Option Set vs. Two Options in CRM Online

When creating custom fields in Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, the most important step isn’t the field name, nor the placement on the form. The most important part of creating a custom field is selecting the correct data type. As CRM Online consultants at xRM (www.xrm.com), we work with clients in analyzing their data to ensure that the fields in which their data is entered are set up for optimal scalability and reporting capabilities.

In this post, we want to focus on two specific data types with similar sounding names but different uses: Option Set and Two Options. The former is a field that houses a predefined set of Options, sometimes referred to as a picklist or drop-down menu. The latter is quite simply a binary input.

One example of an Option Set could be a list of 50 Options representing the states of the USA. Such an Option Set is great for reporting because it prevents users from inputting inconsistent values intended to mean the same thing, compromising the data integrity. For example, three users could input the state in three different California addresses differently: “CA,” “Cali,” and “California”. This would become disastrous for reporting. Say a user were to run a report that asked, “Show me all accounts that are located in ‘CA.’” Accounts whose addresses had been recorded as “Cali” or “California” would not be returned as results, thus reporting a faulty number.

Two Options fields on the other hand can only house two inputs. By default, the values are “Yes” and “No,” though they can be modified. Two Options fields can also be rendered as radio buttons, a list, or a check box.

There we have it—two different data types for two very distinct purposes, right? Actually, in scenarios where the input seems to be only two values, it might not always be clear which data type to use.

A common mistake we see is administrators creating a Two Options field to collect data that seems like it only has two values but really needs three. Why is this a mistake? Let’s pretend the question is, “Do you like vegetables?” While this is a “yes” or “no” answer, configuring the attribute as a Two Options data type and displaying the field as a checkbox on the form means the input already has a default value, either checked or unchecked, yes or no. That would imply we’ve already asked the question and recorded the response. If the default is “No,” we assume no one likes vegetables until they indicate the affirmative. It also becomes impossible to know which records have indeed answered the question, since neither “yes” nor “no” means “unanswered”.

An Option Set allows administrators to create a field that has no default value and can still provide the user two options to choose from as input. In reality, no default selection means there is an additional (empty) input, which becomes the default. Such a field makes it clear which records have indeed indicated a response to either question we posed previously, because if the field is empty, it means the user hasn’t made a choice. If we also set the field as required on the form, we can force the user to make a purposeful choice, because a form cannot be saved while a required field is empty.

It may seem silly or superfluous to dwell on what appears to be a minute detail. But understand that once a data type has been specified for an attribute, it cannot be changed. To resolve a change from a Two Options field to an Option Set would require creating a new custom field, migrating previous values (if you deem them still reliable) to the new field, and updating any views, charts, dashboards, reports, workflows, mappings or other features that depended on the old field. That’s quite an effort to correct a mistake that seemed minute initially.

It’s very important to have an understanding of the purpose of a field before designing it. What questions will it answer? What workflows will it trigger? These are questions that xRM can help you answer if you need such assistance.

You can learn more tips, tricks, and tutorials for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, please check out our xRM blog and our Success Portal. If you would like to receive training from our team of experts, please inquire about our QuickStart Training.

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Creating Multi-entity Views in Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Data is more abundant than ever today, but what good is all that data if you have no means of sorting through the influx? One of the goals of xRM (www.xrm.com) when helping clients deploy Microsoft Dynamics CRM is to ensure that they can easily understand their data by displaying it in ways that make sense.

Business Intelligence (BI) applications are purposed to help people make sense of data. A number of BI applications are available. Microsoft now has its own offering—Microsoft Power BI—which integrates directly with Microsoft Dynamics CRM. One of the benefits of Power BI is the ability to easily create visuals with data from multiple tables. For a brief background on this concept, watch the video, Creating Relationships in Power BI Designer.

However, did you know that we can do something similar to that in Microsoft Dynamics CRM without a BI application? It’s not even necessary to export to Microsoft Excel. We can accomplish it by combining data from related entities on a single view.

To illustrate this, let’s find the total estimated revenue of all open Opportunities, organized by City. The initial obstacle is that the City field is not found by default on the Opportunity entity in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The City field resides on the related customer entity, Account in this example. The estimated revenue is found on the Opportunity. So the data we need exists in two different entities, Accounts and Opportunities.

Let’s open Advanced Find. The button can be found next to the global search feature in the navigation bar of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015.

