Tag Archives: Dialogs

TK Dialogs vs. Microsoft CRM Dialogs

Here is a quick run through on Team Knowledge’s TK Dialogs product and a comparison between TK Dialogs and the out-of-the-box Microsoft CRM 2011 Dialog feature.

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Licensing

Microsoft CRM 2011 ships with a Dialog feature at no additional cost, TK Dialogs is a 3rd party ISV product / add-on for Microsoft CRM that you need to pay for.

 

Installation

The out-of-the-box (OOTB) Dialog feature is installed with and is part of the CRM server application.  It is not installed separately, it is not identifiable as a separate component. 

TK Dialogs has server components that host and run the Dialogs, that provide SMTP integration and supply TK Dialogs with the CRM Meta Data.  The main component here is the Dialog Player which is a web app that you host in IIS.  In addition, there is a client component – the Dialog Builder – which is the authoring application:

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    Functionality

    As I compare the 2 products and look for something that the OOTB Dialog feature has which TK Dialogs is missing I find nothing significant jumping out at me.   The advantage of the OOTB Dialog feature is it is free, it is 100% integrated and it is not 3rd party.  So this product comparison really boils down to what additional functionality do you get for your money with TK Dialogs.

    Here are the additional TK Dialog features which stand out:

    • Drag & Drop Dialog Designer
    • Flow Chart View
    • Mail Merge Word & PDF
    • Email Recipient can Resume Dialog
    • Upload Files
    • External Users
    • Redirect to/from External Apps
    • Save and Resume

    Drag & Drop Dialog Designer and Flow Chart View – these 2 features are less about additional capabilities and more about a richer authoring experience.  Alone these do not warrant the additional cost of licensing TK Dialogs but they are features that your Dialog authors will enjoy:

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    The ability to move components is a feature I miss in the OOTB Dialog designer in Microsoft CRM, it is not uncommon to find yourself having to delete components and recreate them at another level. The flow chart view is nice in TK Dialogs but I’ve always been happy enough with the indented tree view approach that Microsoft’s took with their OOTB Dialog designer.  The flow chart look and feel would certainly demo better.

    Mail Merge Word & PDF – TK Dialogs provides functionality for generating Word and PDF documents during a Dialog session, using pre-defined Word templates.  TK Dialogs help with the template creation as well, providing a utility that will automatically create a template for a specific Dialog, generating a Word document with data slugs for each field referenced within the Dialog:

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    You can then add your hardcoded text and any formatting and images required:

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    Within your TK Dialogs you can generate a Word or PDF document and then attach the document to a CRM record or attach it to an email and send.

    Email Recipient can Resume Dialog – Both the OOTB Dialog feature and TK Dialogs can send emails.  Those emails can contain links to CRM records to direct the email recipient into CRM to take some action – e.g. to approve a transaction.  An advantage TK Dialogs has is it can include a link in the email that directs the user into an in-progress Dialog.  This keeps them out of CRM and directs them to the exact action required of them, rather than just to a CRM form.  

    This opens up some interesting possibilities around licensing and user experience.  Think of a scenario where you have a large number of users who need to either initiate requests and/or provide responses / approvals at certain stages of business processes.  If these users don’t require full CRM functionality then you could potentially save yourself some licensing costs and have these users use TK Dialogs instead of Microsoft CRM.   The would initiate requests through TK Dialogs and when their input/approval is required they could be sent an email with a Resume Dialog link that would take would pop the relevant Dialog prompting them for the information/decision required.  Once their input is provided the Dialog could send focus back to the back office worker to complete the business process.

    Upload Files – TK Dialogs take the Prompt and Response capabilities one step further allowing the response to be a file which the user browses for on their desktop and then uploads into the Dialog process.  The Dialog can then store, email or attach the document to a CRM record.

    External Users – This is perhaps the most important distinction between the OOTB Dialog feature and TK Dialogs.  CRM Dialogs are available only to CRM users.  TK Dialogs however, sit outside CRM, the Dialog Player is a separate web application with a separate licensing model and authentication model.  Yes, you can create TK Dialogs for your CRM users, leveraging the additional functionality TK Dialogs has to offer, but where TK Dialogs adds the most value is those scenarios where you want to put Dialogs in front of non-CRM users, here the scope of your CRM system suddenly increases dramatically.  Here’s an example server configuration showing what this would look like if your non-CRM users were external to your organisation:

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    Redirect to/from External Apps – TK Dialogs can be integrated with external applications such that part way through a Dialog process the user can redirected to an external web application and then upon completing some steps there get redirected back to the Dialog.  Variables can be passed between the applications to default values and provide responses.  This form of integration is useful for online credit card payments.

    Save and Resume – This feature is noticeably absent from the OOTB Dialog feature in Microsoft CRM.  I guess because the OOTB feature is aimed at internal users it is a less of requirement then in those scenarios where you have internal or external customers completing self service dialogs for the likes of visa applications.  The feature works well in TK Dialogs, the user requests to Save and is provided with a URL and pin so they can resume at a later time.

     

    When would I propose TK Dialogs?

    For Dialog requirements, I won’t always be proposing TK Dialogs to every customer.  The OOTB Dialogs feature in CRM 2011 is pretty good and does the job in a lot of scenarios.  The scenarios which would have me looking over at TK Dialogs are:

    • When a self service web-based Dialog experience needs to be rolled out to internal or external customers – e.g. to provide an online visa application process to the general public or for a service request system for internal staff
    • When email based approvals are required
    • When the ability to mail merge documents is required
    • When Dialogs are core to the solution and the richness of the Dialog designer is key

    Please share your experiences with TK Dialogs and any key features you have found valuable.

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    CRM 2011 Dialogs–A couple of gotchas

    A couple of things to look out for as you start writing Dialogs:

    1. If your Dialog has branching logic make sure you don’t use the Responses from those branches in any later actions after the branching as those Response values will not be available in those scenarios when the user branches the other way, and CRM doesn’t like that.   To get around this make use of Variables within your Dialog.  Initialise a Variable at the start of your Dialog, update it within your branch and then you can happily refer to the Variable later in the script.
    2. Beware of placing actions such as creating records and sending emails in amongst Pages of your Dialog, they’re better placed at the end of your script firing only after the user has clicked Finish in the Dialog.  Reason for this is the Dialog UI happily allows users to navigate backwards and forwards within the Dialog.  If you have a record creating firing between pages 4 and 5 of your script that record creation will happen not only the first time the user progresses to page 5 but if they hit previous, go back to page 4 and then progress on to page 5 again then yeap you guessed it you will get another record created.

    HTH Smile

    Gareth