Thursday, October 13, 2016

How to modify the Quick Create form for tasks and activities

This is one of those post that will explain a problem we have in CRM but unfortunately there is no great solution I know so far for this problem.

When you insert the social pane in a given entity, you will notice that there is a quick way to add activities (phone call, task, etc.) were the user does not have to leave the screen in order to add these records:

This makes the user experience great for adding tasks to a given record quickly. However, while this is beautiful for customer demos, in real life things are rarely this simple. For example, we’ve had to add another required field on the task called “Task Type”, but how can I add this field on this form?!

Things that I have tried:

1.       Modify the quick create view on Task entity. However, there are no “Quick Create” forms on task entity:

2.       Try to see if the Quick Create forms are defined at the parent entity “Activity”. However, this entity has no forms defined since it is a special entity:

3.       Then I thought maybe I can create my own quick create form in the task entity and set the form priority higher so it supersedes the one that comes out of the box. However, when I check the Quick Create form order I can only see my form:

It seems like the out-of-the-box quick create form is completely hidden. When I publish my changes and look my new form is not really used

4.       Then I thought maybe we can remove “Add Task” from the social pane so that users would be forced to add tasks the old way and be able to use the form we need. However, the Social Pane is not very configurable and the only things that can be set is whether to show Activities or Notes by default, which is really not useful.

So this actually forced us in some cases to remove the social pane all together and go back to the sub-grid approach. However, if you need to capture notes then you might be out of luck!

Also note that in the Quick Create menu in CRM, when you try “Task” it will actually open the default full form, rather than any Quick Create form that you define, so you have control but you cannot leverage the quick create feature for activities apparently.

We also tried to hide the activities from appearing in the quick create menu but this was not possible because you cannot unselect the setting to show activities in the quick create menu. This is perhaps one of the most annoying things with quick create and stems from the fact that Microsoft has locked down the configurability of this feature which often just renders it useless in the real world but only pretty for customer demos. This sadly seems to be the case for many features that are also locked down for extension or configurability. If you have any workaround I’d be very happy to hear!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Transporting SLAs in a CRM solution

This post explores some of the nuisances when transporting SLAs in a CRM solution. I did most of my tests in CRM 2015 and CRM 2016 environments but behavior might vary between different versions.

When you include an SLA to the solution there are some special things that will happen. In this example, I have a blank solution and I have added only my SLA to the solution. As expected, the only component in the solution is the SLA itself:

However, after you export the solution for the first time, you will notice that magically some processes get added to your solution automatically after export without any indication that this has happened:

Furthermore, in older versions of CRM (2015) you will also see that the “Process”, “Case” and “SLA KPI Instance” entities get added to the solution magically which can be quite confusing:

But why is this happening? The reason why you see some processes added to the solution is because SLAs are implemented as CRM processes (workflows) behind the scenes, so at the moment you export an SLA, you need to export at the same time the process definitions for the SLA. There wil be one process per SLA plus one additional process for each SLA Item you have added to your SLA (1 item in my example). That is because SLA Items are also implemented as workflows. Now, the question of why we have to surface these implementation details to the user is in my opinion a bug, there is no reason to show the user these components in the solution and should be hidden because they are implementation details of the SLA that happen behind the scenes and causes confusion more than anything about what these processes are. If you try to open one of these processes you will notice that they are read only and completely system managed depending on the SLA and SLA Item definitions that you have provided in the user interface.

Another problem with such implementation is that if you rename the SLA Items, then their corresponding workflow/process is not renamed accordingly which can cause even more confusion since they will keep the original name that was given to the SLA Item during creation. I have even run in a situation in which solution export fails because it could not find the corresponding SLA Item process once I had renamed the SLA Item (although I was not able to reproduce this problem consistently).

The reason why you see the “Case”, “Process” and “SLA KPI Instance” entities added to the solution in CRM 2015 is most likely a bug and something that was fixed in CRM 2016. Even if you remove these entities from the solution, they will get added back automatically next time you export the solution so not worth trying to remove them manually!

