Sonoma Partners Microsoft CRM and Salesforce Blog

Ad-hoc Comments on CRM Reports

Today's guest blogger is Jacob Cynamon-Murphy, a Technical Specialist at Sonoma Partners.

It's no secret - I have opinions and I like to share them, so during a demo, it came as no surprise when a prospect asked about how they might share opinions of their own.  Exploring a migration from a proprietary CRM system, they wanted to understand how CRM 2011 supported adding ad-hoc comments to SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) reports.  I've heard this request a few times while talking with customers, so I wanted to share a variety of approaches that yield similar results, but address somewhat different needs.

Parameterized comments in the SSRS report
If you know in advance that you would like to have ad-hoc comments on a report, it is easy to create a custom parameter in the report definition to support this.  When the user selects filters, they could also submit a block of text as a comment that would then show up in a "summary" or "comments" section of the report.  Although this technique would make it easy for a user to add comments to a report at the time of generation, it does require a SSRS admin to customize the report and limits the user's comments to a pre-defined area.  This approach is best-suited for scenarios where you may have a need for a summary or header area that is drafted from scratch for each report generated.


Emailed comments with an attached report
With this technique, no custom report definition is necessary; simply render the report in your preferred format, write up your comments in an email and attach the document.  I am assuming that every user in your organization who is creating or reviewing reports would have access to email.  This approach requires no customization, but doesn't bind the comments with the report; if a recipient replies to the email, the attachment will not stay attached for reference.  For one-off exchanges, this technique should be fine; for more in-depth reviews, look to the next approach to get what you need.


PDF report with embedded comments
Easily my favorite of the approaches, I call this the Romeo and Juliet approach - marrying Adobe Reader and CRM 2011 to create fully-commented, distributable reports.  I discovered this feature by accident while reading a whitepaper.  This feature may have been available in versions prior to version "X" of Adobe Reader, but I only noticed it after Adobe updated my software to the latest version.

When you open a PDF in Adobe Reader X, there is a button on the menu called Comment.  When you click on Comment, a sidebar expands on the right side of the window, allowing you to add two types of Annotation - Sticky Note and Highlight Text.  They're self-explanatory, so I won't go into too much detail - the takeaway here is that you can use this feature of Adobe Reader to apply comments to your read-only PDF report, sharing your opinions and thoughts with colleagues.  There is even a concept of replies and checkboxes, so you can have multiple participants commenting and reviewing together.  While this is likely most useful for editable PDFs, it allows us to address a common requirement of comments on reports, while preserving the read-only nature of the report itself.  The comments travel with the report and remain for all readers to 


Quick Steps

1. After generating the report, click on Export and select Acrobat (PDF) file.


2. If you are prompted to Open or Save, select Open.


3. Inside Adobe Reader, apply your comments.


4. Select File | Attach to Email… to kick off a new email.


5. Click Attach to open your email client and send your annotated report.


As we have seen, there are several options for including ad-hoc comments on CRM reports.  The three I outline give you some great options that you can use to include your own thoughts on the reports that you share, but that's just my opinion ;-)  Happy reporting!


Author’s Note: Special thanks go to Brendan Landers and Corey O’Brien for reviewing this content and for Neal Sullivan for authoring the ad-hoc report with parameterized comment.


Whoa Doggie, it’s on with Microsoft CRM’s Next Update!

Hot off the presses this morning, Microsoft announced the details about the next service update (release) of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. I have reviewed the details, and I am here to say this is BIG TIME! The next update doesn’t have an official name yet so let’s just call it the H2 2012 update for now. You can get more details in the updated Statement of Direction.


Microsoft Dynamics CRM Mobile
Hallelujah! Microsoft will finally offer a proper mobile solution. Sure you have always had Microsoft Dynamics CRM Mobile Express, but that didn’t quite work for all customers. Fortunately, now you have the option to upgrade.

  • Supports all major mobile platforms - iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android and Windows Phone 7. Yes you read that right, support for non-Microsoft devices!
  • Works with both on-premise and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online deployments
  • License allows a user to connect up to three devices (so I can have an iPad and a Windows Phone 7 connected)
  • Works offline
  • Cloud subscription – list price of $30/per user per month

Multi-Browser Support for Microsoft Dynamics CRM
If the news that Microsoft was going support non-MSFT mobile devices wasn’t enough to knock your socks off, you had better sit down. Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 will support non-Internet Explorer Web browsers! Here are the details:

  • Firefox (Version 6+) on Windows 7 / Windows Vista / Windows XP / Mac OS-X and iOS 5.x
  • Chrome (Version 13.x) on Windows 7 / Windows Vista / Windows XP
  • Safari (Version 5.1.1+) on Windows 7 / Windows Vista / Windows XP / iPad 2 (iOS 5.x)
  • Internet Explorer (Version 7.x+) on Windows 7 / Windows Vista / Windows XP

The only minor wrinkle to the multi-browser support is that the administration pages (assuming that means system configuration, etc.) will still require Internet Explorer but that’s no big deal.

Activity Feed Enhancements
Microsoft is continuing to invest in the enterprise social networking space by adding new features to the Activity Feeds module they first released in November 2011. These enhancements include:

  • Like and Dislike (Dislike? Really? Even Facebook doesn’t have that :))
  • Filter to just show your @ mentions
  • Filter based on the types of records you follow
  • Filter on record views
  • Updated mobile app for Windows Phone 7.5

SQL Server 2012
This one is pretty obvious and you might be tempted to think this is just an infrastructure benefit. However, SQL Server 2012 actually offers the potential for cool new reporting options through the new Power View tools. If you have not seen Power View in SQL Server 2012 yet, check it out right away…it’s impressive! The H2 2012 update will include some pre-built PowerPivot models and PowerView reports to help you get started.

Read Optimized User Interface 
This is a neat new option that allows users to open CRM records in a light-weight read-only form. By doing so, users will see significant improvements in form loading times because there’s less data to download. If the user then wants to edit a record, they just click the “Edit” button to access all of the fields. Even better, each user can specify their personal preference on whether they want the form to open in Read-Only or Edit mode by default.

Custom Workflow Assemblies in CRM Online
Currently, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online does not support custom workflow assemblies. HOWEVER, that gap will be fixed soon because the H2 2012 release will support custom workflow assemblies in an Online deployment.

Additional Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online Certifications
The Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online datacenter has been going through auditing and certification for many of the industry standard certifications that customers request. The H2 2012 update will be compliant with these certs:

  • Safe Harbor
  • ISO 27001, SAS70 Type II, SOX
  • Data Processing Agreement (DPA)
  • EU Model Clauses
  • SSAE SOC1 Type II

Industry Templates
Last but not least, Microsoft will offer some industry specific templates to help ramp up customers and partners. We would suggest that you use these for evaluation purposes only, they aren’t ready for customers to drop in and get started using immediately in our opinion. The industry templates include: non-profit, wealth management, health plan sales, and relationship management for health.

Overall, it’s great to see the continued investment into Microsoft Dynamics CRM. I am also proud of the Microsoft CRM product team by sticking to continual updates every 6 months (versus the old model of updates once every 3 years).