Practice Makes Perfect—Sample Data in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011

Have you recently upgraded or subscribed to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011? Perhaps you are still growing accustomed to the solution. Maybe you need to demonstrate a feature to a colleague or a customer.

You may find sample data to be an effective teaching or practicing tool, as it can help you to familiarize yourself with the product, learn the functionality of various features, and test Microsoft Dynamics CRM configurations and customizations, without affecting real production data.

This blog entry shows how you can install or uninstall the default sample data provided by Microsoft as well as how to create your own sample data. This applies to all deployment models of Dynamics CRM 2011, including on premises, partner hosted and CRM Online 2011.

Standard sample data is installed by default on all deployments of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online 2011. It is not installed by default on partner-hosted or on-premises deployments, but the default sample data set is available for System Administrators to install if desired. The default sample data set contains multiple records for each of the following entities.

  • Account
  • Article
  • Campaign
  • Case
  • Contact
  • Goal
  • Lead
  • Opportunity
  • Phone Call
  • Subject
  • Task

Below are three walkthroughs that will show you:

  • How to Install and Uninstall Standard Sample Data
  • How to Create and Import Your Own Custom Sample Data
  • How to Delete Custom Sample Data

How to Install and Uninstall Standard Sample Data

Note: This task requires the System Administrator security role or equivalent permissions.

1. Navigate to Settings > System > Data Management and click Sample Data (see below). Ask a Microsoft partner such as xRM.com for help if you do not see the Sample Data icon in your on-premises or partner-hosted deployment.

Once you click Sample Data, you will see one of the following two screenshots depending on whether or not you currently have Microsoft’s default sample data set installed on your system. This is one way of verifying the presence or absence of sample data.

2. If you do not already have sample data, click Install Sample Data (see below). The standard sample data will be installed automatically.

3. If sample data is installed on your system and you wish to remove it, click Remove Sample Data (see below). Note: There is no confirmation step beyond this screen; once you click the button, the sample data is removed automatically.

How to Create and Import Your Own Custom Sample Data

Note: Almost anyone can import data, but you will need a System Administrator role to delete it later (in the next walkthrough).

Note: The default sample records all have “(sample)” in their names, making them easy to distinguish from real production records. It would probably be a good idea to keep that convention when generating your own sample data, or use something similar, such as “(test)”.

You can always create a sample record in Dynamics CRM by navigating to any entity view and clicking New. That’s easy enough, but there is a better method for handling larger numbers of records.

This walkthrough shows how to create multiple sample records in Excel and import them en masse into Dynamics CRM via an import file. It’s a better method for several reasons. It’s fast and easy to build multiple records in Excel by copying and pasting cells or incrementally changing their values. You can save the import file once from Excel instead of saving each record manually in Dynamics CRM. Dynamics CRM keeps track of records that are imported together, making it easier to clean up after your experiments later by deleting all the records of a particular import with a single action. The import files you save can be reused to import and then delete sample records over and over to train multiple new users.

Dynamics CRM makes creating sample data easy by automatically generating templates for its entities, including custom entities. A template is an XML Document suitable for opening in Excel describing the internal data structure of a Dynamics CRM entity. Each entity (typically) has a different structure, so each entity will have its own template. For the purposes of this walk-through, we will be creating sample records using a template for the Appointment entity. (Note: This Dynamics CRM entity template is an XML Document having a file extension of “xml” and should not be confused with an Excel “template”, which would have an “xltx” file extension.)

1. Download the template for the desired entity. Navigate to Settings > System > Data Management and click Templates for Data Import. (See below)

2. Select the entity in the dropdown menu, in this case, Appointment (see below). Click Download.

3. In the File Download dialog box, click Save (see below), and choose a location for your template. The file type will be XML Document.

Note: If you are using Microsoft Excel 2010, do not click Open (see above). This will likely result in an error message saying, “This file is corrupt and cannot be opened.” This can be caused by a variety of reasons. To avoid this, you must first save the file, and then open it from Excel. If it still does not open, try one of the following steps:

  • Add the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online URL to your browser’s trusted site security zone.
  • Unblock the security in the downloaded Excel file. To do this:
    • Right-click the downloaded file and click Properties
    • On the General tab, for Security, click Unblock
  • In Microsoft Excel 2010, enable Protected View for files originating from the Internet
    • Open Microsoft Excel 2010
    • Click the File tab, and then click Options
    • Click Trust Center, and the click Trust Center Settings
    • Click Protected View, and then select Enable Protected View for files originating from the Internet option

4. Once you have opened the XML Document in Excel, you can start adding records by typing in the desired information. The rows are records and the columns are fields. There are certain fields in Dynamics CRM 2011 that must contain data in order for a record to be saved. In Excel, you can identify which fields require data for a successful import by locating the columns with headings in a bold font. For example, when creating an Appointment in Dynamics CRM, Subject is a required field. A new Appointment cannot be made without data in this field. Therefore, in Excel, the Subject column heading appears in bold text. (Note: Required and optional fields are not to be confused with the columns that say “Required” and “Optional” below. These two columns are individual fields in the Appointments entity, which do not require data since their text is not in bold.) After you have created your sample data, save the XML Document and close the file.

5. Import your new sample data into Dynamics CRM 2011. Navigate to Workplace > My Work > Imports and click Import Data in the ribbon (see below).

6. Click Browse… and select the XML Document you saved earlier (see below). Click Next.

7. Choose if you want Dynamics CRM 2011 to allow duplicate records in CRM (see below). Next, choose which CRM user you want the owner to be. Click Submit.

8. To verify that your sample data was imported successfully, navigate to Workplace > My Work > Imports (see below). If the import was successful, you will also find the individual records in their proper location. For this walkthrough, our new custom data will be found in Appointments.

How to Delete Custom Sample Data

Note: This task requires the System Administrator security role or equivalent permissions.

1. In order to delete the custom sample data you have created from the CRM database, repeat step 8 above. Select the sample data you wish to delete (in this example, “Appointment.xml”), then, under the ribbon, click the down arrow under Delete and click All Records Imported to This Entity During This Import (see below). (You will not see that option without the proper permissions.)

Working with sample data can help users hone their skills in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. In some cases however, a business’ needs extend beyond practicing with sample data. xRM.com can help your company improve its Dynamics CRM fluency through formal CRM Online training with a CRM Online implementation and integration. If you are interested in a Dynamics CRM solution, follow our xRM call to action.

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