This is definitely a case of “There is integration and then there is integration”. If like us, you’re looking to do more than the out-of-the-box integration between SharePoint 2013 and Dynamics CRM 2011 (which, let’s face, is fairly basic) then read on.
This goal is not unique and it would certainly benefit many organisations. But a simple objective belies a reasonable degree of complexity. The answer? We had to build some funky code and develop an integration framework to get a meaningful solution.
Our proof-of-concept was quick to deploy. From SharePoint we created a customer-specific site and pulled information across from CRM. From CRM we could make use of the in-built SharePoint integration and so store a document against a specific account. We then moved to our prototype, ie we tried to scale-up to access the whole database. Hmm, we quickly ran aground.
The CRM system had over 20,000 accounts. So a simple task of using SharePoint to access a list of accounts suddenly became a significant point. Scrolling through a list of 20 names is bad enough, with 20,000 it is impossible. Our first step was to develop an Account Name search box for SharePoint. Notwithstanding 20,000 records, the performance is good. Having searched for a unique name, which can also incorporate wildcard searching (cool!), the Account Name is then used as a filter to retrieve other related CRM information about that account.
Out-of-the-box integration works by focusing on a narrow perspective. For example, from Dynamics CRM there is an easy set-up and connectivity to SharePoint. Thus from within an Account screen, on the left-hand menu, a Documents entity is readily accessible. Opening this entity prompts you to point to a SharePoint library or create a new one on the fly. Great.
Great, except we wanted to access the documents easily from both CRM or SharePoint and not always have the user begin a search from the starting point of an Account. We wanted to be able to find documents using a range of different criteria. For example, how do you find all tenders written in past two months that related to cloud deployments? How do you see what documents are out for review and require signatures? Or, how do you find customer stories that relate to a specific industry?
We wanted to surface documents from either CRM or SharePoint and we did not want our end users to be restricted or forced to use a prescribed tool. SharePoint makes extensive use of tagging to create metadata. This is not a revelation; we all know about the use of tags to categories or find documents. What has been interesting is developing filters that work from either system.
Of course, every integration project is likely to be slightly different, given that no two organisations are identical. However, for two systems that have such a natural affinity for each other, we have certainly enjoyed the challenges brought on by building our required level of integration. It would seem that for some time to come, most organisations would have to do what we did, and that is to rely on SharePoint engineers and architects to build the level of integration they need. Even if in some cases this it to tackle seemingly straightforward objectives.
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Blog written by Chris Pennington. The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the writer. Content published here does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Professional Advantage Pty Ltd.
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