Windows 8, Outlook 2013 and Dynamics CRM – part 2

11 comments

Posted on 12th January 2013 by Jukka Niiranen in Configuration

, , , , , ,

Back in August I wrote about my initial experiences of using a Windows 8 PC with Office 2013 to connect the Outlook client to Microsoft Dynamics CRM. During that time we only had the preview versions of both the OS and Office, so some quirks were naturally to be expected. Now that Windows 8 is generally available and also the RTM bits of Office 2013 can be downloaded from MSDN (with commercial launch expected by end of January), it’s a good moment to revisit the topic. Upon my latest test I came across a few configuration gotchas that I though might be useful to share for anyone who’s struggling with the same issues.

Connecting to CRM Online with WLID

Our official work setup is still on Windows 7 / Office 2010 level, but being the kind of eager early adopter that I am, my home PC’s have moved to the brave new world of Windows 8 some time ago already. I installed Office Professional Plus 2013 on a Windows 8 64-bit laptop that’s not joined to a domain, so my login credentials to Windows are linked to my Microsoft Account (previously known as Windows Live ID). In my first tests in August this was a blocker for using a CRM Online organization where the user’s WLID / Microsoft Account was different in CRM and on the local machine.

Update Rollup 11 removed the need to manually enable Windows Identity Foundation (WIF) on Windows 8, but out of old habits I checked that it was available before configuring CRM. Launching the CRM client Configuration Wizard and selecting CRM Online on the Server URL field of the Configure Organizations prompt gave a familiar error: “Cannot connect to Microsoft Dynamics CRM server because we cannot authenticate your credentials.” Just like before, it appears that the Configuration Wizard automatically attempts to use the Microsoft Account of the local user for logging in to CRM Online. Logging out of the account in Internet Explorer and then logging in to CRM Online in the browser didn’t seem to resolve the issue with the Outlook client connectivity, as a further error message was presented later in the Initializing the Organization phase:

There is a problem communicating with the Microsoft Dynamics CRM server. The server might be unavailable. Try again later. If the problem persists, contact your system administrator.
[Expanded Information]
Unable to load the native components of SQL Server Compact corresponding to the ADO.NET provider of version 8082. Install the correct version of SQL Server Compact. Refer to KB article 974247 for more details.

The KB article referenced in the error message discusses the following issue: “You receive an error message when you run a SQL Server Compact 3.5-based application after you install the 32-bit version of SQL Server Compact Edition 3.5 Service Pack 2 on an x64 computer.” However, downloading and installing the x64 version of Microsoft SQL Server Compact 3.5 Service Pack 2 for Windows Desktop didn’t resolve the CRM configuration error, so I opened a support ticket with Microsoft. They instructed me that I also needed to install the Cumulative Update 2 for SQL Server Compact 3.5 Service Pack 2, which is a hotfix that you need to request a download link to be sent to you by email. After my SQL CE 3.5 had been updated to build 3.5.8082.00, I was finally able to connect my Outlook 2013 with our CRM Online demo organization.

Connecting to CRM on-premise with IFD

During the previous test with CRM Online I had also tried to connect the Outlook 2013 CRM client  to our production on-premise CRM server that is IFD configured. I kept receiving the following error: “Cannot connect to Microsoft Dynamics CRM server because we cannot authenticate your credentials. Check your connection or contact your administrator for more help.” Looking at the error details there was a message claiming “no credentials are available in the security package.” (more…)

Breaking down the Polaris and Statement of Direction documents

9 comments

Posted on 3rd November 2012 by Jukka Niiranen in News and events

, , , , , , , , , ,

After the announcement in July 2012 regarding the delayed delivery schedule of the CRM Anywhere functionality, Microsoft has been promising that their updated product roadmap would be announced “soon”. Well, it took until November eventually, but we now have two new documents available from them: the Statement of Direction and Microsoft Dynamics CRM December 2012 Service Update Release Preview Guide. In this post I’ll share a few thoughts and questions that these documents have raised in my mind.

