Dynamics CRM 3 and 4 could often feel like a Database-driven system given that Users were restricted to looking at data within a single entity at a time – a user would be looking at the list of their Opportunities or their list of Accounts, with only reports allowing them to see the picture of their work outside of the more narrow database definition of an Account or an Opportunity. This lead to the concept of Dashboards becoming a key requirement for many MSCRM projects as user’s liked the ability to see a view of their work, useful activities and other records in a single place.
However incorporating Dashboards into Dynamics CRM often involved SharePoint, detailed use of SQL Reporting Services or other BI Tools – this put the use of Dashboards outside of many clients and projects.
The CRM 2011 Team have clearly taken this to heart and implemented Dashboards as the heart of the user experience within CRM 2011 – replacing the default Workplace list of Activities with Dashboards as the user’s primary homepage of Dynamics CRM:
These Dashboards give an option to combine different entities data together to build a entry-point into the solution that is tailored for the user – essentially taking the single-entity views of data provided by the MSCRM Advanced Find Views a big step forward.
CRM 2011 gives us the option to create these Dashboards within standard customisation options using the customisation area of 2011, which is now broken down into a more Dynamics AX approach of collapsible nodes for each of the possible customisation items (or components):
Here we can access all the usual CRM Customisation options that we are familiar with from CRM 4, and also the new customisation options added for CRM 2011. One of these new options is Dashboards which we can expand to view the list of existing Dashboards and potentially create new Dashboards.
From here, we can click the ‘New’ button to add a new Dashboard in 2011 as we have been able to add new fields or entities in the past – this brings up a simple selection screen for choosing the layout of the intended new Dashboard.
This selection is similar to SharePoint in terms of selecting a page layout containing areas (Web Part Areas in SharePoint lingo) that can be used to drop Dashboard Charts or Lists into.
From here we can click to add content into any of the Chart Areas – typically this would be in the form of a Chart or List of CRM Data presented through the Dashboard, however CRM 2011 also gives options for incorporating iFrames or uploaded Web Resources.
|Chart||Charts allows the insertion of a graphical representation of a particular set of data within CRM. The data being defined as a particular view for a certain entity, to be presented via a graphical chart – such that the records returned by the View of the Entity Type can be totalled or listed within a Pie, Vertical Bar, Horizontal Bar, Funnel or Line graph.|
|List||Lists allow the insertion of individual views of entities into the Dashboard, such that multiple different entities and/or views can be displayed to the user as a single view of the CRM Areas that relate to them.|
|iFrame||iFrames allow the insertion of external Websites or linked Web Applications into the CRM Dashboard – this can affect Web Mash-ups or additional Custom Screen Logic to form part of the User’s Dashboard.|
|Web Resource||Web Resources allow the insertion of static Web Content into the Dashboard, typically HTML or Silverlight sections. These differ from iFrames in that the Web Content is updated into the CRM Database as a Web Resource before being invoked in the Dashboard – such that the content is internal to CRM as opposed to being a Web Mash-up.|
By combining these possible insertions (up to a possible 6 in total per Dashboard) we can build various Dashboards tailored to the appropriate audience, such as an example Sales Dashboard listing a particular Salesperson’s (through the use of the My Opportunities view filtering Opportunities to those assigned to the same person as viewing the Dashboard) list of Opportunities, list of Activities, Pipeline and key Customers.
This Dashboard can also include a Web Resource containing a page of simple HTML uploaded into CRM 2011 as way of providing other information or announcements to the Dashboard audience.
This Dashboard utilises the standard Charts and List available in CRM 2011 to build a simple sales-focused Dashboard – these Charts and Lists can be further extended by the creation of new Chart Types and new Views that can then be used in the Dashboard. We can see this in the customisation area of CRM 2011 in the ability to add new Charts for each Entity.
Here we can add Charts that look at a particular entity and are capable of producing a simple Chart Report based on Grouping and/or Sub-Dividing based on the fields within this entity. This (similar to the Advanced Find) does give us an initial set of restrictions in what is possible here in that we cannot instruct a chart about the Account Entity to sum the Opportunities related to each Account, or vice versa compare Opportunities by a field on the related Account for comparing Opportunities by Account Type or Industry Sector – however for more simpler within the same entity purposes, this gives us a simple interface for creating new Charts that can then be used in different Dashboards.
These Charts can then be saved as new customisations to the entity – and added to various different Dashboards. Crucially here we can take the existing Dashboard we have created and use the new ‘Save As’ function to create a copy of the Dashboard for this, as opposed to being forced to either create a new Dashboard from scratch or edit the existing.
This feature also applies for System Views, which solves a long sought after problem in CRM 4 for creating copies of System Views. (not quite full inheritance between views yet, but that would be a bit of a complex addition of most admin users!)
We can then add these Charts to the copy of the existing Dashboard to build up a new Dashboard:
This addition is done via standard MSCRM concepts in selecting Entity Type, View and then Chart to give a range of Dashboarding options.
In these various restrictions this concept of Dashboarding is not as flexible as using SharePoint integrated with SQL Reporting Services, as well as the CRM 2011 Dashboards not being capable of Choice Filters and other User Interface components that SharePoint allows for.
However despite developed SRS Reports being inherently more flexible over customised Charts – the sheer simplicity here gives a powerful tool capable of creating many types of Dashboard and Charts quickly and easily, meaning that every deployment of CRM 2011 should contain a layer of Audience-specific Dashboards and so not just those projects able to afford the additional software and consultancy to maintain full developed Dashboards through SharePoint or other BI tools such as Qlikview.
This undoubtedly increases the value proposition for deploying CRM 2011 into many businesses and is a fantastic new feature that combines the best of earlier versions of MSCRM (Advanced Find, Custom Views and the Reporting Wizard) into a powerful new area of customisation without code.