Sunday, December 18, 2011

Book Review: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Administration Bible

Introduction

By way of a disclaimer, back at the MVP Summit last year (end of February), supremely nice guy and CRM MVP Matt Wittemann asked me if I would review his new CRM book. I said I was happy to and it has sat on my desk for the last six months waiting for me to come through on my promise. Today is that day. Given I have to look him in the eye at next year’s summit, it is the least I can do.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, here it is.

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Matt Wittemann I know well. To call an MVP a ‘nice guy’ is something of a tautology, given the reason you get the award is for being friendly and sharing knowledge. In Matt’s case though he is really, really friendly, but not in a creepy way. He works at Click Dimensions (who make a really great marketing add-on product for Dynamics CRM) and was the source of my LinkedIn integration post earlier this year.

Geoff Ables, the other author of the book I do not know.

Other than a beer at summit if I am reasonably complimentary, I will receive no compensation for this review other than keeping the review book.

Overview of the Book

The book is a sizeable tome weighing in at 778 pages and, given you can get it on Amazon for US$30 or on kindle for $23 that is great value.

The first thing I noticed was the foreward. Most forewards I ignore but this one was written by Paul Greenberg. Paul wrote ‘CRM at the Speed of Light’ back in 2001; a seminal work on CRM as a philosophy and a technology. The book coined the term ‘xRM’ ten years ago! It should take pride of place on any CRM worker’s desk. It would on mine if someone had not stolen it.

If you think I talk up Matt, you should see what the ‘godfather of CRM’ says about him (all of it true). Paul also gives the book his seal of approval, which is enough for me to read on. He implies that the book will assist in ensuring a successful implementation of Dynamics CRM and I tend to agree with him.

Structure of the Book

The book is divided into nine parts:

  1. Laying a Solid Foundation
  2. Installing Dynamics CRM
  3. Administering Dynamics CRM
  4. Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM
  5. Customizing Dynamics CRM Through the User Interface
  6. Customizing Dynamics CRM with Custom Code
  7. Visualizing Your Dynamics CRM Data with Charts, Reports and Dashboards
  8. Extending and Integrating Dynamics CRM
  9. Appendixes (Integration with SharePoint 2010, Accessing and Using Online Resources)

This is, in my opinion, a good taxonomy as it reflects the tasks which one encounters when implementing and working with the product. For example, if I have been thrown at a CRM project which has been installed and ready to configure, it is pretty easy to work out that chapters 1, 3, 4 and 5 are a good place to start; if I am looking to integrate CRM with another system, chapter 8 suggests it is a good place to go.

Part 1: Laying a Solid Foundation

Nice work Matt and Geoff! This section is a ‘Whitman’s Sampler Tour’ (no surname pun intended) of the product. They cover aspects such as:

  • Using CRM to manage complex relationships (I am working with a customer using ACT! at the moment which is a great product to see how Dynamics CRM handles complex relationships so well)
  • Where CRM stops and ERP begins (an often confused area)
  • Common terminology of Dynamics CRM (e.g. what is the difference between a contact, lead, opportunity and account?)
  • Unique differentiators of Dynamics CRM, relative to its competitors
  • Customising and extending CRM
  • A framework for development and implementation
  • What’s new in CRM 2011
  • The differences in the deployment options (advantages and disadvantages)
  • System requirements

It is almost impossible to work with Dynamics CRM or design it correctly without the knowledge in this part. If you are a client, working with a Microsoft partner, and you want to have enough knowledge to keep them honest, this section is worth its weight in gold. Being able to say stuff like “rather than create a series of web pages to manage the approval process, why don’t we use dialogs and child workflows?” or “rather than implement a series of complex jscripts to manage the visibility of fields on the form, why don’t we create custom forms for the different user groups?” will let the consultant know you are not to be trifled with.

Part 2: Installing Dynamics CRM

The title explains it well. Aspects covered include:

  • Planning the installation (goals for CRM, integration points, infrastructure in place)
  • Installing the CRM server (through the next button, via script etc.)
  • Upgrading the server
  • Installing other common components (e-mail router, Outlook client etc.)
  • Setting up internet-facing deployment and claims-based authentication

A good overview of the elements involved. Would I do an enterprise deployment armed with just this book? Not a chance but, again, a great overview so a client can speak with authority to an expert on the subject. Also a good ‘sanity check’ if you are installing a small deployment and you want to make sure you have covered off the essentials.

