30 June 2013

Orchard CRM - The Application Design.

The design is simple: Use Orchard as the host system to manage user access, web site content etc.
and then adding a custom module to integrate with Dynamics CRM.
This approach can be used in many scenarios where you want to integrate the existing portal website and a back-end system. In this case, the back-end system is Dynamics CRM, and the front-end system is Orchard CMS.

Mapping is the key

You can mapping an portal user to many CRM records types if you like, i.e. Account, Contact, User, Team etc. Most commonly, as we are doing here, mapping to a Contact record in Dynamics CRM. Like other systems, an authorised Orchard user has an unique and read-only ID, which will be used to identify if this user is in CRM or not. In my sample code, the Orchard identifier is: _orchardServices.WorkContext.CurrentUser.Id.
The mapping field in CRM is ‘externaluseridentifier’ which is a system attribute in the Contact entity (the only reason I choose this field is because it's out of box, good for the demo purpose). You can also use your custom identifier to mapping a Orchard user and CRM contact record, but make sure this field and value shouldn't be modified by CRM users.

The following diagram shows the overall structure of how it works.
Orchard CRM - How It Works

MVC is the core

The custom module calls DynamicsCRM in my sample code, it's an undecorated MVC application (99%) with some Orchard-specific features (1%). I say it's undecorated, because you don't need to write any CSS code etc. The custom module can inherit look&feel from the host theme by simply declaring an Orchard class [Themed] in the controller.

The advantage is obvious: First of all, you can focus on the core-functionality development and leave the rest of work to Orchard. Secondly, the core MVC code can be reused elsewhere, i.e. you can use it to develop a portal app for SharePoint public facing website etc.

The following diagram shows the MVC core function in the DynamicsCRM module.
DynamicsCRM module - MVC Core
The rest files are mostly Orchard specific and really easy to understand.

Here's some links for this solution:
DynamcisCRM module (with sourcecode) for Orchard CMS
Orchard CRM portal demo
Previous articles about Orchard CRM:
Microsoft Dynamics CRM and CRM Portal website
Orchard CRM - A concept of Dynamics CRM Portal Solution

Jim Wang
June 2013

24 May 2013

Orchard CRM - A concept of Dynamics CRM Portal Solution

The purpose of this article is to introduce a portal solution for Microsoft Dynamics CRM; The concept can be used on other business software + portal, such as ERP, SCM etc.

From the solution perspective, there are two types of portal:
  • Stand-alone Portal - this is a dedicated portal website for CRM, it handles all CRM users security access, CRM interactivity, portal users authentication and authorisation etc.
    Example for this stand-alone portal solution: the CRM SDK has a portal sample from AdxStudio, which fits in  this solution. You can even manage the portal website within CRM - it treats CRM as a CMS system.
  • Integrated Portal - this is an existing website with CRM portal integration, the website manages its own security access and users, CRM portal is an add-on functionality that handles the CRM interactivity.
    Example for this integrated portal solution: Imagine you have an existing company website that needs accept customers order, feedback etc. and send these requests into CRM directly. You might also want the customers can interactive with some CRM data.
The solution I'm going to introduce is the latter. It uses Orchard as the host website, then add CRM portal as an add-on function (call "Module" in Orchard, which effectively is an "Area" in ASP.Net MVC. ) on the website. This is not the how-to article about Orchard, but here's some background information of why I choose Orchard as the host for the CRM portal solution. The whole solution can sit on any .Net hosting provider, such as Windows Azure.

So let's call it "Orchard CRM" from now on - start with Orchard:


In short, Orchard is a free, open source CMS system that built on the cutting-edge version of ASP.Net MVC platform  (that's what I really like about Orchard). It can be extended using "Modules" ( majorly on the functional side) and "Themes" (majorly on the look&feel side).

