The introduction of Microsoft Dynamics Marketing (MDM) in Q2 2014 (code-named the “Mira” release) brings a whole new tool set with which Dynamics professionals must gain familiarity, particularly if they’re considering taking the MB2-720 Functional Application in Microsoft Dynamics Marketing exam as professional recognition of their knowledge.
MDM was created around Microsoft’s acquisition of the Marketing Pilot software in October 2012 and this article is intended as a quick overview of the product if, like me, you are coming from a solid Dynamics CRM background and want to understand where it fits in, how it is priced and technically how it integrates. This is intended as a technical quick start therefore.
In the next few months I will prepare for exam MB2-720 and so will also post my revision notes and observations on that when my own knowledge of the tool has improved.
MDM is quite a different beast from Dynamics CRM and here are the key points to bear in mind if you’re approaching it: –
- It is only available as an online service. You sign up via your Office 365 portal and access it via the browser only. It worked best in IE11 for me and some functions (such as navigating the folder structure for assets) did not render at all in, for example, Chrome.
- The interface is very similar to Dynamics CRM with a top-level primary navigation of tiles that splits to a secondary list of options.
- The security model is very different from CRM with a limited number of user types (Regular User, Media Buyer for instance) and a set of roles that we can add to a user and afterwards modify in a grid of permissions.
- It is centred around a set of powerful campaign management tools that you’ll easily find articles and blog posts about. There’s a campaign workflow designer for automated actions (screenshot below) and an in-built email editor. These are the most popular and well-known features and includes mass mailing of your email shots and tracking of opens, click-throughs, bounces etc. There’s also quick functionality for managing opt-on, opt-off subscription lists, getting email recipients to sign up via a web form and tracking web page visits. Auto-scoring of leads is another crowd pleaser.
FIGURE 1: Campaign Automation flowchart in Dynamics Marketing
- Almost all the material I found online related to these core features but if you scratch the service there is a very rich and complex set of additional functionality with which you’ll need to be familiar for exam MB2-720 and for mastery of the tool. This includes the screens for managing assets, routing marketing material for approval with on-screen mark up and a very complex mini ERP system that tracks your Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, expenses, timesheets, media purchasing, purchase orders, inventory valuation etc.
- Personally it was this ERP aspect that I found most difficult to learn since it’s a mini “Dynamics AX” for marketing and I’ve yet to find good training material that starts from the basics for someone without a rudimentary knowledge of accountancy practices!
FIGURE 2: Mini-ERP functionality of Dynamics Marketing
- The integration process to link CRM to MDM is relatively straight-forward and involves an initial request to Microsoft Support to turn “on” the connector. A Service Bus in Azure is used for the exchange of data between the two systems so you’ll need an Azure account to enable your integration.
- Like Dynamics CRM, MDM exposes an ORest service that can be consumed from Excel for the production of Power View, Power Map visualisations that you can then publish back to a Power BI website. There’s even a Power BI “widget” for the home page (an IFrame that points at a Power BI URL) so that you can deliver your report there.
- There’s no concept of Dashboards similar to Dynamics CRM, each user is free to add components to their home page as best suits their needs.
- When viewing a single record, any data in a one-to-many relationship is shown at the bottom of the page in a section that you can modify by selecting the title from a drop-down list. Confusingly some of the training material I have seen refers to this area of the tool as “Dashboards” e.g. the Contacts Dashboard to show the people who work at an Organisation.
FIGURE 3: Power BI visualisations of Dynamics Marketing Data
MDM is available at the Enterprise level of licensing, which also adds the Unified Service Desk and Parature Knowledge management services to CRM. This level of license was announced in June 2014 and is in force at the time of writing (October 2014). My understanding is that you therefore need, at minimum, one user with Enterprise license privilege for MDM to be activated.
You can buy an Enterprise license for a user of your existing CRM and this will cost US$200 (EUR153) per user per month or, if you are not a Dynamics CRM customer then you can also purchase MDM “stand-alone” for US$125 (EUR96) per user per month. This underlines the important fact that MDM can be happily used without any integration to CRM whatsoever.
