MyCRM add-ons for Microsoft CRM 2011

A few months ago I received an invitation from Alistair Dickinson at MyCRM to review his add-ons for Microsoft CRM.  Today felt like a good day to shake that tree…

Today I will run through: 

  • ePDF – generate report to PDF from CRM forms
  • eSpell – spell checker for CRM forms
  • ePurchasing – purchasing module for CRM
  • eNumber – unique ID assignment for CRM records
  • eView – cross-entity customer search and custom 360 view
  • eAddress – keeps Account and Contact addresses in synch
  • ePicture – embed a picture on a Form or store an image library against a record

To try these yourself simply register on the MyCRM website and download their License Manager app.  Their installer guides you through connecting to your CRM system to deploy License Manager:

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Once License Manager is installed you can deploy MyCRM’s various add-ons from within the Microsoft CRM UI:

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This installation experience looks fairly slick, but I did find the apps wouldn’t work straight away.  It seemed I had to navigate away from the License Manager app and then go back to it in order to bump something into the right spot.  Not a big deal, a one time thing.  I reported the issue to guys and I’m sure they will address it (they’ve been very responsive to emails thus far).

 

ePDF


MyCRM’s ePDF product is all about improving the user experience when generating CRM reports from CRM forms, it’s all about saving clicks.  It will have a home in scenarios where you want users to be able to print a Case Summary report from a Case record, or print a Quote from the Quote form, etc.  In these scenarios out-of-the-box CRM allows you to generate a report and then save it as PDF and then you can go and attach that PDF to an email or save it back into CRM as an attachment.  But that process is a bit clunky.  ePDF improves on that.  Here’s what it looks like:

Button added to CRM form: image

Pick a CRM report, and then the action you want to perform:

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My initial thought was why aren’t they just launching the PDF for me in Acrobat Reader.  But it is logical that if you are wanting to generate the report in PDF then you either intend to save it somewhere or email it so the MyCRM approach makes sense.

The solution supports 8 of CRM’s common entities.  At first I was concerned the solution only supported these 8 entities but a quick email exchange with Alistair revealed that the button can be replicated simply enough onto other entity forms they just don’t have instructions for this on their web site.  If you are familiar with customising the CRM Ribbon XML or with Erik Pool’s Ribbon Editor then you will find this process easy enough, otherwise the MyCRM guys will happily help you.  Took me under 5 minutes to add the ePDF button to the Case form using Erik’s Ribbon editor.

I think this solution has value, it represents a significant improvement to the user experience and it looks to be well made.  However, I expect there are scenarios where an even more streamlined solution would be preferable – e.g. on the CRM Quote form having a Generate Quote button that immediately popped a PDF of the Quote report or a CRM email with the quote attached (i.e. no pop up screen and additional clicks there).  However, as soon as you want to offer your users more than 1 Quote format to pick from or the ability to save vs. email then ePDF makes sense.

Custom building something like this yourself is not out of the question, CRM reports can be generated by web service calls.  I expect licensing ePDF would be the cheaper way to go, but then like with any add-on you become dependent upon their release cycle for future upgrades.  Depends somewhat on your taste for build vs. buy.  Pricing starts at £750 (< 10 users).

 

eSpell


MyCRM’s eSpell product adds ‘on request’ spell checking to common CRM forms.  You get a Spell Check button added to the likes of the Email, KB Article, Contact and Account forms:

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The Spell Check executes for the field / text block that currently has focus, returning potential errors for you to change or ignore:

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You can pick your default dictionary, any corrections you make in the spell check dialog are pushed back to the CRM form and the whole user experience is fairly intuitive.

Again, the solution deploys to a predefined list of entities but again you can replicate the button and add to any CRM form.

A big limitation of eSpell is the spell check is an ‘on demand’ service only, it cannot, for example, be configured to run on save/send, which I think is pretty important for spell check.   Neither does it alert you of spelling errors as you type.