Part 3: Administering Dynamics CRM

Part three begins where part two left off, setting up those post-installation system settings and some best practices. Aspects include:

  • Best practices (configuring a backup administrator, backing up)
  • Setting system settings
  • Setting up security (a very complex beast relative to CRM 4)
  • Licensing (this is quite light and needs supplementing now that the licensing model has been released)
  • Setting up users
  • Using the Deployment Manager (Product key, server management, organisation management)
  • Data migration and enriching
  • Data de-duplication
  • CRM maintenance (updates, backups, monitoring resources, server and client optimisation
  • Troubleshooting CRM (turning on developer errors, enable tracing etc.)

This part is an excellent guide for essential system maintenance to keep an existing system ‘ticking along’ and, if you are not changing the system in any way through configuration, this is as far as you need to go in the book because the rest of the book is focussed on how the system is used and how to extend its functionality.

Part 4: Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM

This section is essential reading for staff looking to support the out of the box features of the product. Aspects include:

  • How to navigate the interface
  • Record ownership and security
  • Activity management (and a warning about the hidden nasties of working with them under the covers)
  • Queues
  • E-mail templates
  • Record merging
  • Mobile devices
  • CRM Outlook client (including the new features of the massively improved 2011 client)
  • Sales functions (leads, opportunities, quotes, orders, invoices etc.)
  • Marketing functions (campaigns, marketing list)
  • Service functions (cases, contracts, service scheduling)

This section is not designed to be a definitive guide to CRM functionality but more of a high level overview. So, for example, support staff can speak sensibly on the product when dealing with queries. If you are looking for a user deep dive, this one might do the job, although I have not got a copy to review (hint, hint Winking smile).

Part 5: Customizing Dynamics CRM Through the User Interface

This is where I do most of my work; configuring the system through the user interface. As the book says you can get 90% of where you need to be through the front end configuration tools without sacrificing a single curly brace or semi-colon. Aspects include:

  • Data enrichment (a strange place to have this section in my opinion)
  • Mail merging with Microsoft Word (also unusual since this has not a lot to do with configuring the system)
  • SharePoint integration and document management (a little more at home in this chapter)
  • Solution management
  • Entity configuration and custom entity creation
  • Processes (the new name for workflows and dialogs)

A great section for laying the foundation for configuration. If you are a small company working with Dynamics CRM and someone on staff wants to be the designated ‘developer’ for the system but they have no coding experience, this is a great place to start as it will teach them how to get started and exactly how far they can go before getting a coder in.

Part 6: Customizing Dynamics CRM with Custom Code

Starting where the previous section ends, this part talks about how the product can be enhanced through code. Again there are some curious entries in here but, to give an idea of how the system can be altered the section does a good job. Aspects in the section include:

  • Setting up option sets (more at home in the previous section in my opinion and no mention of global option sets that I can see)
  • Setting up queues (again, as this is codeless I would be inclined to have this in an earlier section)
  • Setting up mobile express (codeless)
  • Managing connection roles and relationship roles (very good that the two were mentioned and the difference highlighted. Also codeless and, therefore, probably belong in an earlier section)
  • Extending CRM (forms, dashboards and processes)
  • Development options (great when you know the functionality you want but you are not sure how to implement it)
  • Setting up development and testing environments
  • Client-side customizations (including a great overview of working with jscript and the CRM form events and some sample code)
  • Server-side customizations (a great attempt to do a high level summary of a complex set of development tools, including some sample code and a walkthrough of registering a plugin. It also taught me what a REST endpoint is in language I understood)
  • Connecting to Azure
  • Building workflow extensions

Other than starting with a bunch of stuff which involves no code whatsoever, the parts which did talk about code are a great ‘101’ for client and server-side coding in CRM. This section will not make you an elite coder for CRM but it will whet your appetite on what can be done, again, perfect when discussing a vision of functionality for the system.

Part 7: Visualizing Your Dynamics CRM Data with Charts, Reports, and Dashboards

An area I am passionate about. If you are going to spend all this time setting up a system to centrally capture information, make sure you and your users have a way to extract it in a meaningful way. The section covers:

  • Advanced Find and views
  • Report wizard (my least favourite tool)
  • Using Excel as a BI Tool (my most favourite tool)
  • Charts
  • Dashboards
  • SSRS Reports (including a walkthrough for creating a custom report and report security)
  • Fetch

A great summary of the reporting options of the product. Combined with my seven ages of CRM reporting article, you should have an excellent idea of how the information you need to get to can be extracted and presented.