After these licensing costs the only additional costs you might incur are for increasing the ceiling on how many mass emails you can send per month (an extra 10,000 mailings will cost you US$50 / EUR41 per month). By default you get 50,000 mailings per month included in your licensing. Also, if you need to purchase extra GB for the storage needs of your solution you will pay US$9.99 / EUR8.20 per GB per month.
If you want to link your MDM and CRM instances then the high level steps are: –
- Have active CRM and MDM instances of course!
- File a request through the Office 365 Service portal that Integration Services be enabled for you. I recommend doing this first since although Microsoft turn the requests around pretty quickly, this can take a few days.
- Download and run the Connector installer .msi file which will extract a CRM solution file.
- Install the CRM solution file in to your CRM Instance via Solutions.
- Set up a user with appropriate rights to act as the synchronisation agent in CRM and in Marketing note that this user does therefore consume a license.
- Configure an Azure Namespace as your communication bus.
- Perform initial synchronisation (this took about 45 minutes for me with minimal data the first time so you need to be patient).
- Perform some tests to ensure that the default, out of the box entities are being synchronised in near real-time.
Microsoft provides an excellent walkthrough of connector configuration in this video and there’s also a great detailed blog article of each of the connector steps listed above. I worked from both links and the integration went surprisingly smoothly.
Once configured, entities like Accounts, Contacts and Marketing Lists are synchronised.
FIGURE 4: Welcome Page customised per user in Dynamics Marketing
A round-up of useful links then for learning the tool includes: –
- MDM Home Page.
- Online help for MDM.
- MDM Guided Tour – this is a walk-through of some screenshots and unless you’re a Microsoft partner company it is not currently possible to sign up for a free/trial copy of MDM as you can for Dynamics CRM.
- Dynamics Community blog.
- Technical articles – a small selection of technical articles from Microsoft.
In October 2014 I will be giving a talk to the Geneva SharePoint User Group about the integration options between Dynamics CRM and everyone’s favourite document management repository. It’s a rich subject with a lot of blog posts, Microsoft white papers and general articles and so here is a condensed version if you’re looking for a quick overview of the fundamentals of integrating the two – both the “out of the box” features and the possibilities for extending the functionality with custom code.
I have included a list of references at the end to draw them in to one place and my material for the presentation (including a PowerPoint overview) is available on OneDrive here: –
First a word about the versions of SharePoint that are compatible with CRM: –
|Dynamics CRM 2011||Dynamics CRM 2013|
Option 1: Do Nothing
Simply, if we do not perform any integration then SharePoint cannot access/benefit from any of the data in CRM and CRM cannot use SharePoint as a repository for its documents and the only option for working with files will be to attach them to CRM Activity or Notes. Files attached in this way will, of course, not be searchable.
Option 2: Out of the Box
CRM 2011 and 2013 add slick “out of the box” integration options to get CRM and SharePoint working together and these are configured via the CRM Settings > Document Management page. For CRM 2013 online a pop-up alert appears at the top of the page nagging you to set this up.
Essentially you point your CRM at a SharePoint instance and select whether you want to create folders for each entity type or create sets of folders underneath a Contact / Account parent node. Whenever you then wish to associate documents with your CRM record, a SharePoint folder is created (if one does not exist) and the uploaded material is placed there. A recent enhancement in the Spring 2014 release of CRM is that the SharePoint folder now contains the CRM record GUID to make this easily available to any SharePoint code.
To present the documents stored on SharePoint within CRM there is the free CRM List Control. This gets installed on the SharePoint server (under Site Settings > Web Designer Galleries > Solutions) and presents the list of documents in a style consistent with CRM’s look and feel. If this List Control is not installed then CRM simply renders an IFRAME to show the SharePoint contents.
With CRM 2011 and (I believe) 2013 on-premises you need to download and install the List Control yourself but if you’re working with CRM and SharePoint online then the List Component is not required and direct server to server communication can be enabled instead.