Pricing starts at £250 (< 10 users).

An alternative to eSpell is the Speckie add-on for Internet Explorer by Versoworks.  Speckie adds spell check capabilities to Internet Explorer, so you gain the functionality in Microsoft CRM when you use IE as your browser.  Speckie is free to trial and free to use in a non-commercial setting so feel free to give it a go.  Speckie highlights spelling errors across the entire web page and offers a right-click menu for making corrections:

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Sorry MyCRM, I prefer Speckie.  Speckie has sliding scale pricing, e.g. 10 users will cost you $16.5USD per user,  1000 users will cost cost $5.50 per user.   Enterprise customers however may be uncomfortable with deploying an Internet Explorer add-on (they seem to be uncomfortable with most things!).  eSpell has the advantage of not requiring a client installation.

 

ePurchasing


MyCRM’s ePurchasing product extends Microsoft CRM’s distribution capabilities to include the purchasing function. 

Purchasing is typically the domain of ERP systems but CRM is known to impeach on ERP territory from time to time (quotes and orders are good examples of this). 

It is also not uncommon for a business to license only a small number of users for ERP access but for there to be a collection of ERP functions that should ideally be made accessible to a broader user base and not all ERP systems have a good license model to support this.  Good examples of such functions are Customer Enquiry, New Project Registration and Raising Purchase Orders.   This is where CRM, which is typically licensed to a broader user base, can be of value – providing a licensing alternative and more user friendly UI.  If that broader user base is already using CRM then it can make sense to roll out this functionality through CRM.

MyCRM’s Purchasing module appears as a new Menu Area in CRM:

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The out-of-the-box user experience of entering a Purchase Order is very similar to entering an Opportunity or Quote with Product details.  You enter the header information:

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And then add Product Line Items:

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Products can be selected using a Lookup or you can write in products.  CRM’s product entity is used except Products can now be parented by a Supplier to give you filtered lookups when selecting products on a Purchase Order.

I give points to MyCRM for building out a consistent user experience here, but I also penalise them for it , because Microsoft’s out-of-the-box user experience is sub par in this area.   But then the beauty of MyCRM’s solution is it is a Microsoft CRM solution configuration that we can re-configure as required.  Certainly if I was to demo their Purchase Order screen I would place the PO Details grid on the Purchase Order form – or more likely – swap it out all together for an editable grid.  That leaves me wondering, why buy this add-on, why not just configure up my own Purchase Order and PO Detail entity.  I think you need to do that analyse.  It becomes a gap analysis, how much of a gap is there between the ePurchasing out-of-the-box solution and what you need?  If you are happy to largely go along with the out-of-the-box then cool, buy it.  If you want to change things up a fair bit and are confident in your CRM configuration/customisation abilities then you are probably best pocketing those licensing dollars. 

There’s more to the Purchasing solution such as Purchasing Budgets, integration to MyCRM’s eTax and ePDF solutions, and an Approval process.  So if you are in the market for a Purchasing solution for Microsoft CRM do have a good look at it.  Pricing starts at £950 (< 10 users). 

 

eNumber


MyCRM’s eNumber product adds auto-number and auto-field capabilities to Microsoft CRM.  This doesn’t excite me too much, adding auto-number to a CRM entity requires only a simple plug-in and I often write simple workflows to set fields automatically.  I think this is the first time I have seen a single solution that handles both auto-number and auto-field.  I’ll quickly run you through MyCRM’s features:

The configuration screen is added under the CRM Settings module:

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You click the New button and a CRM form pops up.  Interestingly, they don’t use CRM form fields though, instead the CRM form hosts a Silverlight form:

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You select the CRM entity and specific CRM text field you wish to have auto-populated (it has to be a text field).  You can then just setting a starting number and be done with it:

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Or you can define separate “Name Parts” (segments) of your field – e.g. you might like to have a Lead ID that has the text “LEAD” hardcoded as the first 4 characters followed by an incrementing number:

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Or you might like to merge a value from the CRM record into the ID.  Here, I define a Case ID that will use the value of the Case Origin field as a prefix:

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Which results in this:

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Now, existing records are not automatically assigned an ID when you define the rule, but they will get assigned one the first time they are updated (if you enable the Always Update option).  You can do a bulk edit or Excel export/import to ‘bump’ existing records and get them all assigned an ID.

