Wunderlist Saved My List (And My Sanity)

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I have been a bit quiet on my social channels for the last month or so because I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Commonly called “Juvenile Diabetes” it is often first diagnosed in children and is a result of a broken immune system attacking cells in the pancreas. My version of Type 1 diabetes has a name all of its own, LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults).

The main difference with my version is how quickly it progresses. Typical Type 1 diabetes in children progress very quickly, completely destroying insulin production in weeks. With LADA it could be years before I need to use insulin. There is no cure and the cause for the immune system to go screwy is unknown. It happens to people of all shapes and sizes and my dodgy health and exercise regime have not caused it but did help in revealing it.

The last month has been spent getting educated and making some adjustments such as eating a bit healthier and getting organised to introduce regular exercise in my life. Weight management is a big part of living with diabetes and I have plenty to manage. The good news is my blood sugar levels are now stable and within the healthy range for humans and I am losing the love-handles. While I have an illness, I am not sick and intend to stay that way.

However, this post is not about diabetes so much as about how technology has helped me. Given I will be living with diabetes for the rest of my life, you can expect other posts talking about how technology can help people manage chronic conditions.

Being Diagnosed With a Chronic Disease

In this context chronic just means a disease which persists. If you or someone you are close to gets diagnosed with a chronic disease, such as cancer or diabetes, you get bombarded with a lot of information very quickly. You have to manage multiple appointments with multiple specialists and you have a million questions. You also have to educate your loved ones on what is happening and how they can help. This is on top of all the normal commitments you have in your life such as work and children.

Wunderlist To The Rescue

Over the last few weeks, Wunderlist has been, and continues to be invaluable. If you are not familiar with Wunderlist, it is available as a free download for Apple and Android devices and has its own web site (https://www.wunderlist.com).

Its function is very simple but well executed. In short, Wunderlist allows you to store lists of ‘things’ and store notes on them, as well as set up deadlines.

I have used Wunderlist in a variety of tasks to help manage the ramp-up of my illness.

Wunderlist For Reference Data

One way I am using Wunderlist is to capture information for me and others to refer to. Examples include:

  • Procedures such as when I should test my blood glucose levels
  • Weight-loss and diabetic-friendly foods at local eating places
  • Healthy recipes to cook at home
  • Lists for ‘friendly foods’ from the supermarket

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Also, because lists can be shared, as my wife usually does the weekly shop, I can share the supermarket list with her.

Wunderlist For Questions

Questions for my ‘Care Team’ come to me at the strangest times. Having Wunderlist a device-reach away means I can record the question and get answers at my next appointment.

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To Do Tasks

Finally, and more traditionally, I use Wunderlist to capture ‘to do’ tasks. Whether it is requests to do or buy something from the care team, a web site to visit, or periodic tasks.

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As I do the tasks, I cross them off and they disappear.

Why Not Outlook?

I still use Outlook to manage my life but I could not afford to lose the diabetes tasks amongst the general ones. Also, for things like sharing lists, Wunderlist is so much friendlier.

Other Miscellany

Finally, a couple of other points. Firstly, Wunderlist plays nicely with Flow with a pre-built connector so it is possible to link Wunderlist to Dynamics 365. Also, if, like me, you use a stylus a lot (it is so much easier on my Surface Pro than using the track pad), the browser version of Wunderlist does not play well with styluses. Drag and drop requires your finger or a traditional mouse.

Conclusions

You do not need to be in my position to use Wunderlist but if you are working with a list or a series of tasks and need to have it available on any device and to share it with others, Wunderlist is pretty great and worth a try.

For me, without Wunderlist, the last few weeks would have been a flurry of scrappy notes on paper, a lot of stress and a constant sense of being overwhelmed. Precisely what you do not need at moments like this.

With Wunderlist in my corner, I was prepared and organised for my meetings with the health care professionals, have my life better organised and have a strong sense that I am in control. Wunderlist really has helped both my physical and mental well-being and is now an integral part of my management program.

A Configurable Customer Feedback Setup With QR Codes

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As well as the blogging presentation at Ignite, I also did a major presentation on stage with Dynamics 365 wunderkind, Doug Daley.

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In essence, we showed how the entire Dynamics 365 suite could be used to run a business with configuration (and a small amount of scripting).

Our Scenario

One aspect of the presentation talked about feedback from customers. In our case, the business was a micro-brewery, supplying a local pub and they wanted to capture feedback from the beer drinkers.

To do this, our hypothetical business provided free coasters whenever they delivered a keg. These coasters had a QR code on them leading to a feedback form.

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Once the information of the form was entered, it made its way to Dynamics 365 (CRM).

This setup is completely codeless and applicable to most businesses seeking feedback from their customers. So let us get into how it was done.

