Friday, February 7, 2014

CRM 2013: Compelling Reasons to Upgrade

There are many posts that describe and illustrate the new features that CRM 2013 has introduced. Here are a few choice samples:

Having now spent quite a bit of time working and getting familiar with the new platform, my intention is to try and determine what might be considered features that provide compelling reasons to upgrade assuming that you are on the previous version of the product. That assumption includes the fact that you've spent some time and effort configuring CRM to suit your needs. So while there may be some features that make it easier to achieve certain configuration options that were implemented previously - that in my opinion would not provide a compelling reason to upgrade as there generally is not going to be a burning need to rework the option that has already been implemented and working as desired.

Let's also stipulate that I'm not advocating against upgrading. Rather upgrading is a strategic decision that needs to be weighed with other competing priorities and budgets. And therefore this is more of a question of whether this should be prioritized now or perhaps down the line. And let's make no mistake about it - Microsoft will be spending their time and effort improving the new platform rather than CRM 2011, so if you're planning on performing any major process improvements then you'd be well served to bite the upgrade bullet so you can leverage new capabilities. This post is not for you if you fall into that category. If however you are somewhere in between and looking for features that just may take you to the next level - then this might help put things in perspective.

In my opinion too many posts out there just hype features of the product without providing critical analysis of the real world advantage they're likely to bring. In my list below, I am endeavoring to analyze the features on their practicality and real world application.


  • Business Process Flow - This is a net new feature, easy to configure/implement and can have a fairly significant impact to the ease of use. Especially for mobile devices such as tablets.
  • Exchange Server Side Sync - Although the CRM Outlook Client has made tremendous progress over the years, it still remains the Achilles heel of the product - in my opinion. Mainly because of the decentralized nature of the configuration and troubleshooting headaches when there is a syncing issue. There were 3rd party solutions that allowed this to happen at the server level. And now Microsoft has finally added this functionality to the core product. If you are experiencing issues with contact synchronization then this could well provide the single compelling reason to upgrade.
  • Mobile Optimization - The design of the product has been optimized to all mobile devices. Even more impressive - they have produce apps for the iPad, iPhone, Surface, and Android. If you think that mobile enabling your workforce will increase adoption and overall usage, then this is indeed a compelling reason for upgrading.


  • Business Logic - There is nothing new about this feature that could not be achieved with form jscript. In fact, you will still need jscript for more involved scenarios. But it does give less techie users the ability to configure simple dynamic behavior on the form and therefore become more self sufficient.
  • Quick View Forms - This is definitely a nice new feature that makes it easy to display information from other related entities on the current form. But if you had that requirement previously, there were ways and means to achieve it.
  • Real Time Workflows - I'd say this is a very nice new feature that could replace a lot of jscript and plugin requirements. But again this does not enable a capability that could not be achieved in CRM 2011.
  • Access Teams - This is a nice new feature that is most likely to be used in scenarios of collaborative selling. The functionality was achievable with the standard team model in previous versions but is a lot more flexible and "on the fly" in the latest version.
  • Actions - This extends the programming capability of the product essentially providing the ability to abstract business logic even further. I can see this feature as potentially very useful to minimize the amount of custom code logic making it easier to modify without having to update plugins etc. But again this does not enable a capability that could not be achieved in CRM 2011. 


  • User Interface/Navigation - The new version is pretty nice but in some ways can be more challenging to navigate. There are merits to the new user interface but also to the previous user interface. The flat user interface is nice but does not come without a cost (e.g. the benefits of alt+tabbing vs. having to re-navigate to where you were previously). I suspect there will still be a few improvements to come to help optimize this particular experience. And make no mistake about it - upgrading will require you to optimize your form layout to leverage and benefit from the new form layout. If you do not allocate budget for that effort, you are in fact likely to be negatively impacted by the new user experience.
  • Command Bar - Microsoft thought it had it all figured out when they introduced the ribbon interface. Only to apparently discover that it was also too overwhelming for the average user and have now scaled it back to the simpler command bar. I do think that they are moving in the right direction with this design change but I hardly think this will make a meaningful difference to those who have gotten familiar with the ribbon interface.
  • Dashboards - This feature has been slightly enhanced such that a different default dashboard can be configured for each area (sales, marketing, service, etc.) and per role.

  • Auto-Save - Honestly? BFD.
  • Social Pane - Ditto. Maybe I'm old school but this is a feature that I have rarely seen employed. There's already activities and notes and at some point the lines gray between what should be what. And this doesn't really help. Perhaps for larger companies.
  • Quick Create Forms - If I'm not mistaken this is kind of a re-introduced feature from CRM 3.0 and earlier. Not revolutionary and unlikely to improve the user experience in any significant way. 
  • Images - All entities now support associating images to them. Most likely usage is for contacts (although still doesn't sync with the Outlook contact image). Nice if you need it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Debugging Workflow Plugins in CRM Online

The Plugin Registration Tool has some important features to enable the effective troubleshooting of workflow plugins (and plugins in general). The following posts contain useful walkthroughs of these debugging features:

Debugging standard plugins:

Debugging workflow plugins:

But sometimes I find that adding good old-fashioned trace statements to the plugin code can also come in very handy.

The following illustrates this form of debugging for workflow plugins:

  1. Add the ITracingService reference
  2. Output trace information at various points
  3. Throw an exception to force the trace information to be output

The plugin will fail as you have forced an error by throwing an exception. And you can now go into the failed workflow and view the trace information that was outputted.