Another thing I wanted to explore is how the Business Hours get transported in the solution. For example, I have defined my business hours as follows:

I have found out be inspecting the solution XML that the business hours are not included at all in the solution, therefore when you transport the SLA to another environment the business hours will be blank for the given SLA. You will then need to set it manually in the target environment. I have researched whether I could use the Configuration Migration utility that comes with the SDK in order to migrate business hours and include in the solution deployment package but as it turns out both the Business Hours and the Holiday Schedule are implemented as entries in the “Calendar” entity which is not supported by the Configuration Migration tool, and AFAIK is also not possible to import these using Excel import file. Therefore, you have no option than to re-create these records in your target environment (manually or automate via SDK) and link them to the existing SLA. You might be able to import the individual “Holiday” records to the Holiday Schedule in an automated fashion such as import but I have not validated that far what can be done.

Luckily creating the Business Hours and Holiday Schedule is not a very long task, and you should be able to create them only once in each target environment. After than re-importing an existing SLA should preserve the link to the Business Hours you had set previously.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

State Machines in CRM for Status Transitions

Those who come more from an engineering background might be familiar with the concept of state machines. This article explains an easy implementation in CRM.

State machines are basically a way to model an object’s life cycle, including the different states or statuses it can have along with the transitions that are possible to go from one state to another. In an example below we have an airline ticket and how the status of the ticket can transition in different scenarios:

The key about state machines is that it restricts invalid state changes. For example, you cannot go from “Used” to “paid” because once the ticket is used, it can no longer change. In some sate machines you might also want to specify which states are read-only as opposed to “editable” and you can even define additional conditions such as having the correct privilege (e.g. only a manager is able to issue a refund).

Now you can apply this concept of state machines to CRM entities. Although these state machines can be quite complex in real life, in CRM entities most of the times this is not too complex. If you have a simple state machine to model, there is the feature in CRM (often overlooked) called status transitions.

You can actually define which status can lead to which status. Below is the CRM implementation of the state machine of my example:

Note that CRM requires that for each “Active” status you must have defined a valid transition to an “inactive” state (at least this is mentioned in the documentation here: although I’m not sure where it is enforced if it is).

Now in the CRM form you will notice that it will remove the invalid state transitions from the available status reasons. For example, if my record is on status reason “Reserved” I cannot change it to “Ticketed” because I need to mark it as paid first:

If I had not defined a transition from the current status reason to an “Inactive” state then I am not able to de-activate the record and change the state to “Inactive”:

Also note that the transition validations are valid even outside the scope of CRM forms. If you try to perform an invalid status update from workflow/plugin/SDK you would get this error:

    Entity: new_airplaneticket does not have valid status code

Monday, September 26, 2016

CRM SLA Failure and Warning times, not what you would expect!

When you configure an SLA item in CRM, you have the option to specify the “Failure” and “Warning” times as a duration.

The format of these fields Is the same as any other CRM duration field, but what does it really mean? For example, if you set it to 10 days, is it 10 calendar days? Is it 10 business days? You might be surprised it is neither!

First let’s backtrack a little bit and look at the SLA definition. At the SLA level you can define “Business Hours” which captures the business days of the week, business hours of the day as well as any holidays during which an SLA should not apply. Let’s see what happens to your 10 day SLA depending on your business hour configuration in different scenarios. For simplicity I will assume you do not have “pause” when the record is on-hold.

1.       No Business Hours
If you leave this “Business Hours” field blank, then the system will assume 24x7 and therefore, the “Failure” and “Warning” times you set are simply calendar days, it will be simply a duration which is quite straight-forward. Therefore, when you create the record, you will have exactly 10 days (240 hours) before the SLA fails.

2.       Business Hours Configured (Work Days only)
In this case you configure your Business Hours only for the work days (e.g. Mon-Fri) but you leave the work hours as 24-hour (i.e. your business day has 24 hours):

In this case, what happens to your 10-day SLA is that it becomes a 10 business day SLA. Therefore, when you create a case, you will have 14 calendar days before the SLA fails because the weekend days will not be counted.

3.       Business Hours Configured (Including Work Hours)
Now this is where things get really messy unexpectedly. Imagine you configure your business hours to be Mon-Fri from 09:00 to 17:00 so that you have 8 working hours per business day. What happens to the 10-day SLA failure?