Polaris (Microsoft Dynamics CRM December 2012 Service Update)

Much of the contents of Polaris was revealed in eXtreme CRM 2012 Las Vegas and tweeted out into the online communities. One major piece of news from there is only casually mentioned in the beginning of the Release Preview Guide document, so let’s emphasize it here once more:

This document is organized to highlight specific investments included in the December 2012 Service Update for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. This release begins in mid-December 2012 and will continue through January 2013.

Yes, on-premise and hosted customers will still need to wait another 6 months while the new functionality is previewed in the cloud. The Orion release, currently scheduled for around mid-2013, will include these new treats into the CRM server bits you can download and deploy on your own or outsourced hardware. In the meantime, there will be a gap during which some UI customizations and development can be done only in CRM Online, so remember to take this into consideration when planning you solution deployment strategies.

The new Flow UI, also known as the “Process-Driven UI” or “Refresh UI”, has been shown from the user’s point of view already earlier, but in the Release Preview Guide we get a first glimpse into the configuration options of how you can actually adjust it to match your real business processes. The Process Control Customization Tool appears to consist of a basic set of stages and steps, with no direct connection to the familiar workflow or dialog processes. Of course if you trigger a workflow process from a field value change you could include much more business logic into the stages and steps. The document mentions that there will be “several pre-defined steps such as locate existing contact and account”, so we’ll need to wait and see if the process steps will actually provide a new extension point that allows developers to create custom steps.

Ever since the Yammer deal in June, we’ve all been wondering (well, perhaps it’s just me who’s obsessed with these things) how this social business tool would be integrated into Dynamics CRM and specifically what it will do to the Activity Feeds functionality introduced in Q4 2011 Service Update. Looking at the Polaris UI preview, we still don’t have too many details about this, but at least there’s a screenshot for us to stare at. Back in July when the Flow UI was first shown, the Activity Feeds were presented on the opportunity form alongside activities and notes/attachments, but now it’s been replaced by a Yammer feed. However, the distinction between auto posts and user posts in the menu suggests that there’s a bit of the CRM Activity Feeds functionality in play here, since Yammer doesn’t have such concepts in their own product.

Showing updates regarding CRM records in the Yammer UI was already possible before Microsoft bought Yammer, thanks to the integration they had developed. In the release preview guide we can now read that “Microsoft will enable the ability to post messages from Microsoft Dynamics CRM to Yammer and vice versa”, which suggest a deeper level of integration, most likely leveraging Yammer’s Enterprise Graph. I guess it’s safe to say by now that the CRM R8 beta functionality developed for CRM Activity Feeds to filter the feed content has been permanently cancelled and all the efforts are aimed at integrating Yammer into Dynamics CRM. However, Microsoft will probably not completely rip out the existing feeds from on premises Dynamics CRM deployments nor implement a non-cloud Yammer, so the transition may take a while. Another thing worth noting is that the current free version of Yammer does not support any integration to applications like CRM, so the Enterprise Plan for Yammer may be required in order to leverage the new functionality in Dynamics CRM unless Microsoft changes the pricing policy.

Bing Maps integration will be available for the Flow UI, where “addresses for contacts and accounts will be displayed in an embedded contextual map provided by the Microsoft decision engine Bing”. There were some good comments to my previous Future Stars blog post about the licensing of Bing Maps, so you might want to check them out if visualizing your customer addresses on an integrated map is of interest to you. Just like with Yammer, currently the Bing Maps API requires a separate license when used in internal applications and there’s no mention of any changes to this model in the release preview guide, so it’s best to assume that these new Polaris features will not be free to users with a Dynamics CRM Online license alone.

Cross-browser support arrives with Polaris, but it’s a bit of a “yes and no” regarding support on iPad Safari browser. Yes, users will be able to access something else than Mobile Express on their iPad, but it’s not the same browser client as you’d have on a PC or Mac. A special version of the web client has been created for the iPad only, utilizing the new Flow UI forms. However, as the Flow UI is only available in a limited number of entities so far, only the “sales experience” is enabled in the iPad CRM client version. Judging by the menu below you can only access accounts, contacts, leads and opportunities. Any other entities (presumably even quotes, orders or products) will require you to click the “Launch Mobile Express” link, which will take you back to the CRM experience designed for pre-iPhone era smartphones. The Polaris version of iPad client seems therefore like an intermediate solution while we await for the full tablet UX to arrive.

