The Ins and Outs of Dynamics 365/CRM

This article summarizes how to get data in and out of CRM. It is aimed at those who are new to CRM and may be not be aware of the CRM architecture.

The Plaform

The heart of Microsoft Dynamics CRM is the platform which is responsible for everything that happens in CRM. This includes adding new records, creating custom entities, running workflows and so on. Separate from the platform, though often confused as the same thing, there the web application and the Dynamics CRM Client for Outlook. These applications are what people think of as Microsoft Dynamics CRM but they are applications sitting on top of the platform. There is nothing to stop you building your own CRM interface on top of the platform (well, apart from  the amount of time needed).

The CRM web application provides ways to get data into CRM and to get data out.

Data In

Method Notes
Forms Perhaps the most obvious way to create records in CRM. With the Polaris update for CRM Online there are two types of forms, classic and UX. For CRM on-premise, we’ll have to wait for the Orion release for UX forms at which time classic forms are expected to be removed.

In CRM, multiple forms can be defined for an entity, so that some users see one form and others see another. This can be useful to show a form that matches a user’s job role. However, resist the temptation to create large numbers of forms for one entity, it will be difficult to manage.

Multiple records can be edited at the same time in a form by selecting several records in a list and then clicking Edit on the ribbon.

Import CRM provides an import tool that can be used to import data in bulk in CSV and XML formats.
Client for Outlook In the Client for Outlook, the Track button on the ribbon copies Outlook items such as e-mails, tasks and appointments to the CRM database.
Add Contacts Client for Outlook feature?
Create Contacts In the Client for Outlook, a user setting controls whether contact (or lead) records are automatically created for recipients with e-mail addresses that do match a record in CRM. Most people turn this setting off.
Forms on Web pages Many organizations use forms on their websites to capture information, such as contact us, log an incident and so on. The data from web forms can be used to programmatically create records in CRM using web services provided by the platform.
Portals Portals can provide a total website solution and can integrate with CRM for the creation and management of content and other interactions. A good example is the solution provided by Adxstudio.
Third-Party Tools There are many third-party tools for importing (and synchronizing) data with CRM such as Scribe and Inogic.

Data Out

Method Notes
Forms As well as entering data, forms display data for a single record. Records can be viewed in edit mode or read-only mode (depending on settings configured by the administrator).
Advanced Find and Views Records in CRM are shown in lists with selected fields (or columns) and filter criteria which determine which records are shown. The lists are referred to as views. CRM includes several views for each entity such as Active Contacts, My Active Accounts and so on. Administrators can create additional views for all users (which are shown under System Views) and users can create their own views using Advanced Find which is a querying tool that you really should learn how to use.

Views can only show records of one type and cannot show totals.

Report Wizard The report wizard provides a simple way for users to create reports based on SQL Server Reporting Services without having to learn report writing. Although the report wizard provides very limited options for formatting results it can meet some requirementes. Reports created with the report wizard can include grouping  and charts. The wizard is run from within the CRM application.
Reports For more complex reports and where total control over the layout is needed then you must create reports using a report authoring tool for SQL Server Reporting Services as such as Report Builder or Business Intelligence Development Studio.
Filtered Views CRM stores data in a SQL database. If you are working with CRM on-premise then you can use any program that can communicate with SQL Server as a data source to retrieve data from CRM. However, do not use the CRM database tables as a datas ource, instead you should use the filtered views that are provided for every entity (including custom entities). Filtered views enforce security so if a user queries a filtered view for say, accounts, the user will only see the accounts that they are allowed to see based on their security roles.

In CRM online, it is not possible to query the filtered views.

Charts The CRM application provides charts as a way to visualize data. Charts are created in the application using the Chart Designer and are different from charts shown in the Report Wizard and any that you might see in a report. Charts can be created for most entities are based on .NET Chart controls. The Chart Designer provides for a small number of chart types (such as bar graph, pie charts and lines) and limited formating. However, the definition of a chart vcan be exported to an XML file and then edited to change the definition to include any chart type from the whole range of .NET Chart controls.
Dashboards A dashboard is a collection of charts, views, IFrames and Web Resources. An IFrame shows content from other web sites and web resorces in CRM can be pictures, html code or Silverlight applications. Administrators can create dashboards for everyone to see and users can create dashboards for themselves. Dashboards are great for providing an overview of specific aspects of the business such as service performance, sales and so on. Keep dashboards simple; adding long lists of records or large numbers of charts devalues the benefits of dashboards.


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