The latest Dynamics CRM Online Spring ’14 release is now rolling out to existing and new customers (starting from the US data centers) and the on-premises equivalent of CRM 2013 Service Pack 1
will soon follow is now available from MS Download Center (here’s the KB article for more details about SP1). The quickest way to check if your CRM Online organization is already updated to the latest release is on the About screen, accessible via the gear icon in the top right corner. If your version reads 126.96.36.1995 (or 6.1.anything) then you’ve got the Spring ’14 release available and you can proceed to the Install Product Updates menu to enable the new features.
This release, previously known by the codename “Leo”, focuses on enhancing the service management capabilities of Dynamics CRM. There’s a great “What’s New” page on CRM Customer Center that provides a detailed listing of the new features launched now, including an eBook of the changes in service management. Instead of repeating all of this information, I’ll try and provide an overview of how the features align with one another and specifically how they could be applied in real world scenarios for managing incoming service cases from customers.
Enhancements in Case Creation and Queues
I guess we’ll still need to first list the new options we need to be aware of when configuring the service module in CRM 2013 SP1 to handle emails and cases via queues. First off, there is now support for server side synchronization of emails (and other activities) between CRM Online and Exchange Online, without having to use the old Email Router technology (no support for hybrid deployments, though). Then there’s a new feature called Case Creation Rule that allows you to automatically convert an email message or a social activity record placed in a queue into a new case record. Finally, we have Routing Rules that can be leveraged for moving items into queues.
The following is my own interpretation of how these three areas are aligned in CRM 2013 Spring ´14 Update / Service Pack 1. The picture illustrates how an email message from the customer would flow through the system automatically based on the configuration of the aforementioned features. It also includes a few bullet points about the supported actions for each component. (Feel free to click on the image to view a bigger version that won’t stress your eyes so much.)
When going through the Leo release features I found it a bit challenging to get a clear view of the logical order in which the different functional areas found under the new Service Management settings menu should be applied. Also the relationships between them and the restrictions imposed on the number of records was something I only learned through trial and error. Hopefully this illustration makes it easier to identify the roles of case creation rules and case routing rules in the new release.
Rules vs. Workflows & Plugins
Looking at the picture, someone who has previously configured Dynamics CRM to be used in an email, queue and case based support process will surely find many familiar actions from the list. At the end of the day, pretty much everything here has already been possible with previous CRM versions. With those you just needed to leverage the workflow engine in the CRM platform to configure the case creation and routing activities. So, what’s really new here and why has Microsoft built this into the latest product release?
Behind the scenes, what the case creation and routing rules do is they create the workflow processes for you. This can be seen from the release documentation where the administrator of those rules is reminded about the requirement to have sufficient security roles for performing the corresponding actions via workflows. So, taking a very simplistic view, you could think of these new features available in the Service Management as a dedicated UI for configuring common process automation actions for customer service scenarios.
There’s definitely value in having these new features available right inside the core product. In previous versions, it has been far from trivial to build the necessary functionality for frequently encountered requirements, such as “email to case”. Several ISV add-ons have been developed to deliver such functionality and system customizers have surely spent a ton of time pushing the CRM workflow editor to its limits in an effort to automate the common tasks that a service organization would need to perform when managing cases in Dynamics CRM. Now there’s a new standard way to implement these processes via a method that is fully supported by Microsoft, which in turn will lead to far more customers taking a serious look at these case management capabilities in their business application platform.
It’s important to keep in mind that these new features don’t replace any of the existing CRM platform functionality. They offer a default method to configure common features, but they will not cover every possible scenario that you’ll come across in real life implementation scenarios. That means you can still use workflows and plugins to extend the process automation for service case management. For example, while a case creation rule provides the possibility to set an auto response email to be sent to the customer upon case creation, there’s nothing stopping you from doing this via familiar workflow process if more complex business logic is needed than what the new Service Management UI in CRM makes available.
In the next blog post I will take a more detailed look at how the case creation and routing features can be leveraged in practice, so stay tuned!