Back in the dark ages, like with CRM 3.0, we were often faced with writing .NET code to provide certain enhanced data manipulation capabilities as either Callouts or Workflow Assemblies.  CRM 4.0 totally changes that mind set - and as a solution developer, you really need to keep that in mind before you jump off into the depths of Visual Studio and the CRM SDK.

An Example

To illustrate my point, let's take the PostInvoicePlugin example from the CRM SDK ( v4.0.5 ).

Note: this example is found in the SDK folder: \sdk\server\fullsample\pluginpostinvoice

The purpose of this sample code is to show you how to update a custom field on the Account record whenever a user closes out an Invoice as Paid.  The plugin checks the state of the Invoice, and if Paid, it will update the value of a custom field on Account, using the following code:

// If the Total Invoiced exists, update it... otherwise set it
if (parentAccount.Properties.Contains("new_totalinvoiced"))
    ((CrmMoney)parentAccount.Properties["new_totalinvoiced"]).Value += totalAmount;
    parentAccount.Properties.Add(new CrmMoneyProperty("new_totalinvoiced",
                                 new CrmMoney(totalAmount)));

Pretty cool, huh?


An Alternative

If you haven't spent much time reviewing CRM 4.0 workflows, you should.  You can perform some amazing things without ever writing code.  Let's perform the exact same steps using CRM 4.0 workflow.

First, we create a workflow based on the Invoice Entity that has the following properties:


Step 1:

Create a Check Condition using the following information:


Step 2:

Add and Update Record step, on the Related Entity Customer (Account):


Step 3:

Click the Set Properties button, then set the Total Invoiced Attribute to the following:


Note: Total Invoiced is a custom Money Field.

By using the Increment by Operator, we are able to increment any existing Total Invoiced amount by the amount found in the Invoice's Total Amount field.

Final Step:

Save and Publish this workflow.


So, is there a difference between these techniques?  Not really.  Both accomplish the job in a very similar manner but the Workflow solution requires zero code maintenance and a normal user or administrator can create the workflow.

The biggest difference between the two techniques is in the timing of the actual update. Plugins can be executed either Synchronously or Asynchronously.   Workflows function in an asynchronous manner.

The Synchronous operation will modify the data stream as it is being saved to the database, which can introduce a delay in the user's experience, but will provide results back to the user in a quicker fashion.

Asynchronous operations will happen shortly after the data has been saved which will not impact the user, but which may result in a slight delay between the time the user saved the record and when the value will be updated.

If you can live with the time delay, I feel that workflow is the way to go, in most cases.  If you can't, then download the SDK and start working through their examples.