Experiences with DemoBuilder for CRM 2011

Microsoft recently launched their DemoBuilder tool for Partners to create compelling demo environments that leverage not only Dynamics CRM 2011, but also integrate Office 365, Lync Online, SharePoint Online and Windows Azure services. Since the launch, I have used this tool a couple of times to create pretty powerful demos with relative ease.

Getting DemoBuilder Setup

To get setup with DemoBuilder, follow these simple steps:

  • Create a 30 day CRM Online Trial
  • Go to http://demobuilder.cloudapp.net/ and sign in with your Windows Live ID
  • Click the Run Demobuilder link in the Metro tile on the screen and follow the prompts to install the tool locally
  • Enter the information as requested within the screens of the DemoBuilder tool wizard.
    (It will take about an hour for the process to complete, so be patient…)

Figure 1: DemoBuilder – DemoHub Main Screen

For a great Introduction to DemoBuilder, check out Gareth Tucker’s Microsoft CRM Blog.

For this blog post, I wanted to go a little deeper with a few features of the DemoBuilder that I found particularly beneficial.

Demo Ager

An issue that plagues every consultant prior to a pre-sales or client demonstration is the problem of stale data within your CRM instance. I have had many experiences where I am creating new records to have more timely information within CRM to demonstrate a process to a client so that it has a more timely presentation. As you know, dependent on the scope of your demo, this could be a very time-consuming process. Microsoft has addressed this within DemoBuilder in two ways. First, DemoBuilder populates the entire system with relevant data across all system entities, including charts and dashboards. Second, a tool called Demo Ager is also included. This provides a very simple method of changing the “age” of some of your data, like Opportunities, within a Silverlight dashboard. As shown in the picture below, Demo Ager is accessed from the dashboard menu and has one simple control…a date selection control and a start button to execute the process. The tool also displays the “date last aged” of your demo environment. Once you select your new date for system data to be aged, the various entities will have a progress indicator displayed. When the green bar is shown, the process is complete.

Figure 2: DemoBuilder – Demo Data Ager

Ribbon Editor

There are several fantastic ribbon editors available via Codeplex, such as the CRM 2011 Visual Ribbon Editor , Ribbon Editor for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 and the Pragma Toolkit: Ribbon, SiteMap Editor as well as the Ribbon Workbench from UserVoice. Check out my blog post that reviews the CRM 2011 Visual Ribbon Editor and its benefit as a learning tool here. Microsoft now provides a built-in ribbon editor within the DemoBuilder tool set. This tool has an easy to use interface with no configuration needed or discovery of what entities are available within the environment. Like the Demo Data Ager, the Ribbon Editor is accessible from the Dashboards navigation. I found this editor simple to use and one of the easiest to add functionality such as JavaScript to a ribbon button of all that I have used before. The DemoBuilder Ribbon Editor allows easy creation of ribbon buttons, tabs and groups with custom actions such as JavaScript, workflow or web resources. This is a great addition to a presales demo build toolkit.

Figure 3: DemoBuilder – Ribbon Editor

Social Activity

DemoBuilder provides an eye-catching integration to the Twitter feed of the Account within the CRM System. It passes search criteria to Twitter using the Account name and provides a real-time twitter feed of all tweets that are from the Account itself (@ADXStudio for example) or that reference the account within a tweet. Clicking on the link CRM Twitter Monitor takes you directly to Twitter with the search criteria passed. This is great functionality to demonstrate how CRM can provide immediate feedback to stakeholders within Marketing, Sales or Senior Management. The DemoBuilder only provides this functionality for demonstration at the Account level within CRM.

InsideView

Announced at Convergence 2012, InsideView integration delivers relevant business and social insights directly into Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Do things like monitor business events or discover relationships that get you introductions. This functionality is limited from the full features of the subscription version, but the integration within DemoBuilder provides insight to the immediate benefits that the depth of knowledge CRM can now provide to Account Management. This information was previously only available via channels outside of CRM and would require custom integration. The free InsideView CRM integration is available for any Dynamics CRM customer and can be installed using their deployable solution. If you want more information on this functionality, check out InsideView’s website or the Dynamics CRM Marketplace.

Figure 4: DemoBuilder – Social Activity and InsideView Integration

Customer Portal

Also included within DemoBuilder is the Microsoft xRM Customer Portal Accelerator. Installed and configured automatically with the Azure instance provided with DemoBuilder, it is the fastest method to show potential customers the power of portals when combined with Dynamics CRM without the concern for setting up a website or any other setup related concerns. If their needs are greater than what the standard Customer Portal Accelerator provides, I recommend checking out ADXStudio‘s portal offering…a very flexible and powerful solution applicable to many vertical industries.

