Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Views and Filters Toolkit

This codeplex project provides some very useful tools for manipulating views in MSCRM. Documentation of the various scenarios that this tool can handle is available in the code plex page and there is also ample documentation and use cases in the creator's blog.

For example, this can come in handy if you wish to push out and maintain a set of views to user groups. That is, similar to system views but rather than publishing organization-wide you can use this tool to push it out to a select group of users, department, business unit etc. Of course you could also achieve this by sharing a personal view with a list of users or teams - this therefore provides another option for achieving a similar objective. The main difference would be that although sharing would essentially share one view with multiple users such that if any of those users changed the view definition it would update the definition for everyone, whereas the tool would create an individual copy for each. There might be reasons for using both approaches although sharing would probably be the better approach most of the time.

One of the most useful features is the ability to centrally control the Outlook Filters. I say this with a bit of a caveat which will be explained at the end of this post (before going through the configuration steps you may want to review that caveat). By default Outlook Filters are configured individually on the user's desktop. So if you need to modify the default Outlook or Offline filter, you will need to modify the filter on each computer individually. This has long been a pet peeve of mine.

With this toolkit, you can define locally the Outlook download rule and deploy it globally (or targeted to users, teams etc.). The basic deployment scenario is as follows:

  1. Define your personal view
  2. Create a workflow that looks something like the screenshot below (refer to the detailed instructions for specific settings, although the only information that you'll need to change to make this work will be the values for Personal and System View Name to match the names you have used)
  3. Manually run this workflow on the users to whom you wish to copy the view

Once you have done so, you will now find the view that you defined copy to the "System Filters" tab in the user's Outlook Filters (and/or Offline Filters depending on your deployment scenario).

Works like a charm, doesn't it? Well almost... and here comes the aforementioned caveat. There is a fatal flaw based on my experience that I'm currently working with Microsoft support to fix.

The issue seems to be that while you can use the system view, the default "My Outlook Contacts" view is still required. To quote from Microsoft support:

As I have found in other instances, when the My Outlook Contacts filter is disabled or deleted, it will cause contacts to lose their GUIDs and will also break the crmLinkState. Therefore, in order to guarantee that contact sync properly between CRM and Outlook, the My Outlook Contacts  filter must be present and enabled.

Which for all intents and purposes negates the efficiences gained from using the System Filter approach - at least as far as I can tell. If anyone has a different perspective on this and has found that it does work in their environment I'd love to hear about it.

Update: This issue seems to be confirmed by this post and was resolved with UR5.

So what's the point of blogging about a feature that essentially doesn't work?

  1. It would appear based on the referenced post that this feature can be leveraged and this post serves to point out the issues encountered that might perhaps give a heads up to others who might be looking to configure this option and/or troubleshooting Outlook sync issues.
  2. I have to believe that this is something that will be plugged in the near future and I'm tracking it closely (and giving the support folks a little bit of a hard time) in order to facilitate resolution and therefore wanted to document while it's still relatively fresh in my head. And once fixed this post can serve as a reference to a working function.

One last thing to mention is that it would also be nice to be able to globally deactivate the default "My Outlook Contacts" as even with a working solution there is still a manual step to go into the client and disable the rule so it doesn't interfere with the deployed system rule. Perhaps that can be done using the toolkit - I haven't looked into it. Will try to do so once this issue is (hopefully) resolved.

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