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Immersive Excel Experience! CRM Online (7.1) and Excel Online

Am sure Microsoft Excel experts (that is to say most CRM users) would love not only the seamless integration but also the use of catchy marketing phrase Immersive experience to describe the feature. Export to Excel has been part of CRM from the early versions however, with CRM 2011 came the option to reimport. Now in CRM 2015 (7.1), the integration has been upgraded to open (embed) excel within CRM and provide for reimport every time (no more forget-me-not checkbox for make data available for reimport…).

This feature is currently available only to CRM Online users who have Office 365 license (for excel online). Export to Excel security role privilege is required for a user to use this feature in CRM.There is a nice technet article that describes a sample of use of this feature.

 

What’s new and how it works

  • Unlike Export to Excel, the Open in Excel Online opens the data in an embedded excel within the CRM window. This enables the user to do some quick analysis on the view’s data and return to CRM view OR update the records.
  • The format of the columns is retained as in CRM. So the date fields and numeric fields are readily available for analysis. Microsoft recommends this feature only for ad-hoc analysis like performing some calculations or viewing the information using charts. Changes to the data format could lead to import failure when attempted to save to CRM. If the analysis involves lot of data changes or needs to be shared with someone then it is best to use the Export to Excel feature instead of Excel Online.
  • Updates to the data are also adhere to the data type as defined in CRM. However, updates done in CRM Online are given preference over the updates in Excel Online. So keep saving the data changes in Excel Online frequently else the system will throw an error if any record was updated by someone else using CRM after it has been opened in Excel Online by you. Also note that any charts that have been added during analysis will be ignored when saved to CRM.
  • Open in Excel Online opens all the records in the view into Excel. A subset of records from the view cannot be selected for analysis. However, it honors any search performed on a view and displays only the search results from the view.
  • Number of clicks are reduced and working with excel is more user friendly. This feature now has a button to ‘Save to CRM’ which triggers the import process without the user having to go through it. The status of import can be checked as usual (settings –> Data management –> Imports) and the import job takes some time to complete.

 

Limitations

  • This is currently not available for CRM on-premises users.
  • Open in Excel Online is not available in the Advanced Find results view. You need to save the view and then perform the export from the saved view.
  • Data updated in CRM will not be immediately available in Excel Online. There would a lag of few minutes so plan accordingly..
  • Save As option on the Excel Online file cannot be used. However, you can copy the details on the spreadsheet into another excel file to take it for offline use.
  • There is no option to refresh the data from within Excel.

This feature enables users do some quick data analysis or bulk updates. I hear that it would be further updated in the upcoming release. Look forward to the ability to refresh data and share the analysis.

Address Validation

Recently, in one of my Dynamics AX implementations there was a need to validate the addresses on existing records and to ensure that the address is valid for any records created in the future. Had explored quite a few options during the implementation that I would like to share here.These can be used in a CRM implementation as well.

Third Party Solutions (ISV)

There are a number of Address Validation products available that can do bulk cleaning and real-time validation. While these Solutions can save some time and provide additional functionality they come at a cost ($$). Generally, the cost depends on the number of features in the solution, number of countries supported and the transaction volume. Below are some of the popular solutions

In-house development

With the help of a developer, building Address validation isn’t all that difficult. There are two main options in doing this

  1. Using APIs

    Here are some 80+ APIs that you could explore and use based on the requirement. There are also some free APIs that are used to validate addresses. However, be sure to read the terms of service as most of them want the API to be used for their own business and could sometimes have a downtime that could challenge your business processes. For example, USPS limits to only US addresses and has terms of  service to that require API usage for USPS shipping only. Another most used API is that of Google which limits the number of transactions per day on a free account and requires to be used with GMaps only.

    • Pros: Latest addresses, no maintenance required
    • Cons: Possible downtime, network issues
  2. Using Address Database
  • Download the address database from GeoNames and restore it on the local SQL Server to use for validations. It consumes some space and needs data refresh at regular intervals. With a little search you would discover some Shell scripts that you could use to download the database and restore it locally.
    • Pros: No external dependency, Works well for bulk/list validations
    • Cons: Needs regular updates to avoid stale data, doesn’t provide street level details

Note: There could be other sources to get the database especially the commercial ones. However, GeoNames is from Creative Commons and is free.

Evaluate these solution options and choose the best fit for your situation. After all, no man’s land has no place in enterprise applications.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Product Family

Over the last few releases Microsoft Dynamics CRM has evolved from being a single product to a set of products that work together in delivering the customer engagement solutions. Dynamics CRM product family now includes 4 products and 2 Solutions.

 

Products

  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM
  • Microsoft Social Engagement
  • Microsoft Dynamics Marketing
  • Parature, from Microsoft

 

Solutions

  • Unified Service Desk (USD)
  • Marketing Sales Collaboration – Seller Portal
CRM

 

  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM (CRM) – Full CRM suite with Marketing, Sales & Service functionalities. Supports Online and On-Premises deployments, native integration with Outlook, Offline availability, cross browser support, Mobile Apps for Windows/iPhone/Android phones etc. You can use the trial version to check the full feature set.
  • Microsoft Dynamics Marketing (MDM) – Provides a full suite of data segmentation, behavioral tracking, digital asset management, and brand management capabilities. Available for a 30 day trial.
  • Microsoft Social Engagement – Offers hosted online services available to a wide variety of customers and is comprised of the following social capability components within the software application:
    • Social Media Monitoring – ability to listen to and monitor publicly available social communications across public and managed networks administered by third parties.
    • Social Analytics – ability to identify, compute, and project queries related to publicly available documents and posts. 