In Summary…

DemoBuilder for Dynamics CRM 2011 is not only a great tool to energize your pre-sales demonstration capabilities, but provides quite an insight to the prospective customer on the extensibility of the Dynamics CRM platform. The features that have been presented, in combination with Office 365, SharePoint and Azure provide an incredible tool within your pre-sales demonstration toolbox to help win deals and understand your prospective customer’s pain points and objectives!

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Managing Solutions within CRM 2011 – Some Helpful Resources

One of the more challenging aspects of managing an Enterprise wide CRM 2011 implementation is managing solutions across multiple developers and multiple environments.  I have worked on implementations which used a single development environment with a single solution as well as implementations with multiple development virtual machines and developers each merging their solution into a master development solution…and others with scenarios in between.

Please find some valuable information below on some helpful resources across the blogosphere which can help you with this endeavor.  Good Luck!

Mr. Dave’s (David Yack) CRM Blog!

A blog about development with Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Richard Knudson’s Dynamics CRM Trick Bag

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Solution Management Strategy Review

Merging CRM 2011 Solutions

Solutions & Release Management – CRM 2011

Working with CRM 2011 Solutions

Dependency Tracking for Solution Components

Using CRM 2011 as a Configuration Management Tool

During a CRM implementation it is imperative that not only a great solution is provided to the client, but also to understand how the components within that solution came to be and how they relate to the respective requirements and associated use cases.  This can be done in a number of ways, including the use of Team Foundation Server (TFS), SharePoint lists or other such solutions.  However, if your client does not have the ability or the desire to implement such solutions, you can easily track these changes within the CRM 2011 development environment.

By containing these changes within the CRM instance, your CRM implementation team has the ability to immediately document their changes along with leveraging native capabilities within CRM such as Advanced Find, Views, Export to Excel and SSRS Reporting to support the effort.

How to start?

To get started, create a custom entity within your CRM instance.  You can call it “Configuration Management” for example.  The attributes to include within this entity will obviously vary based on your implementation, however, I have mocked up an example shown in the screenshot below:

Config Mgt
Mockup of a sample "Configuration Management" entity used to track changes within your CRM implementation

TIP: It is important to remember NOT to include this entity or associated entities within the CRM solution which will be exported from the development environment.  This information would not need to be included in other environments as the solutions are promoted.

Best Practices

Attributes to include as a best practice would be items such as:

  • Description of the change
  • Type of change (Add, Change, Delete, etc.)
  • Component Type (Entity, Attribute, Option Set, View, Chart, Jscript, Web Resource, etc.)
  • Detailed description of the function of the component (This also should be the description documented upon creation of the item
  • Related components
  • Unit Testing Information (Who is testing? When? What is the expected result?  Actual? What is the status of the testing?)
  • Traceability details (What requirements are associated?  Use Cases? Business Processes?)

Traceability

In order to maintain strong traceability between the component and the requirements and/or use cases and business processes, additional entities can be created to document these items and shown on the configuration management entity via SubGrids.  However, if the project is an Enterprise level implementation the cost/benefit may outweigh the time and effort required for this level of data entry if an import is not feasible.

In that event, a memo field to provide the details of the associated requirement numbers, use cases, etc. should suffice.  This information can be extracted from CRM as indicated earlier in the post through an Excel export from a view or through the creation of an SSRS report to support the documentation.

I hope that you have found this post informational.  Have you tried this before?  Please share your experiences by entering a comment below.

Dynamics CRM: Opening the “Mystery Box”

Tannen's Magic Mystery Box
Tannen's Magic Mystery Box

I watched J.J. Abrams’s talk on TED.com today and his topic was “The Mystery Box”.  It really captured my attention merely because of the word “mystery”…and well, it’s J.J. Abrams.  He talked about how he and his grandfather would go to Lou Tannen’s Magic Shop in New York City when he was a child.  While he was at this store with his grandfather he bought Tannen’s Mystery Magic Box.  It was only $15 and it contained $50 worth of magic.  A clear bargain, right? He never opened the box and still keeps it in his office today, enjoying the mystery.  What he loves about the box is that it represents not only his memory of his grandfather, but the “infinite possibility, that sense of potential.”

His TED talk was only about 20 minutes long, but I immediately began to see parallels between his Mystery Box and Dynamics CRM.  The Dynamics CRM platform is so extensible, the true capabilities of an implementation are left only to the imagination and the creativity (not to minimize time/budget constraints) of the implementation team.

In movies and television, the “Mystery Box” is the paper that the script is written upon or the computer that the CGI animation is conceived.  Ours is the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform.