Option 3: IFRAMEs
Another nice simple option, you can expose CRM pages within SharePoint and vice-versa by simply setting up IFRAMEs and referencing the appropriate URL. This is particularly useful when you want to deliver CRM Dashboards or SharePoint document lists that are not linked to CRM data.
Security considerations are important here t ensure that the authenticated user works across both sites.
Option 4: SharePoint Business Connectivity
SharePoint includes the Business Connectivity Services to allow SharePoint Team Sites to display and work with data from a range of other sources. You’ll need the free SharePoint Designer to configure this but the basic steps are to create an External Data Source and set up the Lists and Forms that SharePoint will use to display the data retrieved.
I set up a demonstration for CRM 2013 on-premises and SharePoint 2010 by setting up a SQL Server External Data Source referencing the CRM database. The only supported way to work with data within the CRM database is via the Filtered Views and so this method can be used to present Read-Only data but not to allow Updates and Deletions of CRM data from SharePoint.
Option 5: SharePoint Search
The previous example of using the Business Connectivity Services can be extended to set up a SharePoint Basic Search Centre relying on the External Data Source of a CRM database. This is particularly useful if you want to search multiple entities within the CRM with SharePoint.
Option 6: Power BI
Although it strays a little from the subject of SharePoint and CRM integration, it is worth noting that Excel 2013 comes with an ORest connector that can be used to pull CRM data in to Excel for Power Viewm Power Pivot and Power Map visualisations. Data Models can be built and data from several sources linked within Excel to provide a “mash up” of CRM and SharePoint data.
The final Excel containing the data model and its reports can either be uploaded to a SharePoint site document list and opened with Excel online or can be published to the dedicated Power BI site offered as a service via Office 365.
Power BI looks set to become then the quickest and easiest way to deliver reports using both SharePoint and CRM data.
Option 7: Custom Code
Finally, the web service endpoints exposed by SharePoint and CRM can be used by custom code for bespoke integration. CRM exposes both SOAP/WCF and ORest services and one thing to note is that if you’re planning to integrate CRM 2013 and SharePoint 2010 you’ll need to create your own proxy service in the middle as CRM 2013 is .Net 4.0 and SharePoint 2010 Web Parts only support .Net 3.5.
The CRM SDK contains sample code showing you how to programmatically work with the SharePoint entities within CRM.
The core intention is to use SharePoint as a document repository for CRM but the possibilities of working direct with Filtered Views in the CRM database (for on-premises), with Power BI and with the CRM SOAP and ORest web services means that SharePoint could just as easily be used to deliver CRM Reports or be a portal solution on top of CRM data.
For companies already using SharePoint as their key collaboration and communication tool, there are therefore plenty of options for bringing CRM “in to the fold” and making its functionality available.
Here’s a list of useful articles and references – everything you could possibly want to know about SharePoint and CRM!
Overviews & Introductions
Walkthrough of setting up CRM Online and SharePoint Online: –
Blog Series on Various Integration Options
Shortcomings of Security Model
Power BI in CRM
Using BDC service within SharePoint to pull in CRM data.
Calling SharePoint from CRM
A few months ago Microsoft updated their set of four exams for Dynamics CRM to bring them in line with the CRM 2013 release. Having done the original four exams in their CRM 2011 “flavour”, I took and passed MB2-703: Customising and Configuring CRM 2013.
This post then covers how I prepared, what sorts of questions came up and what material I used.
The exam is the usual 48 questions of multiple-choice format with a passing level of 70%. It concentrates on everything that can be customized and configured with CRM 2013 using the “out of the box” tools. The full curriculum list is at the following link, and this should be your golden standard for what to study and your check list of knowledge just before going in to sit the exam.http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/exam.aspx?id=mb2-703
The main resources I would recommend are: –
1) If you can get hold of the official course material for this exam from the Microsoft Online Courses (MOC) site then this is the best source of training. It includes eleven student PDFs for each of the main topics and also PowerPoint and lab exercises. Working through this is the best way of preparing as questions on the exam should limit themselves to what is covered on this course.
2) There is a new Customization guide within the CRM 2013 Implementation Guide and this is also a great resource for learning about customization options and restrictions.