Orchard Project Mission

Install Orchard 

You can install Orchard locally using the following ways:
  • Install it using the Microsoft Web Platform Installer.
  • Install it from Microsoft WebMatrix as shown in Working with Orchard in WebMatrix.
  • Download the Orchard .zip file and install it as described in Manually Installing Orchard Using a zip File.
  • Enlist in the Orchard source code and build Orchard from the command line or in Visual Studio.
Note: You can also quickly build a Orchard site in Windows Azure website gallery directly.

Build a default Orchard site from the source code

If you want to write your own module or modify an existing module like Orchard CRM, you need the Orchard source code.
  1. Download Orchard source file and extract to a local folder, i.e. D:\Orchard.Source.1.6.1\
  2. Use Visual Studio to open the solution file: D:\Orchard.Source.1.6.1\src\Orchard.sln
  3. Build the solution, then Run it - it will load the Orchard website "Get Started" page.
  4. Type in the site information then click the "Finish Setup" button. The default Orchard site is now created.
  5. You can mange the Orchard site by clicking the 'admin' link on the bottom.
Default Orchard Site

Install and Configure the CRM module

You can install a module via the Admin Dashboard by clicking the "Dashboard" link on the homepage, or just type in the URL, i.e.: http://localhost:30320/OrchardLocal/Admin ,

In the Admin Dashboard, click the Modules link on the left navigation bar, then click the "Gallery" tab, search for "Dynamics CRM".

Then click the "Install" link, after the module has been installed, click "OK" to enable the module.
Now, you should see the "Dynamics CRM" menu under "Setting". Click the link and then input the CRM connection string, for example:
  • CRM Online: "Server=https://crmurl/yourorgname; Username=domain\crmservice; Password=servicepassword"
  • CRM OnPrem: "Server=https://crmurl/yourorgname; Username=domain\crmservice; Password=servicepassword"

Finally click the "Save" button on the bottom.
I suggest you create a brand new CRM instance (or use the CRM Online trial) to run it first.

Orchard CRM Setting
Now the CRM module has been enabled and configured, try to browse the following link to see if it works: http://localhost:30320/OrchardLocal/DynamicsCRM

Because this is the first time you run Orchard CRM and there isn't any data in the CRM system, so the page will relocate to the /DynamicsCRM/Account view, so you can input your information, and save it. Once saved, a Contact record will be auto-generated with all information you input on the page, as well as the user identifier value (Orchard User ID).
Orchard CRM - Profile Page
So next time, when you login to Orchard CRM, your profile will be identified.
Dynamics CRM - Contact

Add Navigation Item

The following CRM functions are available in this module (v1.0)
  • My CRM Profile - My profile in CRM, url: /DynamicsCRM/Account
  • My Cases - My cases in CRM, url: /DynamicsCRM/Case
  • My Customers - My sub-contacts in CRM, url: /DynamicsCRM/Customer
  • Orders - Orders from me and my sub-contacts, url: /DynamicsCRM/Order
  • Articles - All published CRM articles, url: /DynamicsCRM/Article
You can add navigation menu for them on the homepage. On the Admin portal, click the Navigation menu, then add "Custom Link":

Orchard Navigation
 Type in Menu text and Url, then click "Save". (repeat this step to add all links)
Orchard Menu Item
On the Navigation page, click "Save All".

The module can be downloaded here (open source NuGet package): https://gallery.orchardproject.net/List/Modules/Orchard.Module.DynamicsCRM

Note: this is an open source package I built for the the community and demo purpose; you can extend the functionality and enhance the security further to support your business case.

In the next post I will discuss the application design of the Orchard CRM.

28 April 2013

Microsoft Dynamics CRM and CRM Portal website

Why do you need a CRM Portal?

The CRM system is usually an "internal" system, that is, the content in CRM can only be accessed and managed by internal CRM users. It all makes perfect sense until you want something more, here's some business cases that you might want to consider as a CRM Portal solution.

Business Case 1 - Reduce the license cost (where the portal user is the CRM user)

The ESS(Employee Self Service) CAL is 1/3 license cost of the Limited CAL; is 1/10 license cost of the Full CAL. If a company has a big amount of CRM "light users", then the ESS CAL would fit for purpose, so a CRM portal or a helpdesk application is required  in this case (access through Microsoft Dynamics CRM clients is not allowed in ESS CAL)

Obviously, in such scenario, you will have to balance the ROI(Return On Investment) of building a CRM Portal and the license cost.

