By Jason Gumpert, Editor
Microsoft Dynamics CRM professionals are nothing if not hungry to use the latest cool technology, so when Microsoft dangles new technology in front of them like, for example, big data, cloud, or social tools, there is a good chance a motivated expert is going to take it for a spin.
Two new examples highlight the capabilities - and a few hurdles - to make Dynamics CRM play well with the newest Microsoft technology. One example brings Excel 2013 GeoFlow capabilities to life on Dynamics CRM data, and another steps through a powerful way to integrate CRM Online and SharePoint Online using REST and ADFS for more flexible server to server communication.
Jukka Niiranen has taken Excel 2013 GeoFlow for a spin around his CRM data, and the results have the kind of wow factor that should inspire more demos and prototypes.
Integration from Dynamics CRM Online has not traditionally been possible using OData feeds due to the claims-based authentication of CRM Online, Niiranen explained. But now there are workarounds that use a few minor tricks to successfully authenticate.
Once authentication is worked out, data can be pulled and managed in on the desktop in Excel 2013 and PowerPivot. At this point, Power View and the GeoFlow capabilities can start working their magic. As Niiranen explains:
"The great thing about Power View as well as GeoFlow is that they can identify geographic variables directly from the source data text fields on both country and city level. You could also feed them the detailed longitude and latitude values, but it's far more likely that your business data will contain human readable address fields. You can simply state that this field contains city names and the application will do its best to match the values with its global address database. You won't get 100% accuracy with such methods of course but when dealing with large data sets and ad-hoc analysis this is hardly a show stopper. "
The result is a data visualization experience with GeoFlow on live (albeit slowly queried) CRM Online data, including a animated view of data growing around the globe over time in a GeoFlow Tour, complete with different scenes from around the earth.
"All we needed to make this happen was Microsoft Dynamics CRM, ClickDimensions and Excel 2013 (oh, and Movie Maker, too). Quite a powerful combination for supporting such a self-service BI scenario, even if you have to know a few hoops to jump through initially. Do also remember to read the Power View post on the Dynamics CRM Team Blog for more information on how you can work with CRM data in Excel 2013."
In another new example from Dynamics CRM MVP Rhett Clinton on his blog, MSCRM Bing'd, the goal is establishing an authenticated OData connection to enable the use of SharePoint data in CRM Online without the limits of the SharePoint CRM List Component model.
"Accessing SharePoint Online 2013 REST services with SSO via ADFS (Active Directory Federation Services) from CRM Online provides loads of potential opportunities, especially now that SharePoint offers a huge REST API," Clinton explains.
By using the REST API, it's possible to access CRM Online data without dependencies of the SharePoint client or of Azure. But as with accessing CRM Online data from Excel 2013, authentication is again the first challenge. Clinton uses SOAP requests to accomplish it, and shares some code adapted from other Windows 8 app code. He demonstrates that, while he had to do some upfront research and development, sending the authenticated requests can be a fairly straight forward process once the approach is worked out.
"Remember that my primary focus was on server to server integration possibilities, not user to server contexts such as in the current SharePoint CRM List Component model," Clinton concludes. He also lists a range of important sources for learning more about the approach.
With Dynamics CRM professionals leading the way, it's clear that the promise of deep integration to the latest and greatest in the Microsoft technology stack is not too great of a leap. Niiranen and Clinton both utilize findings from Microsoft experts in other areas, combined with their own curiosity, creativity, and vision to demonstrate where Dynamics CRM should be.
The promising takeaway in both cases is how close the product really is to putting these pieces together. Dynamics CRM and ERP professionals often push faster and further than the Microsoft product teams when it comes to demonstrating the promise of the technology. And in cases like these two, they also highlight the raw spots - the authentication challenges, the workarounds, and the opportunity for Microsoft take a more active role in demonstrating that the Dynamics products really are the enterprise showpiece of the technology stack.