Global Search Add-ons for Microsoft CRM 2011

In this post I provide a quick run down on the Global Search add-ons available for Microsoft CRM 2011.   Here are the candidates:

    I will cover the Installation experience, Setup options and the end user search experience…

 

Global Search by Akvelon

Installation

Global Search is provided as an executable that you install.  Once quirk of the installation process is the license activation screen launches in the context of your default Organisation and you cannot select an alternative Organisation.  Checking the instructions, you need to manually navigate to a different URL to activate the product for a different Organisation.  This is a bit lame, most other ISV vendors do a better of job of this.  Akvelon’s installation instructions are of a high standard though.

Oh and uglier still, I notice the URL refers to the ISV folder on the CRM Server – eek!  That is not supposed to be used anymore with CRM 2011, these guys haven’t updated their installer or architecture for CRM 2011 to the current standard.  The product will work, but this architectural decision leaves me with some doubt about this vendor.  Hopefully, plans exist to update this.

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There is a second installer you need to run if you wish to allow searching of Attachments, it installs some supporting technologies for you.  Looks like Attachment search is enabled through a crawler executable that indexes the contents of attachment files every 15 minutes.

 
Setup

Before anyone can use Global Search they must be assigned a Global Search security role.  Three custom CRM Security Roles are provided:

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The Administrator role grants access to global settings, the Experienced Users role grants users access to personal search settings and the the 3rd role grants access to just the Search tool.

To configure global settings you navigate to Akvelon’s configuration screen, which has been added to the CRM Settings menu:

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Before attachment search will work you need to enable it via the Attachment Search configuration button.  A configuration screen will pop:

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Similarly you can enable SharePoint search and Email indexing (enabling email indexing improves email search performance):

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By this point you should get the picture, these guys have built out a fairly extensive search solution.  I wonder, do CRM users really need this much functionality?   I haven’t come across this before, Microsoft CRM mostly contains structured data.  However, once you start talking using CRM heavily for tracking emails and attachments decent search does become more important.  Out of the box, Microsoft CRM has always suffered from poor email search, it has limited CRM’s ability to act as a centralised email repository.  The unspoken reality is even if you are tracking emails religiously into CRM you really need to store your emails locally as well for this reason.  Interesting.

Anyway, from the settings screen I can enable additional entities for search (including custom entities):

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And I can configure search fields and the view definition of the search results:

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User Experience

The user manual suggests End users assigned  the minimal permission security role should see a search screen like the below:

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This doesn’t seem to be the case for me, I see the search screen with the personal search settings visible as I should if I had the ‘Experienced Users’ role.  Perhaps this is because I have the OOTB Systems Administrator role – not sure.   This pic from the user manual matches what I see:

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Putting personal search settings to the side, this is the search user experience users get…

If you search for “Happy” the search engine will check the CRM entities enabled for search to see if the fields enabled for search contain the text “Happy”.  The results are summarised per entity:

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You can expand the search results to see individual records (which you can then double-click to open):

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The column headings are sortable and if the search results for any particular entity exceeds 5 records then filtering becomes enabled and anything you type in under the column headings instantly filters the results. This makes for a nice user experience:

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If an entity has been enabled to show related entities in the search results you will be able to drill through to related entities like you can see with the Opportunity Notes below:

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You can use a wildcard to search for e.g. “Hap&y”.  You can type in 2 words such as “Happy Gilmour” and any record that contains both “Happy” and “Gilmour” in its search fields will be returned, even if those words are in separate fields.

When searching you can tick the Attachments option to have the search extended to include CRM attachments:

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The personal search settings that can be configured are much the same as the global settings.  The user experience is the same:

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Conclusions for Akvelon
  • Lots of functionality
  • Strong personalisation features
  • Seems robust
  • Fast searches (albeit on my small sample database)
  • Easy to use
  • User interface looks very CRM 4.0, but it gets away with it
  • Presentation of search results could look better, it looks a bit messy
  • Installation into ISV folder is not a good look, but then again, not sure it really matters
  • Because indexing is used, recently edited items may get missed by the search

 

PowerGlobalSearch by Power Objects

I’m going to describe the User Experience before Installation & Setup this time as the Setup explanation will make more sense this way (and installation is dead simple)…

User Experience

End users access PowerGlobalSearch from the CRM menu, with the application appearing in the main application pane just like a CRM view.   The look and feel is very Microsoft CRM 2011, they’ve done a great job with that.

