Tag Archives: MyCRM

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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    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