I create a case and to my surprise, the system gives me almost 42 calendar days to resolve the case before failing SLA:

This seems really random. What happens here is that the “Failure” time of 10 days is actually a duration (not the actual count of calendar or business days). In other words, the SLA will fail after 240 “business hours”. Because I only have 8 business hours per day then this means 30 business days and because of the weekends it ends up giving me almost 42 days. This is definitely not what I would expected when I configured by failure time to 10 days. Therefore, I just decided to leave my work hours as 12am-12am (24 hours) and then I would fall under #2 above in which I get 10 business days for resolving the case as I expected.

Adding holidays to your calendar works similar to the work days, it will just exclude the entire day from the count. Do not expect the timer to “pause” when you are outside of working hours because the timer has actually been increased to account for the time that you will have outside of business hours, so the timer countdown is always real time (duration) and can only pause when you configure pause for “on-hold” status.

I hope you find this useful, I think unless you have really fast SLAs (defined in hours or minutes) it almost makes no sense to think about configuring working hours. My conclusion is that if you SLAs which are defined in number of days you most likely should leave the work hours to 24 hours in order for the timer to make sense. Alternatively if you keep working hours you would need to define your SLA items as a function of business hours, so for my example, if the business hours are from 9am to 5pm then that means that for a 10 business day SLA I would need to define my failure time as 10*(number of business hours per day) = 80 hours. The small caveat here is that if you change your business hours then you need to update all your SLA items as the above formula could have changed. In either case you should still configure your workdays to exclude weekends if desired though.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

CRM Alternate keys with OptionSet fields

The alternative keys feature introduced in CRM 2015 U1 turns out to be extremely useful, especially for integration scenrios in which you might want to keep a record of an “external key” from another system or you want to enforce duplicate prevention (for real).

In some cases you would like to make the alternative key contain an OptionSet type of field. For example, I wanted to define an alternative key based on “Contact Type” and “Email” so that CRM could check that no contacts of the same type with the same email address.
However, when you try to define the key on the contact entity I could no select my “Contact Type” field as part of the key:

So I can see a number of fields and realize that only fields of numeric or text value are available to pick. After some research I found that it is documented in the SDK that only these fields can be added to a key:

So no luck! The only option you have is to create a hidden text field which will hold the value of your OptionSet but as text and then add that field to your key. I try to define this field as a calculated fiueld but then again, calculated fields cannot be added to alternate keys (this is by experiment, not by documentation). Therefore, I had to define a business rule to populate that field based on the options of your OptionSet. In my example, my OptionSet has options “Nurse” and “Doctor” so I create the business rule as follows (note you should set “Scope” to “Entity”)

Now I am able to add the calculated field to my key:

After this is done, I can test to make sure I can create both a nurse and a doctor with the same email but if I try to create 2 nurses with the same email I get the error:

So this works. It is not the most elegant solution since you are essentially duplicating data. However, if you must include an OptionSet field as part of a key this could be an easy way to enforce it :-)


Monday, September 19, 2016

CRM Advanced Find with N:N Relationships

An old CRM problem is that sometimes when you define N:N relationships between 2 entities, you find this relationship not available for search in Advanced Find. Don’t worry about it this article will give you the work-around you need.

Consider a scenario in which I have accounts and I have industry entities. An account can be in multiple industries and an industry can have multiple accounts; therefore I have defined an N:N Relationship between Account and Industry entity:

Now as part of the requirements I want to enable users to be able to build Advanced Find queries based on this relationship. For example:

  • ·         Find all accounts in the “Banking” industry
  • ·         List the accounts with industry code FIN002

So you might think this is was easy to do with Advanced find, however, you might not be able to find this relationship when looking for the related records under account in Advanced Find:

So I went back to the N:N relationship definition to see if I did something wrong. I found that there is a checkbox called “Searchable” and was already set to “Yes”:

So why I cannot search based on this relationship? The answer is tricky. The relationship actually appears in advanced find whenever you set the “Display Option” to “Use Plural Name” or “Custom Label” on the side of the relationship with you want to show under the “related” section in advanced find. In my example, I would need to set the “Display Option” to “Plural Name” on the Industry side of the relationship so that I can perform the queries such as retrieving all accounts in a given industry:

After I do this and publish all customizations, the “Industry” entity magically appears in advanced find allowing me to perform my query:

And voila. Now the only question I still have is: What the heck is that “Searchable” checkbox on the relationship for? Feel free to comment if you know the answer J