Your search string is entered in the top right hand corner, which was counter intuitive for me, but obviously not a big stumbling block.  Search results are rendered in the main part of the screen and a preview pane appears on the right showing a preview form of the currently selected record:

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First thing I noticed was the search is not doing a ‘contains’ it is doing a ‘begins with’.  So my search for “Happy” only brought up a subset of my records.  Switching to “*happy” returned more results:

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Search results are listed without any grouping, you get one big list, one set of shared columns.

You can re-sort the search results by clicking on any column header and the Status dropdown allows you to easily expand your search to include inactive/completed records:

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Above that Status dropdown you can click use the Filter dropdown to deselect entities, to filter the search results:

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No other filtering is available, Akvelon offers more functionality here.

It is interesting that Power Objects have adopted this consolidated view approach where all records from the different entities are all displayed in the same column set.  It makes for a much cleaner UI but it means only a finite number of fields can be displayed in the search results.  Akvelon is more configurable here, but I do prefer Power Object’s cleaner lines.

One feature that Power Objects has over Akvelon is the shortcut buttons along the top of the search results, these allow you to quickly create new records in relation to a record in the search results:

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(not sure how much this would be used in reality though)

Installation & Setup

Power Objects provide their add-on as a managed solution so installation only requires a quick import. After install you need to open the imported solution to access the configuration screen for license entry and setup:

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On the Setup screen we can configure which CRM Entities should be searched against (supports custom entities too).  You define which fields should be searched against and you also define which 2 fields from that entity should appear in the Name and Detail columns of the search results:

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e.g.:

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Also configurable is the reading pane, this is configured through a drag and drop UI that seemed quite cool at first but then started to feel a little buggy to me (e.g.: once I defined the reading pane for my SMS entity the SMS search results stopped showing up):

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Conclusions for Power Objects
  • Less functionality then Akvelon, but has a Reading pane and presents search results in a different way, which might appeal
  • Fast searches (albeit on my small sample database)
  • Easy to use
  • User interface looks very Microsoft CRM 2011, nice and modern, very clean
  • Simple installation and minimal footprint on your CRM server
  • Buggy configuration (for me at least)
  • Silverlight app, won’t run on 64-bit browsers or 64-bit version of Outlook Client (this is an issue for any Silverlight based ISV add-on) – and what is the future of Silverlight?
  • What’s up with Power Objects comic book style website?!?

 

PowerSearch by MSCRMAddons.com

Installation & Setup

PowerSearch is provided as an executable that you run to install their product.  Installation process is straightforward and at the end you will see 2 new managed solutions in your CRM system, a new configuration screen under CRM’s Settings menu and the Power Search utility added to your Workplace menu:

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The Power Search configuration screen takes a while to load (the solution in general seems to be slower than the first two reviewed here).  The configuration screen presents entities configured for search in a list view:

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You can add new entities (including custom entities) and remove unwanted entities.  The experience of adding a new entity is not particularly nice, with a small cramped screen and some less than intuitive fields for “Sort Order” and “Collaps on Rows” as you can see below:

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You select which fields should be searched against, which columns should be displayed in the search results and which status fields should be considered as ‘Active’.

There is some sort of Favourites screen but the UI didn’t render large enough for me to be able to save any changes.  The presentation standard of this screen is not great.  In general, I wasn’t enjoying myself here, the experience was a definite step down after the first 2 products, but configuration is a one time thing so perhaps it doesn’t matter a whole lot.

User Experience

Searching is a slow experience and I found the the search results screen messy:

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Conclusions for MSCRMAddons
  • User experience not as nice as competitors, didn’t perform as well during my (limited) testing

    Overall Conclusions

    Well you have 2 good products to pick here from Akvelon and Power Objects.  I think the critical decision factors will be price and functionality.

    I prefer the user experience with Power Objects clearly Akvelon packs in a lot more functionality – but do you need it?