Advanced Find requires us to choose an entity to search for. Should we start at the Account or Opportunity entity?

To answer that question, we need to think about how the entities relate to one another. Each Opportunity record is a child of a parent customer record, an Account in this example. Opportunities can be related to only one Account (N:1) whereas Accounts can have multiple Opportunities related to them (1:N). Advanced Find will only let us grab data from related entities when it is possible to resolve a single record, which can only be done from the perspective of a child record. A child record can only have one parent. Therefore, we need to begin building this view from the Opportunity entity.

It should be noted that starting from the child record (Opportunity in this example) is not an absolute certainty. A rollup field could be designed and placed on the Account record that calculates all estimated revenue. For the purposes of this example however, we’re assuming this is an unmodified Account entity.

Let’s design the view now in Advanced Find, starting from the Opportunity entity. We can begin from something like the default Open Opportunities view. From here, we need to click the Edit Columns button in the ribbon, thus opening the Edit Columns dialog.

Creating Multi-entity Views in Microsoft Dynamics CRM

We can then click the Add Columns button which opens the aptly named Add Columns window. Notice the Record Type drop-down (pictured below). By default, it’s set to the starting entity, Opportunity in this example. This means we can include attributes of the Opportunity entity as column headings, Est. Revenue being an example. However, we can also change the record type to a related entity and add attributes from related entities as column headings. This simple, yet often overlooked, feature is how we bring data from multiple entities into a single view.

Creating Multi-entity Views in Microsoft Dynamics CRM

When we change the Record Type to “Potential Customer (Account)” (see below), the available attributes change to those of the Account entity. We can now check the Address 1: City checkbox to add it to the view. Note that if we were to export the view to a tool such as Excel to plot locations on a map, it might be a good idea to include Address 1: State/Province. That way, Excel would know if we’re referring to Springfield, MA or Springfield, IL.

Creating Multi-entity Views in Microsoft Dynamics CRM

We can then move the columns as we see fit using the arrow icons back at the Edit Columns window. When we’re done, we can click the OK button to close the window and return to Advanced Find. Typically, it’s a good idea to click the Results button to make sure the view is to your liking. If it is, we can click the Advanced Find tab in the ribbon, click Save As, and name the view.

We now have a view that contains data from multiple entities. We can design a chart based on that view that shows us Est. Revenue by City, something we couldn’t do before we designed this view.

Creating Multi-entity Views in Microsoft Dynamics CRM

If we wanted to export the data to Excel to take advantage of say the Power Map feature, we can do so in a single export.

Creating Multi-entity Views in Microsoft Dynamics CRM

For many clients we at xRM work with, the primary goal of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM deployment is to improve their decision making. Knowing how to extract and display useful data from the database is crucial in achieving this. There are add-ons and third-party applications that can help in this regard. Microsoft Power BI is an example of such an external tool. However, it’s important to have a grasp on the features available to us directly in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Something as simple as the Advanced Find tool can be extremely powerful in surfacing data vital in making key decisions.

If you would like to learn more tips, tricks, and tutorials such as this one, please check out our xRM blog and our Success Portal. If you would like to receive training from our team of experts, please inquire about our QuickStart Training.

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Get cubed with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, AX, NAV and Zap CubeXpress 2011

Zap, a creator of business intelligence software that compliments Microsoft Dynamics products, has released Zap CubeXpress 2011.

CubeXpress 2011 simplifies the process of creating and maintaining a Microsoft SQL Server data warehouse to produce an optimized SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) OLAP (online analytical processing) cube. This process tends to be the most complicated part of any business intelligence (BI) project. However, CubeXpress 2011 reduces the technical resources required of such a project by providing customers with a simple, wizard-driven interface. This can reduce the cube creation time from months to as little as a single day. The semi-automated approach also reduces risk.

CubeXpress 2011 supports the use of data from multiple databases in one cube. It can take data from applications such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM, AX, NAV, and Microsoft SQL Server.

Since Zap designs BI applications that compliment Microsoft Dynamics products so well, we at xRM.com are proud to claim partnership with them. As a member of the Zap Partner Program for Microsoft Dynamics, xRM.com can help your organization utilize CubeXpress 2011, as well as other Zap Business Intelligence 2011 applications. If you are interested in enhancing your Microsoft CRM Online experience, or want to learn more about Zap CubeXpress 2011, we invite you to follow our xRM.com Call to Action.

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