Part 8: Extending and Integrating Dynamics CRM

A very high level review of how to approach having other systems talk to Dynamics CRM. Aspects covered include:

  • Integration points in the product
  • Planning the integration
  • Data movement considerations
  • Best practices for migration and integration (including a handy chart to suggest which tools are best for which scenarios)
  • A section of widely used integration tools such as Scribe Insight and Pervasive Data Integrator
  • Web site integration
  • Using Add-ons (including reviews of some usual suspects such as Data2CRM, CWR Mobility and Experlogix)
  • Exploring xRM (in other words, managing business processes outside of traditional sales, marketing and services. This includes a walkthrough of an HR scenario and how CRM could help)

Again this chapter is not designed to make the reader an expert but simply to know the essentials and to make the reader aware of some of the commonly used tools in the market. The explanation of the widely mis-used ‘xRM’ is also straightforward and easy to follow.

Part 9: Appendixes

This section talks at advanced SharePoint integration and provides a table of online resources. The table of web links is a collection of the authors’ favourite CRM administrator and third-party tool links. Worthwhile and, hopefully, they will stay active.

The SharePoint section is very interesting as it gives an overview of common integration points between the products with some common examples. If this is on the cards for your CRM implementation, this is definitely worth a look.

Conclusions

If you know someone who is about to take on the administration of a CRM in the new year, this is a great stocking filler (and at 750+ pages it better be a big stocking). The book is specifically written to give an administrator enough knowledge to do their job and enough to ensure the others they need to interact with (e.g. consultants) are doing theirs.

My only complaint is, as is inevitable with such a book, there are some things which are out of date. The first, and most obvious, are the screenshots which are taken from the pre-released version. I expect this was all the authors had to work with at the time of writing. Fortunately not a lot changed from pre-release to production, so this should not distract in any significant way from the usability of the book. Also, the information about licensing is a little dated, referring to enterprise and professional licensing and not mentioning the ESS license. Again, I imagine this was a function of timing. Given licensing is one small aspect of this very large book this is not a big deal (here is the definitive licensing guide if you are interested).

Overall a really well crafted book. Where I see this book having its ‘sweet spot’ is with smaller implementations (either on-premise or online) who have one person being a ‘many hats’ administrator i.e. someone who manages security, users, configuration and needs to work with a Microsoft partner or customiser. I guarantee you, if you are such an administrator, buying this book will be a great investment the next time someone from the business says ‘how could we make CRM do this…?’

Friday, December 9, 2011

Moving To The Cloud Part One: Office 365

What do you do when you have a laptop full of e-mail, historical data, and photos and are constantly annoyed you have to haul the laptop around to access stuff? Move to the cloud.

This blog is a bit of a departure from the CRM stuff but, I imagine, talks about a problem many of us face. I am making notes as I go down this path (and there are quite a few of them) so I expect this to be a multi-part blog.

The Problem

I have a laptop with a 12G PST file comprising of about 12 years of accumulated e-mail. I also have about 35G of data (excluding stuff I could easily ‘regenerate’ such as music and movies).

To back up, the theory goes that, on the weekend, I hook up my laptop to my media player and xxcopy the hard drive contents. Not the most elegant solution but it would work, if I ever got around to actually doing the backup. Also, I am known at work as ‘that guy that travels with two laptops’. Why? Because when I travel interstate I want to catch up on all things CRM and most of this is set up to happen through Outlook on my personal laptop. This includes emails, subscribed distribution lists, RSS feeds and twitter feeds (thanks to TwInbox). It all feeds into the PST file for centralisation and easy searching.

So my goal is to:

  • eliminate the need to backup or, at least, automate it
  • give me an easy way to read and process e-mails/RSS feeds and tweets while away from home without carrying an extra laptop

Note that what I mean by ‘processing’ is reading e-mails, filing them in a folder, setting myself appointments and tasks resulting from them and so on. So while I can read my e-mails on pretty much any internet-enabled device e.g. an iPad or an Android slate, this is not productive for me and not practical as a solution. Outlook is so much more than an e-mail client.

Looking To The Cloud

Microsoft are making a bit of noise about Office 365 at the moment so I thought I would look into it. Essentially for a per user per month fee you get:

  • Online collaboration via SharePoint (10G +500M*# of users of storage)
  • Online meetings and communication via Lync (at a very high level, think of it as a corporate version of Live Messenger crossed with a softphone)
  • An online version of Exchange (25G of storage)

For my e-mail the last point was the important one. With an online version of Exchange you also get the Outlook Web Access client (OWA) which is a pretty good approximation of Outlook online. OWA would be sufficient for my needs. It would show all my Outlook folders, let me drag and drop emails and let me create Tasks and Appointments which would come back to my laptop when I was back at home. What’s more, my 12G PST is within the storage limits and, hopefully, give me growth for another 12 years.

So what does Office 365 cost? Well, according to the US site $6 per user per month for the simplest plan.