So, where’s the Dynamics CRM Mobile part of the CRM Anywhere release? Hmm, not mentioned in this document, so let’s check out the long term roadmap next.

Statement of Direction, November 2012

This document discusses the Dynamics CRM product vision for the next 36 months and is therefore much less specific on the upcoming functionality than the Polaris release documentation. It starts with a list of upcoming applications to be added into Dynamics CRM in future releases. Putting the terminology into context, an example of a new application for CRM 2011 was goal management, so these would likely include a bunch of new default entities, business logic, UI enhancements and potential new integration points.

On the SFA front we’ve got Quote, Order, and Pricing Management, which is a very important area for Dynamics CRM to step up it’s game. Anyone who’s ever demoed the existing UI for creating quotes knows that the popup jungle is something you want to avoid showing to potential customers, so a more flat user experience for working with product lines . In the Service section the term Knowledge Management brings a breath of canned air from the past decade, especially when we later on hear that “SharePoint will power next-generation content and knowledge experiences to strengthen supporting business processes”. All joking aside, it’s pretty obvious that the KB functionality in Dynamics CRM is in need of a makeover, so bringing SharePoint into the picture is the obvious route for Microsoft to improve its CRM offering for service users.

The direction of marketing functionality development in Dynamics CRM will be shaped by Microsoft’s latest acquisition, Marketing Pilot. Although no one seems to have heard about the company before the MS press release, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a good choice for the foundation which the v2.0 of Dynamics CRM marketing module would be built on. Whereas Skype and Yammer were big existing brands with their own technology stack, MarketingPilot is a small company that has developed their product on top of Microsoft’s platform and should therefore be much more easily assimilated into the Dynamics CRM product. Not a big splash like Salesforce.com’s acquisitions of Buddy Media or Radian6, not even close, but Microsoft have said marketing automation is one of their key investment areas for CRM, so let’s wait and see how that story develops.

While not exactly a bullet point in the Statement of Direction document, it’s pretty clear that Surface will be the central vehicle for launching the re-imagined Dynamics CRM experience and Microsoft have come up with a nice promotional video to build up the hype while we wait for the Windows 8 app to arrive. Folding the “Metro CRM app”, Yammer, Skype and Surface all into one sure does result in a compelling image of what the next generation of customer relationship management applications could be like.

What about devices other than the Surface? More precisely: what about mobile as in smartphone apps? Unfortunately there’s not much to say about them, except that there’s another delay for supporting iPhone and Android devices. Even the upcoming Windows Phone 8 customers won’t initially be able to use their mobile device for more than reading CRM records and posting Activity Feeds posts with the existing Microsoft Dynamics CRM Mobile client.

The February 2012 announcement of Microsoft partnering with CWR Mobility pretty much put everyone in a waiting mode, as the official mobile client for Dynamics CRM would have obviously been the safest bet for any customer or partner. Well, by now we can clearly see that the deal is off and the CWR client is no more “official” than Resco, TenDigits or any other ISV offering. Instead of buying a solution, Microsoft eventually decided that they need to be the ones who build it. In the long run I believe this is definitely the right strategy for them, as mobile is simply far too important to be an outsourced component of CRM.

We’ve heard from the Dynamics team that they’re betting big on HTML5 to deliver experiences across different devices. Even though Facebook famously backed off from their HTML5 strategy in favor of native apps, I’m somewhat optimistic that the path chosen by Microsoft can work better in the business apps landscape. MS will naturally build native CRM clients for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, but the effort required in delivering an enterprise scale mobile solution for a fragmented Android platform probably doesn’t make sense to them. Those are the gaps that ISV’s are there to fill, delivering more advanced offline clients for non-MS mobile platforms.