Firing Up CRM

As we need a web address before we can create a QR code, we will work backwards. First of all, we need Dynamics 365 with CRM Portals. Fortunately, if you have a Dynamics 365 Plan 1 Business Application (the subscription which gives you access to the ‘traditional’ CRM modules) you get one CRM Portals web site for free.

If you do not have a subscription but want to see how this works, you can get a 30 day subscription here.

If you have Dynamics 365 but are unsure how to set up the portal, go to the Office 365 Portal site (https://portal.office.com) and head to the CRM Administration page (Admin-Admin Centers-Dynamics 365).

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From here, select Applications and click the button to Manage the portal.

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Select the Customer Self-Service Portal.

Portal

Once submitted and the portal has processed the request, you will have a brand new portal, directly linked to Dynamics 365.

Clearly the process has changed significantly since I wrote my primer on ADX Portals.

Setting Up the Portal Page

Once you have a portal, you will need to set up your feedback page. If you are doing it from scratch, you can follow the instructions of Part 3 (for simple forms) or Part 4 (for more complex, multi-entity forms). In my case I recycled the pre-built ‘Contact Us’ form (found at https://<portalname>.microsoftcrmportals.com/contact-us/).

You should end up with something like this.

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Creating the QR Code

The last part is the easiest. There are plenty of online QR Code generators. This is the one I used. Feed it the web address of your portal feedback page and then affix the QR code to whatever you like. You could even offer a reward for giving feedback and then have CRM automate the process on the back end.

Conclusions

There it is. Piecing together Dynamics 365, CRM Portals and QR Codes, a sophisticated customer feedback mechanism can be created with no code. Once in Dynamics 365, there is the full power of the platform at your disposal, such as PowerApps, Power BI, and Flow.

Microsoft Ignite Australia 2017: Blogging Like a Boss

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I am up here at the Microsoft Ignite 2017 conference (#msigniteau) and I have been asked to give a 15 minute presentation on my experience blogging for the past 8-9 years. Rather than put together a PowerPoint, I thought I would write a blog instead and use this for my presentation.

Introduction

I began writing ‘Leon’s CRM Musings’ back in August 2008. I used Google’s Blogger platform but, for various reasons, I found it quite frustrating so at the end of 2015 I migrated the blog to WordPress and renamed it ‘That CRM Blog’. I have written at least three articles per month for most of this time although I am now moving to two articles per month.

In terms of readership, I get around 1,500 views per month mostly from English speaking countries (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and India).

Here is what I have learned.

Get Good Tools

Open Live Writer

Usually I write my blogs with Open Live Writer but, as I have not brought my personal computer up to the conference, I am writing directly within WordPress. Open Live Writer is good because it works offline and allows you to manage multiple blog sites at once. I actually have a couple of other blogs I write so being able to do everything in the one place is very useful.

Word/WunderList

I employ the old writers’ trick of carrying a ‘notepad’ with my wherever I go to capture article ideas. In my case it is a Word document on OneDrive. It literally has five pages of titles for potential articles. These days I would use Wunderlist. If you are unfamiliar with Wunderlist, check it out. I use it for recipes, to-dos, and a whole raft of things.

WordPress

These days I write my blog on WordPress. I have a free account and it does the job really well. If you are unsure how to use WordPress and the many add-ons available for it, go to YouTube. There are plenty of one-hour tutorials on there which, after watching one, will make you a guru.

Analytics: Bit.ly, WordPress Stats, Google Analytics

Bit.ly and a blog statistics tools are a simple way to gather information on your articles and the blog in general. Good for information and feedback but they should not be the focus.

Distribution Channels (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Internal Collaboration)

Reviewing my statistics, it is clear a good amount of the traffic to my blog comes from the promotion I do on these channels. LinkedIn is, by far, my favourite. I have subscribed to 50 groups (which used to be the maximum) and if my blog article is relevant to one of the groups, I promote it. I could use social automation tools to help with this process but, at this stage, I do it manually.

I also post my articles on KPMG’s internal collaboration site. Regular posting is a great way to get your name familiar with people who you would ordinarily not interact with as well as establishing a perception of yourself as an expert in your field.

The key message here is write once, distribute many. This talk is a great example of this as my blog serves as my presentation, the post-presentation collateral, and a blog article.

Keep Your Motives Pure and Be Authentic

If you are not writing a blog because you enjoy it, you are doing it for the wrong reason. Doing anything you consider a chore is hard to maintain. Also, if you are doing it for the money, you are doing it for the wrong reason. I make zero dollars from my blog and I am fine with that.

Similarly, be generous in your content. Share your intellectual property with no expectation of return. Delivering value is a keep part of blogging so make sure you do.

In terms of how to write the blog, I write as I speak and try to be myself. My hope is if you asked me about a topic I had written about, you would hear something very similar to what I had written. Similarly, if I gain followers, I would hope they like my articles for their content and the person behind them.

