Tip #187: Slow batch processing

Sometimes you need to perform checks or calculations against each record in a particular entity. If you have a sizable on premises deployment, it could be that the marketing department just came out with a new algorithm to rank the customers and some voodoo needs to be done for every account record. If you are an ISV, it could be some bulk data preparation that you need to perform (e.g. in our solution we had to analyze every phone number for every contact and account record in the system).

Whatever is your scenario, quite often these batch processes include hundreds of thousands or even millions of records, they are time-consuming and can span hours and days. Frequently, there are additional requirements of not running these during the business hours. So how do you keep track of which records have been processed already and which ones are still to be done?

Surely, we can create and fire up a small workflow for each record but having millions of workflows not going to win you any new friends among system administrators. We could add a simple boolean attribute to the target entity and update it after we process each record to indicate that we are done with this record. That’s better but not a very good choice for ISVs as it immediately drags the target entity into your managed solution thus introducing new dependencies without a good reason. In addition, changing this attribute would run unnecessary update on the target record, modifying timestamp and potentially introducing inconsistencies in the data.

That’s where native N:N relationship can help. Note: some steps below do require coding, we deliberately skip technical details to concentrate on the essence of the approach.

  1. Add a new entity called, say, Batch.
  2. Add a native N:N relationship between the target entity (e.h. contact) and batch.
  3. Create new batch record.
  4. Associate all target records with the batch record.
  5. Use either FetchXml or QueryExpression to find records associated with the batch record. Use pagination as required.
  6. Process records retrieved (one page at a time). Once record is processed, disassociate it from the batch.
  7. Rinse, repeat until all records are processed, i.e. the batch record has no associated entities.
  8. Delete batch entity (it’ll delete the relationship as well).

This approach has the following advantages:

  • It’s non-intrusive. Adding an entity and N:N relationship to another entity has no impact, introduces no dependencies and adds no customizations for the latter. Nada, zip, bupkis. Visually, there will be additional link in the navigation bar but it’ll be gone once batch entity is removed.
  • It’s durable and survives suspension of processing, system restarts, etc, etc.
  • It can be expressed and used by a programmer. Note that we have a step of associating all records to be processed first. In theory, we could have gone the opposite way, i.e. associate processed records with the batch. However, that would have required NOT IN expression which is slowly making its way through but is not yet available in CRM.
  • It’s simple to master and execute.

The final observation. If your target entity is contact, account or lead, marketing lists can be used instead of a custom batch entity but personally I prefer to keep unrelated functionality separate and would still recommend using a custom entity approach.

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Tip #186: Bring back the “Add Exisiting” contact button

NOTE–this post has been updated as the original solution was insufficient to bring the button back. In the author’s defense, he tried several things to fix it and misidentified the real solution. Thanks to commenter Matt for pointing out the error of our ways.

In CRM 2013 SP1, the Associate View subgrid of contacts no longer displays the “Add Existing” button. This is fine if you don’t use it, but what if you wish to link existing contacts to an account?

To make it show up, create a solution that just includes the Contact entity

Open the solution in the Ribbon Workbench.

On the contact subgrid, you will see two buttons that say “Add existing.” Right click on the first one and select “Customize Command.”

addexisting1

Right click on the command for MSCRM.AddExistingRecordFromSubGridStandard and select “Edit Display Rules.”

addexisting2

On the right pane of the display rules selector, select the rule called “MSCRM.NotOnAccountForm.” and click “Remove”

addexisting4

 

 

Publish your changes and reset your browser temporary files, and you should now see the “Add Existing” button on the contacts subgrid from an account. Note this will not display additional buttons on the inline subgrid, but if you pop the subgrid out using the grid button or access contacts from the “Contacts” link on the navigation menu, you should once again see the “Add Existing” button.

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Tip #185: Dude, where is my alert?

If you’ve been paying attention to the most recent advances in server-side CRM entertainment, you are by now should be familiar with alerts. They are system messages that tells you when something is wrong (error), suspicious (warning), or neither (information). Open any server profile or mailbox record, click Alerts link on the left to find out what they look like.

My main gripe with alerts is that they are passive: administrator needs to login and navigate to Sales > Alerts to see if anything’s wrong with the system. (And if your system has been upgraded from 2011 you may be even missing this navigation area but this is totally different subject). Add the fact that alerts are not customizable and here you have it.

