Last week I attended the Microsoft Dynamics CRM UK User Group meeting to help out with their Q&A session. I particularly enjoy these kinds of events because in my pre-sales role I rarely get a chance to find out how customers are actually solving specific business problems with our products.
Obviously, a large part of the meeting was focused on CRM 4.0 (formerly codename "Titan"), and one customer asked if we would support synchronization of CRM Users with Outlook in the same way we synchronize CRM Contacts today. After probing deeper, I discovered what they really wanted is a complete list of employees available from their mobile devices and were using CRM 3.0 to achieve this as follows:
1. Create a CRM User in the normal way
2. Create a parallel Contact record with the same data as the User record
3. The CRM client for Outlook synchronizes these user contact records with Outlook contacts
4. The mobile device synchronizes its contacts with Outlook
The end result is that the user ends up with the complete corporate address book on their mobile device, but this also leads to some unexpected side-effects.
1. Incorrectly resolved e-mail addresses - because two records share the same e-mail address (the User and Contact records) it becomes impossible for CRM to resolve correctly when tracking e-mail.
2. Decreased performance - as the number of users expands from hundreds to thousands of users this approach will not scale, as storing large numbers of contacts in Outlook or on the mobile device will ultimately cause performance issues.
3. Increased administrative overhead - as a side effect of an increased number of users, the number of moves and changes also increases. Without an automated process for synchronizing changes from the Global Address List to CRM, the manual work required to keep the two in sync also grows.
The great thing about these kinds of meetings is that other customers also contribute with their own variation of the problem, and soon we were throwing ideas around on how we could use Microsoft CRM in different ways to solve the problem.
Having worked at Microsoft for almost 5 years, I have the luxury of using many of our technologies as part of my everyday work and this really helps me when trying to find a solution to a customer problem, as I can talk about how our software helps me day-to-day. In this case, I asked the customer some simple questions to find out what other Microsoft technologies they already had:
1. Did they have Exchange Server 2003 with service pack 2 or above?
2. Did they have Internet-facing Outlook Web Access deployed?
3. Were they using Windows Mobile powered Smartphones?
The answer to all these questions was yes, so as quick as a flash I took out my Smartphone and showed them one of the standard features I use almost every day - Global Address List Lookups.
Unlike earlier versions of mobile devices, which could view only local contact information, Windows Mobile 5.0 devices with the Microsoft Messaging & Security Feature Pack installed or Windows Mobile 6.0 devices can query the Microsoft Exchange Server Global Address List (GAL) as follows:
1. From the Start menu, select the Contacts mobile applet.
2. Select Find Online.
3. Enter the name (or part of the name) to search for and click Find.
A list of matches will be displayed, from which you can select the desired contact. To use the GAL when sending an e-mail message when the To or Cc box is selected, click Add Recipient from the menu. In the "Select a Contact" screen, select Find Online, then enter the name of the user and a list of matches will be displayed, from which you can select the appropriate name.
If you want a flavour for some of the additional capabilities you get with Windows Mobile 5.0 Messaging & Security Pack, take a look at this “humorous” (I use this word advisedly), 4-minute video that the Windows Mobile marketing team put together.
Not only is this a simple solution to the original problem, it doesn't have an impact on Microsoft CRM and removes the need to set up users with duplicate contact records. Sometimes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.