"CRM is from Mars, SharePoint is from Venus" - Integration Framework

SharePoint and Dynamics CRM are excellent products from Microsoft. What happens when you integrate the two platforms?

It reminds the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, written by American author John Gray, and states that most relationship problems between men and women are a result of fundamental differences between the sexes, that men and women are from different planets. Each one is speaking his own language, and they met on earth.

The case here is similar, when you decide to integrate SharePoint with CRM. SharePoint is designed to store unstructured data, and it is excellent document collaboration tool. The strength of CRM is in its ability to capture structured business data, and centrally store it.

While both SharePoint and CRM can exist independently, much more can be achieved when they act in concert.

The Dynamics CRM integration feature enables you to store and manage documents on SharePoint in the context of a Dynamics CRM record, and use the SharePoint document management abilities in CRM. When enabling document management for entities, CRM creates folders in SharePoint, one per each entity selected in the set up process. The folders can be Account or Contact centric folders or standalone folders.

CRM users can select and upload documents to SharePoint, and save them in the corresponding folder in SharePoint, which also bears the name of the entity where the documents are uploaded from. Documents are now spread over different SharePoint folders. While users are expected to work as a team to achieve common business goals through improved communication between CRM and SharePoint users, these folders do not have the familiar structure of folders and tree representation of folders, as we are used to, which makes it so difficult when a document cannot be located or searched for by SharePoint users.

CRM is from Mars, SharePoint is from Venus

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Metadata is the way to go.

Metadata (columns) and views are better and the recommended alternative to managing documents in folders. Metadata provides descriptive information about the document. Views are using the metadata for grouping, filtering and sorting documents in an organized and methodological way.

The challenge is retrieving metadata tags from CRM records and saving them with the documents in SharePoint, where each such field (attribute) retrieved from the CRM record, is saved in the corresponding column of the document library in SharePoint.

Consider a company managing projects in CRM, using a customized Project entity, and billing clients when each of the project’s stages is completed. Using Word Template the Scope of Work (SOW) of the project is generated in CRM, by populating the Word Template with data from the project record and related records. Invoices are also created in CRM, using Invoice Word Template, with the deliveries and services provided for a project stage. In CRM out of the box integration with SharePoint, both documents, the Project SOW and related invoices are uploaded to CRM, one to the Project folder the other to Invoice folder.

As the project progresses team members, which are not necessarily CRM users, follow the project milestones and how the associated invoices are paid by clients. If the company has many clients and each has many projects, and each project has invoices, and their payment needs to be followed up, imagine the effort required collecting details from the project SOW and invoices documents, without having metadata to allow search and views build on logical and easy way to retrieve them.

We follow 8 core principles when integrating CRM and SharePoint.

1. Documents generated in CRM

One click function and similar workflow, to upload documents generated with CRM Word Templates to SharePoint, either in Word or PDF format

One click function and similar workflow, to upload Reports to SharePoint

2. Documents generated outside CRM

Email sent to CRM Queue triggers plug-in that saves documents attached to the incoming Email in SharePoint, and use the Email addresses, subject line and Email body as metadata.

Email 2 SharePoint prevents human errors and omissions common with manual uploads of documents to CRM

Email 2 SharePoint can be used by ISV and software developers, as an interface to SharePoint, to upload documents generated with other systems, to SharePoint

3. Workflows in CRM and in SharePoint

Implement business processes with workflows synchronized across SharePoint and CRM platforms. Example: Project documents are generated in CRM using Word Templates, and uploaded with workflow to SharePoint. The CRM workflow updates the milestones metadata column in SharePoint that triggers SharePoint workflows for SharePoint users to monitor the project’s deliveries and milestones. If SharePoint user comes across business opportunity, during project implementation and management, the user can trigger a CRM workflow from SharePoint, to create new Opportunity in CRM

4. GUID as reference to CRM records

Save the GUID of the CRM record as metadata in SharePoint, as reference back to CRM

Different documents uploaded from same record to SharePoint, can be associated / linked using GUID data

GUID provides ISV and software developers a link back to CRM, for SharePoint users to view ad-hoc information required from CRM records.

5. Views

ISV solutions to view activities in CRM using GUID stored in metadata column (like meetings, phone conversations, Emails…).

6. Security and permissions

CRM solution that syncs the security roles in CRM with permissions, to view, edit, delete documents in SharePoint

7. Search

CRM solution to allow search for documents in SharePoint

8. Metadata and Attributes

Metadata to be consistent across SharePoint folders and subsites, and match the content retrieved from CRM attributes