One of the missing features that is often requested for Dynamics CRM is the ability to automatically assign numeric identifiers to records (see the feature suggestion on MS Connect). Sure, we’ve had the Auto-Numering feature for a limited set of default entities (contracts, cases, articles, quotes, orders, invoices, campaigns) since the early days of CRM 3.0, but generating numbers on a standard entity like account or any custom entity has not been possible out of the box.
As if often the case, workflows offer a way for the creative user to overcome such limitations and enhance the CRM functionality with some custom business logic. The usage of workflows to generate automatic numbers for records has been described in several blog posts, of which I’d like to point out the ones written by Karel Iuel and Leon Tribe. The high level concept of this process is as follows:
- Create a custom entity to hold the current counter value of the number
- Link your business entity to this custom counter entity through a N:1 relationship (meaning the single counter record will be the parent for all the intended child business records)
- Trigger a workflow rule from the business entity record creation that performs the following actions:
- Links the new business entity record to the existing counter entity record
- Increments the counter value
- Assigns this value as the number for the child business entity record
With the recent enhancements to workflows in the CRM 2013 release I thought I’d take this scenario and use it to compare the different outcomes with the new real-time workflows and a traditional asynchronous workflow process.
Number assignment with a Real-Time Workflow
Let’s first see how the aforementioned methods work in a CRM 2013 environment. I’ve created a new custom entity called Record Number Counter and added a 1:N relationship to the account entity, with the intention of assigning an automatic number to any new account record that gets added into the CRM database. To actually make this happen, we need to have a workflow process in place that performs the three steps outlined above. Note that the box for “run this workflow in the background (recommended)” is unchecked, meaning this will be a synchronous, real-time workflow process that starts immediately after the specified event, which in this case is “record is created”.
Let’s do some account data importing next to test the results of this workflow. I’ve created an Account Number record of the Record Number Counter entity with its Number value set to 100 500, which means the next account record to get created should be numbered 100 501. With a set of 500 test records to import in my csv file, I’m expecting the counter to hit 101 000 by the time the job is done.
So, off we go with the import job and then we start to anxiously click on the Refresh icon on the account entity view to see which values get assigned in the Account Number column.
Looks like everything is as we wanted it to be! All the 500 account records have been assigned a unique number and the counter value is incremented by one after each assignment. Sure, we’re getting the local number formatting setting from our integer field applied into the target text field on the account (in my case it’s the empty space as the thousands separator), but that’s not a huge issue for our home grown auto-numbering solution. The concept itself appears to be working, which is the main outcome we were after.
Why this won’t work in CRM 2011
If you’ve been reading any discussions on the workflow driven method of auto-numbering, you may have come across issues with the numbers not always being unique. If you create a single record, then wait for the workflow process to complete and check the results before the next record, everything will most likely look ok. But when there’s a bigger volume of database inserts taking place in a bulk operation, the results may not be as expected. [Read more…]