Experiences (“TBX”) a.k.a. Task Flows is another new feature that is not just “mobile first” but “mobile only”. The idea behind these experiences is to be independent from the underlying entity relationship model and rather guide the user through a set of screens that present a subset of only the relevant fields from each related record that need to be touched in the process. What’s a bit cumbersome in this release is that TBX isn’t actually launched for a specific record but rather from the bottom left corner of the mobile app start screen. It’s almost like the old (and mostly abandoned) Dialogs feature from CRM 2011 but with a more modern approach, including the ability to add nice looking photo icons for the launch menu. [Read more…]
Have you been looking at Microsoft Social Engagement as a solution to integrate social channels with your Dynamics CRM environment, but kept postponing your investments into the MSE application since it didn’t yet allow sending social data physically into CRM? Well, it’s time for a wake up call, since starting from MSE 2015 Update 1.2 you can now integrate social profiles and social activities into CRM!
This was the main reason that triggered me into spending some time investigating the capabilities and opportunities of the MSE+CRM combo as a solution that could finally connect the back office world of traditional CRM “system of record” with a modern “system of engagement” that doesn’t rely on email as the only electronic form of customer communication. After all, who really wants to pick up the phone and try calling a customer service number when posting to Twitter will often give you a far better answer, powered by both the user community as well as the increasing presence of companies and brands wanting to be a part of that social conversation.
Powered by this limited but functional “V1” integration to Social Engagement, I explored what new scenarios the social data unlocks in Dynamics CRM. With a lot of discoveries and takeaways in my back pocket, I decided to turn it into a webcast to present these to the #MSDYNCRM community. Which is what I did just a moment ago on MSDynamicsWorld.com. In order to make the content easy to consume via your media of choice, I also created ~50 slides to illustrate the topics of the session. As promised, they are here:
Update 2015-11-25: now you can also find the webcast recording on YouTube.
The agenda of the session was split into three main categories:
- Social Engagement basics
- Search topics
- Social profiles
- Social Center
- Activity Map
- Feature roadmap
- MSE and CRM integration
- MSE to CRM
- CRM to MSE
- Social profiles
- Social activities
- MSE Link-to-CRM
- Record creation rules
- Channel properties
- Current limitations
- CRM customization examples for MSE data
- Custom entities
- Entity images
- External profiles
There’s been active development going on with MSE recently (see the What’s New page) and based on what we’ve seen in the CRM 2016 release wave, I think it’s finally becoming a relevant topic to include in all Dynamics CRM (Online) customer discussions. Coincidentally, HootSuite decided to announce their Dynamics CRM integration on the very same day as my MSE webcast took place, which just further goes to show that there is demand for solutions to bridge the CRM and social gap.
It would of course be interesting to hear also your thoughts on this. Do you think Microsoft Social Engagement is bound to become a tightly coupled component of Dynamics CRM or is it destined to remain a separate silo that only selected few marketing users occasionally access for reviewing sentiment analysis statistics for the brands they keep track of?
One of my posts that seems to remain in high demand, based on the site visitor analytics, is Advanced Queries with Advanced Find. Written over two years ago, people still tend to read it far more often than the newer posts dealing with the latest trends around Dynamics CRM or instructions on how to leverage other platform features like workflows and Business Process Flows. Thinking about the potential audience size, it’s of course understandable that a feature accessible to all CRM users will be much more popular than process configuration tools or the Dynamics product roadmap.
Although very few updates have been done on the Advanced Find functionality during the 10 years I’ve been using Dynamics CRM, it’s arguably still a real killer feature of the platform, at least when comparing it to the query capabilities of many similar business applications. The fact that you’re able to reference pretty much any related record in your query criteria (and in the CRM data model, absolutely everything is related) means that the tool can be used for building the most complex target group definitions for your marketing campaigns, for example, based on behavioral data stored many relationships away. You only have to use another Microsoft application to understand how powerful such a tool can be in the right hands.
It never hurts to have a good understanding of the CRM data model of your organization when launching Advanced Find to build some queries, since AF is a world of abundance when it comes to the available options to select from. Usually the relationships between records are something you can figure out from the end user UI if you spend a moment thinking about it – although with the “flat” design of CRM 2013+ menus and navigation structures, the front end ain’t as hierarchical in nature as the old popup-heavy UI used to be, thus sometimes leading you astray with the underlying data model. In some cases, though, Advanced Find will allow you to perform queries on entities that are completely invisible to the CRM end user. In this post we’ll take a look at one such entity, the activity party, and explore ways in which we can use it for providing the CRM users information on who they are interacting with.
Ain’t No Party Like The Activity Party…
…’Cause in the Activity Party everybody’s connected! OK, so what exactly is this “party” thing then? In the CRM user interface we have activities, which are divided into a number of different types, like email, appointment, phone call, letter, fax (everyone’s favorite default entity, right?) and potentially a selection of custom activity entities for non-standard communication channels like SMS or business specific record types for handling assignments, approvals and these types of work items. Each activity type shares a number of common fields that can be found from the entity called “activity”, which is what allows CRM to show this mixed bag of apples, oranges and pineapples in a single list of
fruit activities related to a business record like the customer account.
When we add people into an activity like a meeting invitation (remember: appointments are always invitations now in the server-side sync world, so be careful when including customer contacts there), CRM is not just populating a lookup field on the activity entity with the GUIDs of all the related users, contacts and other resources. What happens behind the scenes is that each of these related records will result in a new activity party record being created. This is an entity that you will not see in the CRM customization UI if you open the default solution. You can read about it in the SDK, or install a tool like the Metadata Browser (found inside the downloadable SDK package) and have a look at its contents from the live system, as we see below.
People who have been tasked to build SSRS reports that deal with activity records will have surely run into the ActivityParty table/view. If you’re interested in learning more about how the data is created and stored into the SQL database, go and read this great investigation by CRM MVP Aileen Gusni. If, on the other hand, you’d rather not spend too much time in Visual Studio / SQL Server Data Tools building reports but rather want to see how to leverage activity parties in Advanced Find, then this is the right article you’re reading right here.
View of “Activities Involving Me”
While activity parties are not accessible as a configurable entity in CRM (because ultimately they’re not), luckily they do exist in the Advanced Find UI. The first scenario in which we can take advantage of this capability is in building a view of activities that uses some criteria that’s not directly available on the activity record itself. Out of the box, CRM provides views like “My Activities” that show the records in which the current user is the owner (and which are open, even though the name of that default view is a bit misleading). Sure, it’s important to understand what’s on your To Do list right now, but sometimes it is beneficial to be able to reflect back a bit and see also what has happened in the past, to understand what you’ve spent your time on and who have you interacted with. For this, we’ll create a brand new view called “Activities Involving Me”.