I got asked a couple of days ago if I knew of a blog which listed the limitations of using an Advanced Find query. I knew of a couple of the limitations off of the top of my head but could not find a blog summarising them. So here it is.
In my opinion, other than being able to do aggregate calculations, this is the biggest limitation of Advanced Finds. So what is an ‘Outer Join’?
Let us say we have two tables in a database, the Account and Contact table. Advanced Find allows to ask questions like ‘Show me all Accounts which have a Contact whose first name is John’ or ‘Show me all Contacts where their Account is in the Mining industry’. In these cases a record exists in both tables e.g. an Account record linked to a Contact record whose name is John. This is called an ‘Inner Join query’.
However, if we ask ‘Show me all Account with no Contacts’ we cannot do it. In other words, if we ask questions where there is a record in one table and none in the other table we will find it impossible with Advanced Find. This is an ‘Outer Join query’. Other examples are reports showing neglected leads (leads with no activity for six months) which cannot be done with Advanced Find.
In the case of Accounts, Contacts and Leads, we can get around the problem using a Marketing List. In the above example, we can add all Accounts to the Marketing List and then remove those with a Contact, leaving behind the desired list. For other types of records, the only option is to have a flag field to help us. For example, we can have a ‘Contact Flag’ field on the Account which is populated when there is an active Contact associated to the Account. We can then use this flag to return ‘All Accounts with an unticked Contact Flag’, satisfying our Outer Join query.
Titles are NOT restricted to just the search entity. For example, if we are searching for all Contacts in a certain industry, we can bring in fields from the Account entity, by dropping down the entity selection when adding columns.
However, we can only go one level up. So, for example, if we want to ask ‘Show me all Appointments regarding Opportunities where the Account is in the mining industry’, we can display Appointment fields as columns and Opportunity fields as columns but we cannot browse up to the Opportunity’s associated Account and show their fields. In this case, the only workaround available is to replicate the key fields from the Account onto the Opportunity and then reference these copied-fields.
Let us say we want to know ‘All Accounts where the Account is in Sydney OR the Account has a Contact in Sydney’
We can write the above query but this asks for Accounts which are in Sydney AND has a Contact in Sydney. Normally we would use the ‘Group OR’ button at the top but this can only apply to conditions within the same entity and therefore we cannot group them. In this case the best we can do is run the query twice (once for the Account rule and once for the Contact rule), export to Excel and combine manually.
Advanced Find is one of the most powerful and accessible features of Dynamics CRM and any site not making full use of this function is missing out. Even those sites using it every day may not discover the limitations listed above. However, now you are aware of them, if you do find yourself coming up against one of them, you have some workarounds or the opportunity to rethink to see if you can gain insight through an alternative, supported, query.