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PLEASE NOTE: I signed up for the P1 plan despite strong suggestions from fellow MVPs to go with the Enterprise E1 plan. Evaluate the differences before signing up and take note you cannot move from a P1 to an E1 if you change your mind later.

Signing Up And The Australian Complication

I thought this is sufficiently low cost to give it a try. Being a good Microsoft citizen, this is the process I followed:

  1. Go to www.bing.com
  2. Type in “Office 365”
  3. Click the first result link
  4. Click the ‘Buy’ button
  5. Follow the steps

Where this process comes unstuck is when you select the country. There is a long list of countries available but Australia is not one of them. Confused, I consulted the FAQ.

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So, by rights, Australia should be there. Unsure what to do I clicked ‘United States’ figuring I would either change it later or delete the account and start again one I figured out what was going on. This turned out to be a bad choice as it eventually asks for a US address.

The problem is you cannot officially sign up to Office 365 for Australia via the US web site (which is the one Bing sends you to). You have to go to the Australian equivalent site (which, ironically, Google sends you to from the outset when you type “Office 365”).

The next problem is, despite the black and white claim of global pricing, Australians pay over 30% more for their Office 365.

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While the reasons are not completely clear, Office 365 is provided through a third party in Australia (namely Telstra) so I am guessing they are adding a little extra to cover their overheads. This flies in the face of the global pricing claim though.

The Unofficial Workaround

The problem I now had was it turned out to not be possible to delete my account or change the country. I could have started again but I wanted to keep my free vanity domain you get when you sign up. I was also a little put out that Australians were paying more for a cloud solution than the rest of the world.

The problem was a lack of a US address. Fortunately my wife has an American Express card and they have a member benefit, courtesy of http://www.myus.com which means card holders get a complimentary US address and reduced shipping rates. The reason for this unusual benefit? A lot of US suppliers flatly refuse to deal with people outside of the USA and will only ship within the USA. This service gets around that.

Wielding my newly found US address and my credit card I signed up at the global rate of $6 per user per month. Can Microsoft or Telstra force me to go through Telstra and spend $7.90 per user per month? Well, by my interpretation, this would be third line forcing which is illegal in Australia.

Even if you do not have an American Express card, you can sign up to myus.com and pay a once-off fee of $10 and get an address. Within six months you will have recouped the difference (6 * ($7.90-$6.00) = $11.40), assuming US$/A$ parity.

Experience So Far

Well I will save that for the next blog, along with a bunch of tips and tricks I have learned along the way for transferring my PST over to Exchange Online and for configuring SharePoint Online but, overall, the experience has been very positive. Assuming Microsoft and Telstra do not kill my account for that little nugget above, I expect to be using Office 365 for the foreseeable future.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Interplay of People, Process and Technology

Before I get into the article, Google Analytics is telling me I am not getting as many hits as I used to.

While this may simply be a seasonal thing, I am keen to keep my audience. Therefore, if there is a specific type of article you would like to see or, if you feel I have been dropping the ball of late, let me know. Generally I write one of three types of articles:

  • Codeless tricks for Dynamics CRM
  • Competitive analysis (often directed at salesforce)
  • Thought leadership on CRM in general

Today’s article is in the ‘thought leadership’ camp.

The Processing of Information

There is a reliable model in IT circles when it comes to implementing software into a business which is the model of People, Process and Technology. The idea is that if you are processing information e.g. converting an order into a delivery or going from a lead into a sale, inevitably these three elements will be involved.

Overall it is a pretty good model in that it is understood that all three elements have to be considered for an IT project not to fail. To put it generally:

  • People: who is involved in processing the information?
  • Technology: what systems are being employed in processing the information?
  • Process: How is the information transformed/transferred?

What is often overlooked, and the purpose of today’s blog, is the consideration of their interplay.

Scenario One: The Dreaded Timesheet

A few employers ago, my boss asked me to look at how we could improve the internal process of lodging timesheets. The consultants complained that the process involved multiple handling of emails from the resource manager (the person that assigned them to projects), their calendar and the ERP system where they eventually logged their time. All three elements held basically the same information but none of them were linked, except through the keyboard of the consultant.

The resource manager complained because his calendar, showing all consultants, was not linked to the CRM or ERP system so he had to monitor when deals closed and then assign resources manually. The general manager complained because the numbers in the ERP system of closed deals never matched the resource manager’s calendar of completed work and the CRM system of future deals never matched the resource manager’s calendar of upcoming and assigned work. It was a mess.

As an aside, for those of you not in the consulting game, this situation is nothing new and is pretty much par for the course in most consulting businesses.