In showing the person behind the article, I recommend making a splash. Be bold, express an opinion. I have been called a ‘Salesforce Hater’ for some of my articles. I wear it as a badge of honour and being ‘the Dynamics CRM guy who keeps tabs on Salesforce’ has not hurt my reputation at all.

Finally, be dogged in maintaining your brand and reputation. Do not steal content, do not do paid endorsements without disclosure. I write book reviews and software reviews in exchange for a copy but I give full disclosure in my articles and make it clear that I will be impartial in my assessment.

Reputations take a long time to build but can be lost very quickly. A friend of mine, who knows CRM very well and is an excellent consultant has a blog and, unfortunately, stole content when he was short of time and wanted to publish. This killed his reputation in the small CRM community.

You Are Your Best Audience

In terms of what to write, my best advice is write what is interesting to you. The topics I write down in my Word document are ones which are interesting to me. The topic I choose to write about in my list is the one which is interesting to me at that moment in time. If you want to sanity check or refine the scope of your blog, check the analytic tools. I recently blogged about my most popular articles in 2016. This gave me a very clear message about the kinds of articles my audience enjoys. I will still write for myself but, if there are a few topics which interest me, my audience’s preferences give me a great way to decide what to write on.

Do Not Sweat the Small Stuff

There is a bunch of stuff I do not do which I could. Things like using clickbait headings e.g. I could label this blog article “25 Things to Make You a Blogging God” and it might get more hits. I prefer to generate my audience through word of mouth than manipulation but that is me.

I also do not worry about search engine optimisation or keyword seeding my articles to get hits. I simply cannot be bothered. I write and if people enjoy the articles, great stuff. If they tell others about them, even better.

Conclusions

The best tip I can give is just start writing. At first it will be random and disjointed but you will develop your own rhythm, especially if you commit to write regularly. Also, there is no better way to improve your writing than to write regularly and a blog is a great way to do that.

Finally, enjoy the experience. You will gain a reputation and people will appreciate your efforts. I had been at Microsoft Ignite Australia 2017 for no more than a couple of hours and I was approached and congratulated on my blog by a Regional Director. You simply cannot buy that kind of exposure, not to mention the boost to the ego.

Actions: The New Workflow Function

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Actions have been with CRM since 2013 but, until now, they have been for developers. With Dynamics 365 this is no longer the case.

What is an Action?

Not being much of a developer, I have not had a lot to do with Actions to date. In essence, they are Workflow-like processes which can be called from code.

So, if you are a developer looking to emulate a series of steps which can be easily defined with a Workflow, the Action is a good idea. Similarly, if there are steps which the client wishes to maintain without getting involved with code, Actions provide an easy way to expose this.

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To be honest, to date, I have not seen Actions used a lot in my projects. As mentioned, I do not use them and often developers prefer to keep things in the one place for maintainability (when they are the ones maintaining it), rather than using three or four different tools to solve a problem. Hopefully, thanks to the improvements in Dynamics 365, Actions will become more popular.

Calling Actions From Workflows

In Dynamics 365 (and in CRM Online with the December update) you can call Actions with the Perform Action step.

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Unlike Workflows (and like Dialogs) values can be passed into Actions from where they are called. In a way they are like programmatic functions for Workflows.

Imagine you want a workflow to act on an Opportunity but for it to do different things depending on the stage it is up to. You could fill your Workflow up with a bunch of If statements, making it hard to read, or you could pass them off to an Action, passing through the stage as a parameter, making the Workflow much easier to read.

Similarly, if there are stages in a process where approvals need to be made, the Action could hold the approval process while the Workflow provides the context. While I have not explored this myself, it is possible that security could restrict access to one part of the process while leaving the other part open.

Conclusions

I can see a lot of value in bringing some of the flexibility of Dialogs to Workflows as well as making Workflows more manageable and scalable. If you find yourself creating complex Workflows with repetition, consider Actions as a way to simply them.

My Most Popular Posts of 2016

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A new year and a lot of new blogs to write but before I do that I thought I would review what got the clicks in 2016. My hope is to see what you like reading about so I can write articles of greater interest. To measure popularity I am using the count of bit.ly links I use when promoting my articles on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Microsoft’s LinkedIn Acquisition

The most popular article by far was The Real Reason Microsoft Is Buying LinkedIn (And It Is Not For Their Profitability) from June. In over six months Microsoft has stayed very quiet as to their intentions. Dynamics 365, the obvious home for LinkedIn integration, still has nothing. I know of nothing coming in the next 12 months so how Microsoft will recoup the large investment they made in acquiring LinkedIn is still a mystery.