At the same time as the device specific offering is being rearranged, we’ve heard from a source claiming to have official confirmation from Microsoft that the Dynamics CRM CAL price will soon be increasing by 15 percent, in preparation of the upcoming support for more devices per user. Since there will not be any additional 30 USD monthly fee per mobile user, the user CAL can be leveraged on more devices and therefore it delivers more value to customers, which in turn means Microsoft sees it can justify a price increase. Although no one ever rejoices when the cost of a service goes up, I’m actually in favor of a pricing strategy where the mobile and tablet clients will be as easy as possible for any Dynamics CRM users to access, rather than the customer organizations having to go through the internal negotiations of who really needs a premium license for mobile CRM usage. There’s always the device CAL for those who need to just enable CRM access on a single PC per user, after all.

Conclusions

Polaris is certainly an important update for Dynamics CRM and in many ways it feels like the starting point for “the next chapter” of the product. With all the UI and client changes lined up for Orion in mid-2013, in my mind it raises the question that will this already be a fully new product á la Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013? Any which way, I think Microsoft is right now delivering a compelling vision with their whole product portfolio and announcements this year, and this reflects positively on the Dynamics applications as well.

To update or not to Update Rollup? That is the question

5 comments

Posted on 30th August 2012 by Jukka Niiranen in Annoyances |performance |Tips

, , , , , ,

Some time ago I wrote a parody about Dynamics CRM blogs that mainly seem to post news about the latest Update Rollups being released. Now I find myself writing an Update Rollup blog post myself. Is that a sign that I’ve run out of topics and slipped into the autopilot blogging mode? I hope not, but after reading quite a lot about the latest Update Rollup 10 for Dynamics CRM 2011 I decided to contribute a bit into the discussion.

It’s always great to receive improvements to the software you spend all your days working with, isn’t it? Compared to a product like Java which Oracle promises to patch only four times a year, even if it’s about critical security updates (did you remember to uninstall your Java 7 yet?), Microsoft is doing quite an OK job with their update process and we see a steady stream of releases to make Dynamics CRM better one bit at a time. Even though Update Rollup 9 was cancelled after the beta program, MS is now back on track with their release schedule in the form of UR10 that came out two weeks ago.

We have once again a great in-depth article from Dynamics CRM in the Field about all things Update Rollup 10. It tells all the details of the story from Microsoft’s perspective, but let’s evaluate the ups & downs of this latest release from the Dynamics CRM community perspective to get a complete picture, shall we? OK, here goes:

The Ups

There was quite a number of fixes promised for the CRM Outlook client in Update Rollup 10 that would potentially solve some of the stability issues many users have encountered when trying to use the CRM Outlook client for actual work in their environment. It’s now 2 years since the first beta of the completely rewritten Dynamics CRM Outlook client came out and many of us are certainly hoping that it would have reached a mature enough level where you don’t have to be afraid of if causing a flood of tickets to your helpdesk. Yes, some users may be quite happy with it as it is, but you’d be foolish not to prepare for potential issues when planning a large scale deployment of the Outlook client. Reaching that good ol’ Service Pack 2 type of confidence level would be just great.

Another promising deliverable from UR10 is the improvements to query performance on large data sets. A new version of the performance optimization whitepaper has been released alongside the update, which describes the new options made available to tune the Quick Find performance. If you read the results of these tests by Chris Cognetta where the query time was decreased by over 80% in an environment with 1.5 million rows, it’s obvious this is an update worth paying attention to if you have or expect to have some “big data” in your CRM system.

Finally, as many MSDN subscribers are now eagerly updating their PC’s to run Windows 8, Internet Explorer and even the Office 2013 Preview, the added support for all of these in CRM 2011 Update Rollup 10 is reason enough to grab the very latest CRM bits. Just don’t forget that UR10 alone is not enough, there’s some things you should know about Windows 8 RTM & CRM 2011.

