Up until recently my favorite feature of CRM 2011 was Connections. Thanks in part to blogs like this one from our own Joel Lindstrom and some experimenting another feature has moved into a tie for first: Dialogs. Combining the two together makes for a recipe to solve a lot of different business and application design problems, without having to bring in someone to write code.

Why Connections?

The great thing about Connections from a design perspective is that the need to create custom entities can be diminished. The driving force behind most entity creation is usually to show the connection (get it?) between two different objects in the system. If there isn’t a lot of information that needs to be tracked, then Connections take care of business. Consider the relationship between parent and child as an example of where Connections comes in.

What’s the downside?

As much as I like Connections, they can be less than intuitive if the Connection Roles get rather lengthy, and sometimes they require explaining. Neither of these things are good when it comes to training and adoption. The same can be said of custom entities of course.

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How Dialogs Help: The Investment Bank Company Owners Example

A typical piece of information to track in the Investment Banking or Private Equity arenas is asset (company) ownership. Companies can be owned by multiple parties consisting of people and/or companies. Connections are ideal for this, but the process to track this through Connections alone takes too many steps and too much thought than needed. Before I go further to how Dialogs helps to simplify this, a tip: use matching Connection Roles. For example, the Owner Connection Role has the matching Connection Role of Investments. Additionally, restrict Connection Roles to the right entity types, as in the following screenshot.

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The problem with connecting the owner of the Deal asset, the Company, is that the normal behavior of that really nice Connect To button on the ribbon will default one side of the Connection to the Deal and not the Company:

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So users have to know to replace the Deal with the Owner or Company on top of knowing what to put in the “As this role” field. This is where Dialogs come in. Instead of the above, use the Start Dialog button:

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Which brings up the following screen which is much easier to work with:

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And just by filling in those two fields, we let Dynamics do the work. See the finished product:

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From a training perspective, this is much easier to work with. Think about how many words it takes to explain Connections as opposed to “Hit the button.” (Which brings up a great point: wouldn’t it be great if there was a button that could run the dialog directly? There is a way, but that’s not for this blog).

Conclusion

I’ve highlighted both Connections and how Dialogs facilitate their use with a real world examples where I’ve used Connections and Dialogs. Dialogs are useful outside of Connections as well of course, and the applications of Dialogs should be part of any Dynamics CRM implementation. Look for more blogs on the subject from us. If you would like to know how we can help you use CRM 2011 to bring your business to the next level, please contact us at info@customereffective.com.