Dynamics 365

The second most popular article was Dynamics 365: The Quiet Revolution from July where I talked about the newly announced Dynamics 365. The simplification of integration between Dynamics CRM and Dynamics NAV/AX is certainly exciting and bridging the products with Common Data Services (CDS) takes a lot of the headaches away from these enterprise implementations.

In my original article I thought CRM and the ERP products were literally in the same database. We know now this is not the case; they are linked through integration with a database of common tables, the Common Data Model or, as it is now called Common Data Services.

Linking Power Apps to CDS makes for a powerful framework. This is a framework I will be exploring with Doug Daley in our presentation at Microsoft Ignite Australia this year. Come along for free beer and informative information.

Salesforce

While, traditionally, my quarterly financial reviews of Salesforce do not gather large amounts of hits, one Salesforce article did resonate this year. My article, back in January, comparing the new look and feel for Salesforce, Salesforce Lightning, and Dynamics CRM 2013/15 was of great interest.

I maintain my position that Salesforce Lightning was directly ‘inspired’ by the great work done by the Dynamics CRM product team in the user interface. Fortunately for Salesforce, Microsoft have continued to innovate the design with the Dynamics 365 interface smoothing off the rough edges of the Lightning-like interface. From what I hear there is also much more to come so watch this space over 2017.

Conclusions

There is a common theme with the three most popular articles; all three relate to recent product improvements or acquisitions. Therefore you, the audience has spoken. When new updates or acquisitions are announced, I will cover them and try to provide my own insights into the minds behind the decision. I look forward to seeing what 2017 brings for the Dynamics suite of products.

Moving To Two Posts A Month

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For six years I have put out three blogs per month. While I cannot go into too much detail I have been encouraged to participate in the community across a more diverse range of channels. To this end, I intend to devote more time to:

  • Event participation
  • Publishing white papers
  • Community speaking engagements

This, in turn will leave less time for blogs so I will be going down to two blogs per month i.e. around 24 per year. Also, if you are considering writing a white paper and need a co-author or need someone to speak at an event, feel free to reach out.

Analyzing And Clearing Space In Dynamics 365 (Dynamics CRM Online)

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For Dynamics CRM Online you pay for the amount of storage you use. Therefore, it is important to keep on top of how much space you are using and how quickly it is growing.

If I am a CRM Administrator in my client’s systems, I will get a warning when space is approaching capacity.

Storage Email (002)

So what do I do when I see this? Generally I am not an Dynamics 365 Administrator so accessing the details through the portal is not an option. I have access to CRM and that is about it.

Audit Logs

If you have been liberal with your auditing, the audit logs can blow out. A common problem is integration to an entity will trigger the creation of audit logs. Lots of integration transactions means lots of audit entries and there goes your storage.

Tracking the size of audit partitions is quite easy. You go to Settings-Auditing-Audit Log Management and the size is shown.

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However, there is a problem. While, in the past, you could delete date ranges of log records, this is not possible in the most recent versions of Dynamics CRM Online. You can delete the partitions (split into calendar quarters) but only if they are not the active partition. As I am writing this in 2016, the partition in the screenshot is active and I can do nothing to reduce it. I am stuck with the 3G of audit entries.

The moral of this story is be very careful what you audit. In this case, we were auditing the Contact entity and also integrating to Contacts. The initial load of records from the external system blew the audit logs out. Roll on the new year.

Reviewing the Size of Common Entities

There are no tools in Dynamics CRM Online to review the sizes of ‘entity tables’. However, there is an excellent free third party tool which does a great job of pointing you in the right direction.

The UDS Storage Analyzer gives a report of how much space the various entities are taking up in your system. To get the solution file, you need to provide an email address but that is it. Once you install the solution into your CRM instance, you just double-click on the solution entry in the Settings-Solutions list and a report is generated in a few minutes.

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This will guide you to the entities taking up the space and, if you run it regularly, it will give an indication of growth rates.

Email Attachments and Notes

In the case of email attachments and notes, you can also, indirectly, get an idea of size through the Advanced Find. File size of attachments is stored as a field so asking for all emails or notes where the attachment is of a certain size can also give insight into outlying records.

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Deleting Records

Other than audit which, as mentioned, is managed through the Audit Log Management area, most other entities can be managed through Bulk Deletion (Settings-Data Management-Bulk Record Deletion).

The bulk record deletion guides you through a wizard to identify the records to delete and then CRM schedules a job in the background to delete them. The wizard uses an Advanced Find interface to select the records. For example, if you wanted to delete a large collection of workflows which were stuck in a Waiting state because the configuration did not account for all situations appropriately, you could use something like this.

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Conclusions

While tactics can be put in place to handle storage needs, such as integration to OneDrive or SharePoint, there are times when systems get weighed down with data. At these times you need to work out what is eating up the storage and what needs to be done. Using the tools above you should be able to get a handle on what is happening and bring the situation under control.