It is often quite simple to check off a task denoting a requirement met with out of box functionality.  However, it is also often just as simple to enable an entire business process while meeting numerous requirements just as easily.  Each implementation is itself its own “Mystery Box”, waiting to be opened to find out what is inside.  Tools such as workflow, dialogs, custom activities, activity feeds and everything else that can be unlocked with the SDK are sitting in that box, waiting to be discovered.

So, I challenge you…have you had a situation where you effectively “opened the Mystery Box” and provided some incredible customer value or is that “Mystery Box” still sitting in your office, waiting to be opened?

Next Week: Creating an application for services using dialogs

Achievement Unlocked – CRM User Value

Achivement Unlocked - CRM User Value
Understanding what your provides your clients the same feeling as when an XBOX achievement pops on-screen goes a long way to achieving user value and adoption.

I celebrated the 10th anniversary of the XBOX this week by playing and completing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (on Veteran difficulty…just sayin’). As I repelled the seemingly endless waves of the fictitious rogue Russian Army throughout Europe, a couple of achievements popped-up  on screen after completing a level. That made me think…while the achievement does slightly inflate my ego and provide a brief, albeit unwarranted, sense of accomplishment, it also tells me that I am playing the game correctly.

So, I thought, it stands to reason that a similar tactic could be taken when it comes to CRM implementations. No, I am not saying that users get “achievements” when they successfully track an e-mail or complete a task…(although that would be kind of cool) but there are ways within CRM to provide users with cues, both visual and process based to inform them of successful use of the system. This can provide an easier path to higher user adoption for the new or hesitant CRM user. Some examples include Dashboards, Dialogs, Notifications and Color coding indicators.

Dashboards
Dashboards provide insight to management on business KPIs such as an Opportunity

Dashboards can present user relevant information to drive adoption

pipeline reporting, which clients have received touch points, or case distribution by subject  area. When combined with Goals, they open a window into a users success working in CRM. User based metrics can motivate a new CRM user to higher adoption levels based on a feeling of accomplishment and overall user value. These metrics can also provide training and support areas the ability to analyze negative usage trends that could lead to training opportunities to improve user adoption.

Dialogs
Dialogs provide the ability for users to update CRM records through an on-screen prompt and response mechanism. This improves the chances for more accurate data collection as users are directed to what information is required and how to enter it correctly. Tips on best practices or corporate procedures can also be included within the pages of the prompt and response. For new CRM users who may feel intimidated by the sheer number of fields available within a contact record, for example, dialogs cut right to the specific needs of the business process. This reduces the feeling that CRM “wastes time” or working in it can be a hassle. Also, dialogs can launch processes to automate follow up actions or workflow based on the prompt and response page input.

Notifications

Notifications are available natively through the CRM Outlook client for appointments, tasks and phone calls that a user is assigned within CRM. However, these notifications are simply reminders to take the action. CRM also allows for custom notifications such as e-mails sent to the user to inform them that an activity has been assigned, approval is required, or a phase of a sales process within an opportunity has been completed. These notifications can contain links to underlying activities or detailed process information. How you choose to notify your users about actions is limited only to your imagination.

Color coded indicators
Adding color indicators to CRM provide users immediate feedback on the status of a record or the result of actions taken on the record. Gonzalo Ruiz has written a great article on his blog on a few methods for adding color to the CRM experience.

In summary, Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides a rich platform to not only support your relationship management initiatives, but do so in a manner that enables your sales force and support staff to achieve more.

Helpful CRM tools increase productivity and technical knowledge

There are a number of helpful tools available on Codeplex and within the CRM community that really improve the productivity of a CRM Functional Consultant. Not only do they improve your ability to deliver requirements, they also provide a unique way to gain some insight to more technical skills in a non-intimidating way. If you are not currently leveraging what these tools can offer, try them out and see how they can help your productivity!

CRM 2011 Visual Ribbon Editor

20111113-201124.jpg

Once this tool is used, here’s a learning opportunity…open the solution where your ribbon is kept in Visual Studio and look at the ribbondiffxml for the selected entity. See how the tool updated information that you entered to better understand the “under the hood” of CRM 2011 customization.

CRM 2011 Sitemap Editor

20111113-201607.jpg

This helpful tool streamlines the process to customizing the sitemap based on our client’s requirements. It also provides an insight to how the sitemap is structured. This information can be invaluable to the functional CRM consultant.

Sitemap and ribbon customizations can be a challenge without these handy tools if you are not familiar with Visual Studio, the sitemap or how to update the ribbondiffxml without confidence. I have found these tools to be helpful in not only streamlining the customization process, but demystifying the underlying components and increasing my understanding of some of the technical underpinnings of Dynamics CRM 2011.