Here’s another you might use this app.  I often hit the scenario where I have a custom entity with no good value for the entity’s primary attribute and I don’t want to make the user populate it.  Normally, I pick some values on the record that describe it and concatenate them together into the primary attribute field via workflow.  With this app I can configure a rule instead.  e.g. I have a “Case Contacts” entity attached to the Case entity which allows me to associate multiple Contacts to a Case:

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I can configure a rule like the below that will populate the “Name” field based on the Contact + Role values:

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Giving me:

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Because the app is implemented as a plugin this field is populated as part of the Save and appears immediately to the user.  This is an improvement over the workflow approach where the update happens asynchronously. 

You do need to consider other scenarios though like what happens when a user changes the Role on this record – you might still want a workflow to trap that to keep the Name field in synch.   Even then, there are scenarios that workflow can’t handle such as when the surname of the Contact changes. 

Overall, I think this is a nice solution for auto-numbering.  I’m not sure it has a place on my projects as I have other solutions I can use but I might use it when I am prototyping.  But for customers who don’t have ready access to CRM developers or who prefer to avoid customisations then this should appeal.  Pricing starts at £500 (< 10 users).

 

eView


MyCRM’s eView product is primarily a “360 degree view” product – aiming to improve upon Microsoft CRM’s out-of-the-box customer form in terms of displaying more data about the customer in a more accessible manner.   It has a supplementary feature as well in that the search box for eView searches across Contact, Account, Lead and Opportunity – so you also get a cross-entity search.  That alone can be of value.

Here’s what it looks like:

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You enter your search string at the top and results are returned (no need for wildcard characters):

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As you change focus between the search result the 360 view refreshes.  You see Related records, Activities and Notes.  I quite like how Activities and Notes are split apart and they’ve made good use of the screen real estate – you have good visibility of everything, certainly better than what you get on the CRM form.

The solution is configurable too.  The installer pops a Configuration screen under the Settings menu area.  An “Everyone” definition is created for you which you can edit or you can create customised definitions for specific users, teams or roles:

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The eView configurations, like security settings in CRM, are cumulative so all users with access to eView will have the Everyone eView.  If you then create a user-specific eView that includes additional related record types then that user’s eView will include those related records but other users’ eViews will not.   Defining which related record types should appear is a nice ‘point and click’ user experience, you can define the view columns as well:

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Functionality is a little limited here I am afraid.  You cannot specify the sort order, column widths or any filtering.   Unfortunately these are significant limitations in my opinion, but perhaps something you can live with in the short term.

Another nice feature is the eView can be enabled on each entity form.  The screenshot below shows eView on the Account form.  I do like this.  Often I will demo a “360 view” to a prospect by opening up the Account form and clicking through the various nav links and scrolling down the form – I think clicking once on this link would produce a sharper demo:

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Pricing starts at £950 (< 10 users).

 

eAddress


MyCRM’s eAddress product suits scenarios where you need to store Business and Personal addresses on Contact records.  eAddress provides two enhancements in this scenario.  Firstly, the Business address on the Contact record is set to be read only and  automatically kept in synch with the Account address so you only have to make business address changes at the Account level. 

Secondly, and more importantly, on the Contact record you designate whether the Contact’s Business address or Personal address should be set as the Contact’s Mailing address.   eAddress then ensures the designated Mailing address is replicated into CRM’s Address 1 fields for ease of Mail Merge in the future.