To start with, there is no entity called alert. Good news is that there is an entity called trace which seems to be the right one. The second piece of good news is that, while this entity is completely out of reach for customizations, it is possible to build a workflow that will proactively send notifications when bad things happen.

Workflow to send SMS about alert
This simple workflow sending SMS messages to administrator when new alert is raised has been running on our system for the last few days with great results. I no longer have to login to verify that one of our mailboxes has been disabled for inbound processing, I get SMS about that. (And disabled mailboxes is a totally different subject).

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Tip #184: Use CRM forms in Outlook

From the “Great features that have been in the application for a long time but many users don’t know about” file

In CRM for Outlook user settings, you will see checkboxes for various activity types and contacts.

selectwhichfomr

If these checkboxes are checked, when a user hits the new [appointment/task/Email/Contact] button in Outlook, that user will get the CRM form rather than the standard Outlook form.

This has several nice benefits

  • It ensures that each contact or activity added will be tracked
  • It gives access to custom fields or required fields not included in the standard Outlook form.
  • It is less clicky than creating a contact, saving it, and then tracking it.

Note that there are some limitations to this tip. Checking these boxes does not force the CRM form from all locations in Outlook. If I check the box and go to the CRM tab and click “new contact,” the CRM form will appear. However, if I go to the People list in Outlook 2013 and click the new button, it will still use the standard Outlook form.

So it is not perfect, but with proper user training, it can be helpful.

Alternatively, you can also access CRM fields from the standard Outlook form by clicking the “CRM fields” button on the activity or contact ribbon after the record is tracked.

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Tip #183: Keep batch modifications under control

PloughingNot so long ago we experienced the wrath of an unhappy customer when, with all the good intentions we verified and normalized phone numbers for all contacts in the organization. This particular implementation had sophisticated business processes that kicked in on updates and modified on timestamp was used to calculate some performance metrics. With us barging in as administrators, ploughing through all the records and updating them all, we managed to screw up all the performance metrics business has cared about.

If you are planning any kind of massive batch update, make sure to:

  • consult the business to ensure that there are no important metrics hinging on modified on or modified by attributes
  • temporarily disable plugins and workflows that do not make sense to trigger on artificial updates
  • mitigate some of the metrics “violations” by impersonating either the owner of the record or the last user who updated the record (depending on business expectations)
  • consider schema modifications where resulting data (whatever they are in your case, it was sanitized phone numbers in ours) perhaps are better isolated into a separate “extension” entity so that primary record is not affected
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Tip #182: Functional roles all deployments should have

New day, new tip, new feature. Today we are proud to introduce new category for our daily tips: Tipping Truckstop. This is where fellow tipping truckies get together to discuss topic du jour and add some collective wisdom to complex and often contentious but always fascinating world of Dynamics CRM. Without further ado.
truckstop

Today at the truckstop
Chris Cognetta
Donna Edwards
Daniel Cai
Matt Wittemann
Gustaf Westerlund

A Dynamics CRM deployment should include the following functional administration roles. These hats can be worn one or more people, but somebody needs to be responsible for these areas.

  • Trainer: The trainer is responsible for training new and existing users. Will be busiest around deployment and upgrade time.
  • Business Analyst: The Business Analyst  is responsible for streamlining and automating processes, identifying manual processes as candidates for automation in CRM,  researching, identifying and suggesting improvements, and ensuring the company achieves an ROI. This role oversees the documentation and rationalization for implemented business processes and is responsible for change orders. This role needs to be able to communicate both with business end and technical end and be the right hand to the project manager during and after the implementation.
  • Application Support: This has a server and client aspect. When users have an error message or performance issue, initial troubleshooting should be conducted on the client to identify if the issue is in the client or server side. Server side support will do tasks like checking SQL resources, checking event logs, and running server performance traces. Work with Microsoft Support as needed to resolve issues.
  • SQL Admnistration: The SQL admin will be responsible for backups and ongoing SQL maintenance, such as rebuilding indexes, and management of SQL Reporting Services. Not needed for Online deployments..
  • CRM Server Administration: The CRM server admin will be responsible for applying update rollup patches to the CRM servers and monitoring server performance. Not needed for Online deployments.
  • CRM Deployment Administrator: The deployment admin has permission to log in to the Deployment Manager on the CRM server. By default, this is the user who installs CRM. Additional deployment administrators should be added. The deployment admin is needed whenever licenses are updated, plugins are deployed, organizations are created/imported, or something characteristic is changed with your deployment architecture. not needed for Online deployments.
  • CRM Client Administration: The Client admin will be responsible for deploying the CRM Outlook client and applying patches as necessary. Also responsible for deploying tablet app.
  • Exchange Administration: The Exchange admin will be responsible for the email router or server synchronization. Also responsible for troubleshooting emails with incoming or outgoing email and verification that new users mailbox settings are correct.
  • AD Administration: If auto group management is turned off, the AD administrator will need to add people to the appropriate AD groups before they can be added as users in CRM. Not needed for Online deployments.
  • Integration Administration: The Integration Admin will be responsible for the scheduling and monitoring of CRM integration jobs
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Tip #181: Your new favorite keyboard shortcut