    Limited functionality trial version is now available.

  • Parature, from Microsoft – Empowers organizations deliver consistent care anytime, anywhere through a powerful combination of knowledge management, self-service, multi-channel engagement and social customer service.
  • Unified Service Desk (USD) – Framework to configure and manage call center agent applications that provide customer service agents with immediate and unified access to business critical information about customers that helps them effectively handle their customer interactions. Refer TechNet article for more details.
  • Marketing Sales Collaboration (Seller Portal) – The seller portal is designed to be accessible by Microsoft Dynamics CRM users, with handy links and integrated functionality available inside CRM. Sales people have visibility into the Marketing Calendar and can to see and manage which messages are reaching your contacts. Refer this article for more.

While Microsoft Dynamics CRM is available as both an Online and On-Premises solution, the rest of the products are available only as Online Solutions. However, they integrate with both CRM Online and On-Premises deployments.

Microsoft had acquired MarketingPilot & NetBreeze in late 2012 and Parature in early 2013. These products have been reengineered to align with other Microsoft products, added additional features and integrated them with CRM. Microsoft Social Engagement and Microsoft Dynamics Marketing were made available to customers as part of CRM 2013. With the upcoming release ‘Carina’ (CRM 2015 Spring release), we will see integrated Parature knowledgebase within CRM. Note that Microsoft follows the Cloud-first approach and releases the product updates to CRM Online before CRM On-premises. So, the on-premises users will be able to use Parature a little later (hopefully in Fall‘15 release).

It is beneficial to know that you can take advantage of some of these products upon purchase of certain Dynamics CRM Online licenses. Below is a brief summary

 

Included with License Type (?)

Product (?)

Microsoft Social Engagement

Microsoft Dynamics Marketing

Parature, from Microsoft

Seller Portal

Unified Service Desk

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

Professional USL

Enterprise USL

Enterprise USL

Professional USL

Professional USL

Microsoft Dynamics CRM

On-premises

-

-

-

-

Professional CAL Software Assurance

Tip: If you want to try both Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Microsoft Dynamics Marketing then create a trial instance of MDM first and then start CRM trial in the ‘Purchase Services’ of Office 365 portal.

 

Update

Microsoft announced the acquisition of field service management solution provider, FieldOne yesterday (July 16, 2015). FieldOne is a leading provider of field service management solution that includes functionalities like schedule & dispatch, service agreements, automated routing, inventory management (including return material authorization (RMA)), multi channel customer communication, customer & partner portals and mobile app. FieldOne’s solution was built using Microsoft Dynamics CRM and hence is expected to be made available by Microsoft soon. Inline with MIcrosoft’s strategy, this would be a cloud first offering. This new addition will bring wealth of features to the Customer Service module. 

Internet of Things with Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Internet of Things (IoT) has been the most popular of the new technologies this year, featuring as a key area in most of the Digital Business conferences. Let us investigate on how this technology can help Microsoft Dynamics CRM (CRM) customers. Let us quickly define the IoT and learn a bit of the background before we delve into the possible usage of it.

What is IoT?

According to Gartner, The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.

Source: http://www.gartner.com/it-glossary/internet-of-things/

Simply speaking, IoT is a concept of connecting Internet enabled things (sensors or devices) with each other or with applications to exchange data and provide greater value.

When is it available?

The technology is available NOW! IoT is helping businesses drive efficiency and generate ROI (Return on Investment) making the most of their existing technology investments. Gartner predicts that by the end of this year (2015) there will be 5 billion connected devices. Companies like Tesla, Ford, Hilton etc., are providing better customer experiences using IoT. Not surprisingly, Microsoft has its share of play in this Digital Business revolution in the form of Microsoft Azure IoT services and you can certainly use a range of products from Cortana to PowerBI in building a complete solution.

Despite the challenges like privacy & security, IoT is expected to join the Nexus of forces (Mobile, Data, Social and Cloud) and have a significant impact on the businesses. Industry verticals like Healthcare, Transportation, Retail, Manufacturing, Energy/Utilities and Public sector are using the connected devices to gain real-time insights into their business.

IoT - CRM

IoT helps organizations gain rich insights into real-time data and provide personalized customer experiences. Jim Heppelmann, CEO of PTC says “The whole relationship with the customer is changing because companies are now able to stay in touch with the product after the initial sale. The product, in a sense, becomes a sensor for the relationship with the customer. Companies can gain amazingly detailed insights into the customer relationship by collecting and analyzing product usage data to understand how the product is performing, how much is it being utilized, which features are being used, and which features are not. Because products are now connected we can stay in touch with the customer throughout the entire lifecycle of the product. This creates tremendous potential for cross-selling and up-selling”.

Sample IoT - CRM Use Case scenarios

  •         Wearable devices help expectant mothers / seniors / people suffering from chronic illness report their health condition and call for any emergencies. CRM can help track the patient’s medical history and if required, notify the care provider.
  •      Connected car can alert the driver of any repair required and upon the driver’s approval, it can send a service request to CRM. CRM can help schedule the service job and also arrange for a valet to pick-up the car.
  •            Marketers can use the customer’s interests to highly personalize the customer experience across touch points like car dashboard, game console, appliances etc., Example: Johnnie Walker  campaign

Conclusion:

While the technology is available, the challenge is in identifying and designing solutions that help customers’ businesses take advantage of the smart technology. Key is to ensure that the human element is not ignored but is supplemented with technology to improve efficiency.