3) Any notes and material related to the older CRM 2011 Customisation exam – MB2-866 – are useful as background material as the new exam will continue to test feature that have not changed between CRM2011 and CRM2013 such as Business Unit organization, Security, customizing Views etc.
4) If you’re still hungry for more after that then email me and I’m happy to pass on the notes I made (although they are rather rough) to show you exactly what I considered important.
5) Finally there is no substitute for playing with a trial CRM 2013 online version and the tablet/smartphone application (if you have a device) to test out some of the new features and work through the labs from the MOC material mentioned at point 1. Have a hunt around for useful blogs covering the new features if you want to go a bit deeper.
As a general pointer, the following sorts of questions came up a lot for me during the exam and are mentioned on the curriculum link: –
1) Make sure you know how business units are organized and what happens when you deactivate a business unit, what happens to users belonging to that Business Unit?
2) Know what inherited security roles are and how they behave when Business Units are reparented.
3) Know the different types of Views within CRM 2013 and particularly the new view type Associated View. Know what fields you can include within a view and the restrictions on sorting and specifying field as searchable.
4) Know how views can be used in sub-grids to provide data and how the sub-grids themselves can be set up for lists or charts.
5) Know how responsive design works with respect to tabs, columns and sections and how the same screen might get rendered on tablets and smartphones.
6) Know some of the restrictions for the tablet application – how many dashboards can you have, can the user change forms, how do long complex forms get rendered?
7) Know about the different types of relationships between entities within CRM 2013 and the differences between native and manual many-to-many links.
8) Know the restrictions on relationships, the difference between parental and referential and how these get configured within CRM.
9) Know what aspects of entities you can enable and disable and which ones can’t be disabled once they are turned on (Notes, Activities, Business Process Flows etc.)
10) I didn’t get any question on Access Teams but since they are a new feature it would be wise to study these.
11) Understand how Business Process Flows work, how they interact with security and how many flows you can have for an entity and how CRM reacts if you swap between flows.
12) Understand how Dashboards are used, what you can place on a dashboard and how they render on tablets.
13) Be comfortable with the use of managed and unmanaged solutions, what the difference is, how you create a managed solution and what you can use the version numbering for.
14) Understand how to create a private chart from a public one.
15) Understand how auditing works within CRM, how and where it is enabled and how the system behaves if you turn it off temporarily.
16) Understand the difference between global and local options sets and how these might behave when you have set up mappings between two entities that both use an option set.
17) Understand field level security and how it behaves across all platforms that CRM can be delivered on.
18) Know your way around Quick Create and Quick View forms, what they are used for, where they get accessed from within CRM and constraints about using them.
19) Know about the new Lync, Email, Ticker and URL formats for the Single Text field.
20) Understand the use of and restrictions surrounding Business Rules, where and when you would use them, what you can do with them.
In summary, for anyone that has already taken the CRM 2011 Customisation exam then I think the Royal road to success with MB2-703 is to have a relatively quick refresher on the customisations features you’re already probably very familiar with from CRM 2011 before concentrating on the new features that CRM 2013 introduces (Quick Create/View Forms, Business Process Flows, Business Rules, Tablet Application, Associated View etc.)
For anyone approaching this exam without the CRM 2011 background then the Microsoft course along with some dedicated time playing with the CRM is essential. There were lots of questions concerning how you achieve certain customisations within CRM and that sort of thing is much easier to remember if you have actually walked through doing it yourself, rather than simply reading about it in a more abstract manner.
Finally good luck and take heart, my experience was that the questions were clear and concise with little ambiguity so not too difficult if you’re prepared thoroughly.
Here are the notes I made during my own preparation, I hope they are of use to you.
I had a bit of difficulty confirming this recently as a web search did not turn up much, a bit surprising given how fundamental this information is. I must have missed something obvious in the CRM 2013 SDK or other online sources but for connecting to a CRM 2013 online instance I believe the following URLs give the location of the discovery service.
|North America||Office 365||crm.dynamics.com|
Here is the original MSDN article for CRM 2011: –