Now eAddress won’t suit everyone, it fits a very specific scenario, and a scenario I haven’t come across before.  I worry a little about the synchronisation of Account address down to Contact address as it assumes all Contacts under an Account share the same business address which may not be true – depends upon how you structure your Account records in CRM.   I do like how they control the population of the Contact Address1 fields though – makes good sense.

There’s not a lot to eAddress.  I think if I hit a similar scenario I would be inclined to just write jscript or a plugin to address it.  Pricing starts at just £100 (< 10 users) so they are not asking much for this, I guess that’s the motivation to buy rather than build!

 

ePicture


MyCRM’s ePicture add-on is quite cool.  I’m a fan.  Once installed you get a configuration screen where you can chose which entities to enabled for Image Libraries:

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When enabling an Entity you can chose whether the Image Library should be accessed via a navigation link or as a tab on the form, and you chose which Form(s) to make the change to:

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They’ve done an excellent job here.   The end result looks like this:

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Adding Images is simple and intuitive, you simply browse out and select the images (or can use an integrated web cam):

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And the Image Library has nice viewing options as you would expect:

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If you want to be able to store images against CRM records and easily view them then this to me is a no brainer, ePicture works a treat.

The other main feature of the ePicture add-on is the ability to embed a single image on a CRM form – e.g. a Contact photo.   This is achieved by adding to the CRM form the PrimaryImageViewer.xap Web Resource that MyCRM provide:

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The entity involved needs to have been enabled for Image Libraries and your particular record will need to have an image in its library.   The first picture you upload to an Image Library will be marked as primary and it is this image that the Web Resource will display on the CRM form.  Of course, you can set a different picture as primary at any time.  

The end result looks pretty good:

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There are a few different options for enabling images in CRM, I’ve seen some sample code floating around my workplace which we have leveraged before.   I like ePicture though, I will certainly make use of it in demos (when appropriate) and will be happy to propose it on projects.  I’m also thinking about portal scenarios where you use CRM as the back end to the portal and drive the content from CRM.  I think ePicture could fit in here as a means of providing image content to the portal.  I’m going to ponder that a bit more.

Pricing starts at £950 (< 10 users).

 

That’s me for today.  I do want to point our that the MyCRM guys have a couple of other apps available that I haven’t covered: 

eUser – bulk set end user personal options (quite handy)

eTax – adds tax calculations to sales processes in CRM

eWorkflow – additional workflow actions you can enable in CRM workflow designer

eCampaign – an email marketing add-on for bulk email (this one is a full sized product)

 

I hope someone finds this introduction and analysis useful.  Please share any experiences you have had with these products.

Smile

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6 thoughts on “MyCRM add-ons for Microsoft CRM 2011

  1. Manuel Altermatt

    “Good CRM Add-Ons” is always an interesting topic to get news. I love your blog post. I didn’t know any of these Add-ons and the ePDF and ePicture certainly look like two extensions that add value to CRM. Thanks for the Review, Gareth.

    Reply
  2. John Rogerson (@LycraLouter)

    Useful reviews. Alistair is pretty visible in LinkedIn so it’s good to see a deeper description than what’s available on their website, along with an impartial opinion. Looking at the screenshots, it looks like they’re very dependant on Silverlight. Given the move to cross-browser support that is getting all the iPhans excited, that would have be marked down as a “con” in the weighing up process.

    Reply
  3. Alisatir Dickinson

    Hi John, we have a couple of apps like eView and eSpell still using silverlight but we will be migrating from these, if you look at the new eSurvey solution it is SIlverlight free and the new eMap with Bing will focus ont he JQuery API not Silverlight.

    But thank you for the feedback, we will continue to evolve our solutions and run with what is best.

    Alistair

    Reply
  4. Jenny H.

    Thanks for your Speckie recommendation – we have since implemented it company wide and it has been a great addition not only to CRM but to all web-based applications!

    Reply

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