If you are using CRM 2013 SP1, there is a great new keyboard shortcut to get performance metrics for a form. Open a record and press CTRL+Shift+Q.

When you first press it, you will see the performance center, but it will be empty. Click “enable,” then click “refresh.”

The form will reload and you will see some really snazzy performance metrics for the form load. Much more convenient than running tools like Fiddler.

performance center

Thanks Adam Vero for this fantastic tip!

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Tip #180: Don’t use that name

Microsoft Dynamics CRM restricts some words from being used for organization names. On Premises customers can find the list by running the following query:

use mscrm_config
select reservedname from reservednames

The following is the restricted name list in CRM 2013:

About
Activities
AdvancedFind
api
AppWebServices
aspnet_client
bi
bin
Biz
Calendar
Condition
CRMReports
CS
dev
Help
Home
Import
MA
MSCRMServices
Notes
Products
rc
Reports
ReportServer
ResourceCenter
Sdk
SFA
signin
SM
support
Tools
tsweb
UnitTests
UserDefined
Workplace

Thanks Feridun the CRM Sherlock for this tip.

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Tip #179: How to change CRM Online password

Concerned about bleeding heart’s effects and decided to change your CRM password from pass@word1 to something a bit more robust? Nothing could be easier, right? Right, unless you are not an administrator and you have only CRM license assigned in which case instructions do not apply simply because mentioned menu is not there!

“Easy”, say you, “I’ll just go to https://portal.microsoftonline.com“. Since you do not have anything but CRM license, you will be redirected straight to your CRM home page. Same applies to https://portal.office.com.

“Well”, say you, “I’ll just open my user record in CRM and follow the admin link”:
Demo user account record in CRM

Since you are not an administrator, everyone is very sorry:
Sorry, we can't process your request.

The solution? Just bookmark the following URL:

https://portal.office.com/EditProfile15.aspx

Not guaranteed to work forever but it does work at the moment.

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Tip #178: Do you know what a wildcard is?

From time to time I discover that not everyone on this planet knows what the wildcard is or how to use it. Just the other day I overheard a conversation between two [reasonably advanced] business users that went along the lines:

I was looking for this guy in our CRM but couldn’t find him. I remember his name has “Dumble” in it but I’m not sure if we recorded Dumbledore or van Dumbledwarf or something else. But I learned how to use OR condition in Advanced Find so I’ll use that to locate his record.

Please.

Just type *dumble into the search box.

When you use asterisk in your search string it acts as a wildcard, i.e. it means any number of any characters. Simple yet infinitely useful. Few things to remember:

  • You can use any number of asterisks mixed with characters. For example, if you forgot the area code and are unsure if phone number was formatted as 80238029 or 8023 8029, just type *8023*8029 – that will cover for any area code and any characters (or none) separating the numbers. Going wild, as in *8*0*2*3*8*0*2*9, will cover pretty much any formatting. Beware that wildcard matches digits as well so you may accidentally match (802)36668029, for example.
  • Wildcard at the end of the string is implied, i.e. there is no difference between searching for *Lebowski or *Lebowski*, both will find “Big Lebowski, The Dude” just fine (including “Small Lebowski, Not The Dude” in the process).
  • Wildcard can be used in any search box including quick find, search box in lookup dialogs and lookup control itself – just type *sample in any account lookup field, press tab and let lookahead feature to figure out if you have any accounts with a word sample in the name!
  • It will apply to all attributes selected for search in quick search system view definition. Type *@microsoft.com to quickly find all contacts with email address from Microsoft.
  • As with any potent weapon, experimenting is the best way to learn how to use the wildcard efficiently.
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