    I priced both products recently for a 500 user deal and Akvelon’s purchase price was significantly higher then Power Objects’.  However, when I took into account annual costs over 3-5 years the gap closed significantly.  You will need to do your own price comparison for your user size to see which prices out better.

    Both products can easily be installed under a trial license.  Please use the Comments below to share your experiences and opinions.

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    8 thoughts on “Global Search Add-ons for Microsoft CRM 2011

    1. Really good researching and useful information.I recently researched all 3 products described in this post. A couple of words about Akvelon and PowerObjects products (I agree with author about MSCRMAddons.com product, so I will not review it here):

      1. Search result window – IMO, Akvelon view is more convenient because it is combined by entity type. Also user can configure attributes to display – it covers preview pane implemented by PowerObjects. User can review overall picture in Akvelon product, PowerObjects’ user should select record to preview it. Also, filtering of found results is useful too I guess.
      2. My company is actively using searching through content of documents and emails, so this feature was one of important for our company. As I know, PowerObjects doesn’t have it. But, it is not a problem for companies, who do not use CRM for tracking documents and emails
      3. UI – I absolutely agree with user, PowerObjects implemented really nice UX.
      4. Installation and ability to select CRM organization, agreed with Gareth that PowerObjects is more convenient here, but usually installation should be performed only once. I guess it is not a big problem.
      5. Preview pane by PowerObjects – really useful addition! BTW – as I know, Akvelon has separate solution, Global Preview which provides the same abilities.
      6. Again, it is not important for companies who don’t use CRM for email tracking, but I found out that unfortunately, PowerObjects couldn’t process search by email description if there is about 1-2 GB of email in CRM DB. Time out exception has been returned from PowerObjects. Akvelon product handle it very quickly and w/o any problems, because they are using indexing.

      I agree with Gareth that Akvelon and PowerObjects are the best search addons for CRM, each of them has advantages and small disadvantages. Our company selected Akvelon because it is ideally satisfying our requirements.

    2. Another excellent product review, thanks for posting! Just a note on PowerGlobalSearch conclusions: Silverlight v5 released in December does finally offer support for 64-bit IE & Outlook. Still, as you mentioned, there ain’t much future for Silverlight when it comes to usage on an iPad or even Windows 8 IE10 Metro browser. Having said that, none of the existing CRM search add-ons probably are very well suited for the tablet world yet, so if you need a solution today and not next year, some compromises need to be made.

    3. Pingback: CRM 2011 – commercial « Roman's Blog
    4. Just came across the blog. Great to see independent reviews of the search features. A couple of points would be good to review or test and see what happens.

      First people have stated they like how the Akvelon groups by entity type. What happens if your search result exceeds 100 per entity? I did not see a way to page to get more records. PowerObjects allows you to keep paging finding all the results. Having them group by entity forces the user to expand every entity. If they knew they were looking for a particular record type they could have went straight to the given entity. People user global search when they don’t know where the record resides. They might want sorted by date, because they know they only care about most recent. They need to arrow through lots of records to view in reading pane to find the correct record.

      It stated that Akvelon view is more convenient because it is combined by entity type. Also user can configure attributes to display – it covers preview pane implemented by PowerObjects. This is just not true. While they can define the columns as soon as you get more than 4 the column becomes so small you cannot read the value. The only way to know you are looking at the correct record is to open the record. At PowerObjects we built the reading pane to allow the user to view the record detail without opening the record. This is huge. Use Outlook as an example. You can add all the columns you want to the list view, but 99.9% of the people use the reading pane. They click on an e-mail subject and see the record detail in the reading pane. This same reading pane is used in GlobalSearch (search across entities), powerFind (search people) and OneView (roll up entities).

      I’m surprised that adding data to the configuration reading pane cause SMS to stop retrieving records. At PowerObjects we have a person that can help with powerPack features and a R&D team to add enhancements and fix bugs. If you have an issue or want an enhancement contact us.

      I hope powerGlobalSearch adds value to your project. The feature is design to be an inexpensive add on you can use to search multiple entities quick, review the records without opening every record.

      Thanks Great Blog Post!

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