I began reviewing the situation and quickly concluded that Dynamics CRM could be used to resolve the situation.

  • When a sales opportunity is closed in Dynamics CRM, a workflow could automatically create a project task for the resource manager
  • The resource manager could assign this to a consultant and it would automatically appear in their Outlook calendar
  • When the work was completed, the consultant could mark the activity as completed and this would then feed into the ERP system via an integration component
  • Everything could be monitored through CRM’s Service Calendar or through SRS reports

An elegant solution and entirely practical. All the resource manager would ever have to do would be to assign jobs to consultants and all a consultant would have to do is complete the work and mark it as such in Outlook. The systems would take care of the rest.

I was so excited about the possibilities, I mentioned the idea to my boss’ boss, the general manager. To my surprise he was lukewarm on the idea of using CRM as the ‘glue’. His response was “let us look at the process first and then we can look at the technology”. Unfortunately, despite lovely process diagrams being created, nothing changed and the business continued to drown in  poor information and overly manual processes. Because so much time was being spent on the manual processes generating inadequate information, there was never any time to improve the situation and, as far as I know, the situation remains the same to this day.

Scenario Two: The Dream System

Another time, the company I worked for was asked to deliver a system, using Dynamics CRM, which met the specifications gathered by a third-party system-agnostic business analyst. We were told it was the system the client’s staff had designed and it was vital to give them what they wanted to guarantee user adoption, no further workshops required. Unfortunately, the consultant involved (who will remain nameless to protect the inexperienced) accepted the challenge and the project horribly failed with budget blowouts and compromised solutions. No-one got what they wanted.

Scenario Three: Consolidating on the One Platform

The final situation was a conversation I had with a client where they loved Dynamics CRM so much they wanted to do everything through it, including their financials and inventory management. Fortunately, I managed to convince them otherwise but it is an excellent example of when you have the CRM hammer how everything looks like a nail. For the client, it did not matter that CRM has no concept of a general ledger or that the accounting department would have to learn a completely new system which would deliver a fraction of the functionality of the incumbent ERP software.

Why Considering Elements In Isolation Never Works

The problem in each of these scenarios is that one of the three elements was being considered without regard to the others (process, people and technology, respectively). This happens a lot and is often why CRM projects fail. Use your favourite search engine to find lists of reasons why CRM projects fail and you will see lists talking about how one or more of the three elements are being ignored.

If you focus on the technology and process but do not ensure the people are equipped and motivated to use the system (through training) user adoption will be compromised.

If you focus on process and people but ignore the technology, the misalignment will lead to expensive development to make the system ‘fit’ blowing out budgets with minimal gain.

If you focus on the people and technology but ignore the process, you risk automating and magnifying inefficiencies or failing to deliver what the business actually needs.

Getting in the Zone

A rough analogy can be drawn to the idea of the head, heart and hands and the idea of being ‘in the zone’; that state of mind, similar to Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘flow’ where productivity is achieved effortlessly.

Hugo Kehr researched this area and came up with the ‘Compensatory Model’. The theory goes that if the head (rationale for an action), heart (personal motivation to perform the action) and hands (perceived ability to perform the action) are aligned, the individual will achieve effortlessly. If they are not, without intervention, achievement will be difficult or impossible. A classic example is a smoker who knows quitting is good for his health (head) and he has the ability to stop (hands) but his heart is not in it. To achieve success will require willpower; it will not be effortless.

In our case, we can consider the process as the head (the logical approach to processing the information), technology as the hands (the tools to enable the processing) and the people as the heart (those performing the action who must be personally motivated).

Reviewing the misalignment through this filter:

If the people are unmotivated e.g. they perceive CRM as unhelpful and merely a ‘big brother’ system, they will be able to achieve the outcome but there will again be frustration and the requirement for willpower.

If the technology is inadequate but the people and the business both agree the outcome is necessary, creativity and problem solving will be used to ‘work around’ the systems e.g. Excel and Access systems will be created.

If there is no process, people with the right resources can achieve the outcome, but there will be frustration and willpower (volitional regulation to use Kehr’s terminology) will have to be employed.

Conclusions

The idea of considering the elements of people, process and technology when implementing an IT solution to help with a business process is a good start but it is not everything. Changing one of the three elements inevitably affects the other two and, often, in subtle ways. Therefore, it is also necessary to consider how all three are linked in the ‘as is’ process, how this will change in the ‘to be’ process and what steps will be necessary to transform from one to the other. Being rigid with one element and expecting the others to fall into place is a recipe for disaster.

The closer all three are aligned, the less frustration there will be with the system and the more consistent the process: business nirvana.