The Downs

So, we now have a Quick Find that is working faster, which means it must be doing something differently, right? It is, and unfortunately in some cases this will result in a Generic SQL Error message being shown to the user. It appears that the new update is not quite comfortable dealing with a set of Quick Find columns that contains address fields. As some of you may remember, the address 1 & address 2 fields on the account & contact forms are actually not stored in the same database table as the rest of the default fields, rather they reside in the CustomerAddressBase table. The UR10 version of Quick Find may therefore not work properly if you try to search for records based on address fields like city or zip code. Yes, Microsoft says using these as search fields is against best practices, but the users will very often want to narrow down the customer data based on geographic variables, so taking it away from them can only act as a workaround until we have a new hotfix from MS.

CRM developers might not be too concerned with performing actual queries on live customer data, but they will certainly be annoyed when encountering the following prompt after editing a JavaScript web resource: You have exceeded the maximum number of 200 characters in this field; it will be truncated. Doh! Making small changes to script files just became very tedious until Update Rollup 11 rolls along in 2 months time. Again, there’s a workaround to it (don’t use the editor, instead upload the file or use some helpful web resource tool from CodePlex), but it doesn’t really make anyone want to rush UR10 onto all their servers.

Then we have stories of people applying UR10 and finding they can’t access any of their CRM organizations, due to an unhandled exceptionMethod not found: ‘Void Microsoft.Xrm.Sdk.Query.FilterExpression.set_IsQuickFindFilter(Boolean)’. Uninstalling UR10 appears to be the only known cure for this show stopper, which obviously is related to the aforementioned Quick Find changes on some level.

Alternatively, if you’ve updated your CRM server from 4.0 to 2011, you may experience errors when trying to import a solution file: The element ‘savedquery’ has incomplete content. List of possible elements expected: ‘LocalizedNames’. Manually editing the XML to remove a view prior to importing the file is the available workaround, but again it can make the life of a system customizer quite difficult until there’s a fix available.

OMG, what should we do with these UR’s?!

The short answer is: always test first, then evaluate the ups & downs for your particular case. If you are struggling with the Outlook client, face performance issues with your huge CRM database or simply want to run CRM 2011 on Windows 8, going for Update Rollup 10 may be perfectly sensible for you. For someone who doesn’t have a compelling need to update, you may well decide to wait a bit longer and no one should blame you for it.

That’s pretty much how it is with any Update Rollup. In reality there’s never going to be the perfect time to update. Knowing ahead what hotfixes will deliver the biggest gains for you or potentially break your CRM deployment would be a great skill to have. Instead of dreaming about it, here’s a few guiding principles I would recommend you to follow:

  • Always test the updates in your own test environment before planning live deployment. A virtual machine with your solutions & data is a good compromise, identical hardware is for people with enterprise level budgets (and problems).
  • Never be the first to update, always wait a couple of weeks from the release and read the CRM forums for experiences from others. Trust the wisdom of the crowds.
  • Coordinate the server and client update schedules to limit possible issues and maximize the benefits from the updates. While mixed environments tend to be supported, why risk it?
  • Do update your CRM. Staying too far behind in this “cloud first” era can soon turn out to be an expensive strategy, so reserve adequate time and resources for keeping your CRM up to date – on a regular schedule.

Do you have any words of advise for people who are struggling with the “should I update to Update Rollup X” question? What’s your survival strategy?

Edit 2012-09-09: Based on the discussions on the Dynamics CRM Forum, I’ve created a new wiki page for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Update Rollup 10 on the CRM Wiki on Technet. The purpose is to provide a single place where the Dynamics CRM community members could share their information on potential issues and known problems that they encounter when applying the latest Update Rollups, as well as naturally links to any solutions or workarounds that can help others who are struggling with the same problem. I’ve initially added links to 10 suspected issues with UR10, but you are very welcome to contribute by adding new links or additional information to the wiki page. In an ideal world, we could have similar pages for each new rollup that gets released and be able to more easily identify both the benefits and the dangers or applying the updates into our CRM environments. Let’s see if the wiki can serve us as a platform for such information sharing.