The Employee Self Service (ESS) CAL provides a user with limited API access and limited read-write access to “Microsoft Dynamics CRM functionality” through any application/graphical user interface (GUI), other than the Microsoft Dynamics CRM client. The ESS CAL addresses the licensing requirements for light user scenarios of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. ESS CAL isn't available in Dynamics CRM Online. 
Refer to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 pricing and licensing guide for a complete list of use rights.

Business Case 2 - Interactive with business relations (where the portal user is not the CRM user, but map to another CRM entity, i.e. Account, Contact etc.)

That's it! Non-CRM users can also contribute to your CRM system, like your business partners and/or customers. They exist in your CRM system as Account or Contact (or other entities but not the User entity) records, with some development work, they can register (or be given) an unique UserId and Password to login to CRM Portal, then they can perform some by-design actions, for examples:
  • Creating/Updating their own data  in CRM, like personal profile, support case etc.
  • Booking/Amending a service appointment with available resources/facilities.
  • Making/Managing online orders, manage invoice etc.
The beauty of it is all their inputs will be synced using the agreed format into CRM without CRM user intervention. For instance: 

  1. Your customer login to the CRM portal, select a few products and make an order.
  2. Your CRM user will see a new order has been created in CRM (via Portal) by one of your customers (also in CRM). 
  3. The CRM user can fulfill the order and create an invoice in CRM; 
  4. The customer will see the order status changed to "Fulfiled" and the invoice for that order.
The external connector license (for non-employee access) is required for this scenario.

Business Case 3 - Interactive with the public (where the portal user is anonymous Internet user, who has nothing to do with the CRM system)

CRM data can be pushed or pulled to the Internet to allow public Read-Only access. 
With some development work, the CRM KB Article and Sales Literature can be published to a public website to allow Internet users to access and download. The idea is, you can now use CRM as a "CMS" system, that you can manage contents within CRM.

About the technologies used in CRM Portal

CRM Portal can be built with all major web technologies, i.e.: .Net, Java, PHP, Ruby. It doesn't matter how you design the user front end, on the back end they call CRM references to perform actions.
CRM Portal can be stand along, or integrate with your existing company website. 
Here's a demo (but real) CRM Portal website (http://www.orchardcrm.com/) I built for clients demo.

Some highlights:
  • Support CRM Online, Azure Hosted VM, On-Premise etc.
  • Multi-Devices support, like: Desktop/Laptop, Mobile Phone, iPad etc.
  • Create/Update your CRM profile (update your Contact record in CRM)
  • Create/Update/View CRM cases
  • Create/Update/View CRM orders for yourself and your sub-customer (sub-contacts in CRM)
  • Book a service appointment activity in CRM.
  • View CRM published articles.
The website is built on top of my favorite Orchard CMS project (LIKE)!

Hopefully this article gives some ideas about what CRM Portal can do!

Jim Wang
MVP Dynamics CRM
04. 2013

18 February 2013

New Book Review: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Application Design

This book is written by Mahender Pal, a CRM MVP.

On the first chapter, it briefly introduced Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011; along with deployment options, client options, requirements and typical CRM modules: Sales, Marketing and Service. The book gives an example of how to design and develop a "Project Training Enrollment System" using Dynamics CRM 2011, with abundant screenshots and detailed steps. As a reader, you will learn how Dynamics CRM works as a 'xRM' application; you will go through the CRM customisation concepts and form design; You will also learn how process, plugins and web resource works in Dynamics CRM. The book also covers the application development using Dynamics CRM web services. Compares different CRM mobile client. Last but not least, it also introduces how to build an Issue Tracker tool using Dynamics CRM 2011.

This book will give you a good idea of CRM application design and development; it's suitable for technical consultant and developers.

Thanks Mahender!