Introduction and Disclaimer
On the heels of my book review for the Customization and Configuration Guide, Packt has asked me to review the equivalent for the applications exam written by Danny Varghese. Again, my compensation is a downloadable copy (I am getting quite a library through Packt). If you are interested in buying the guide, here is the link.
I do not know Danny but he certainly has my admiration for tackling a certification book.
Certifications and Certification Guides
As I said in my last certification guide review, there is pressure on Microsoft partners to take short cuts in regards to certification and there are ‘Actual Tests/Brain Dumps’ if your only goal is to tick a box. Therefore, certification guides need to offer value beyond passing the exam such as acting as a usable reference guide post-exam or being sufficiently content-rich to ensure, once you have read them, you are ready for the real world and not just a once-off exam.
The reviewers for the book are:
- Neil Benson
- Guillermo Barker Cruz
- Ian Grieve
Neil wrote the last certification guide and, as I mentioned then, I have known Neil for a number of years. The other gents are unfamiliar to me but, certainly, Neil is without peer in his knowledge of the functionality of CRM and experience in delivering high quality solutions with the platform.
Overview and Structure of the Book
The book is 344 pages and the chapters are:
- Chapter 1: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Overview
- Chapter 2: Activities and Notes
- Chapter 3: Managing Marketing Automation Applications – Marketing Lists and Campaigns
- Chapter 4: Managing Sales Applications
- Chapter 5: Managing the Product Catalog and Order Processing
- Chapter 6: Managing CRM 2011 Outlook Client
- Chapter 7: Managing Service Management Applications
- Chapter 8: Managing Service Scheduling Applications
- Appendix A: Sample Certification Exam Questions
- Appendix B: Answers to Sample Certification Exam Questions
- Appendix C: Answers to Self-test Questions
This is a similar size to the previous guide I reviewed. The chapters group the subject matter in much the same way as the exam does. For more details of the content examined in MB2-868, click here.
As alluded to in my introduction, the book positions itself as a reference guide and an exam guide, which is good, although a tall order. To assist with the exams, each chapter has questions to answer and there is the big exam at the end with answers mirroring the format of the actual certification exam.
I like that the preface encourages the book be read with a 30-day trial or an on-premise test system. Again, this suggests the book approaches the exams from a position of delivering practical knowledge, rather than a list of answers. It also puts its examples in the context of a fictitious company to assist in providing practical examples of how features of the system are used.
The final telling statement of the preface is who it says it is for: “…individuals who will implement and support Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011”. There is no mention of exams in this statement. Before reading a single chapter I am prepared for a book which is firstly a reference guide and an exam guide second.
Chapter 1: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Overview
The first chapter has two parts. The first reviews the modules of CRM, providing a high-level summary of their functionality and the information that can be recorded within them. The second talks about the various Dynamics CRM exams, who they are appropriate for and their associated training courses. It also provides specific information on MB2-868 such as ways to study for it and tips on getting the best possible outcome.
Chapter 2: Activities and Notes
This chapter reviews activities and does something I have never seen before; talking about the differences between the activity types in terms of the information they capture. Where this kind of analysis is useful is when considering the best way to capture a specific interaction in CRM. I am actually going through this exercise at the moment with an advisory company who wanted to capture their ‘advice sessions’ in CRM so it was great reading to check I had done the right thing in my own design.
One thing I did notice in this chapter is it does not highlight the limitations of the product. For example, in the section talking about custom activities it did not mention that these do NOT synchronise to Outlook like the other activities. Also it did not talk about the various limitations of email templates e.g. no HTML editor. This concerns me a little as Microsoft certification exam questions sometimes do play with the knowledge of what the product does NOT do as well as what it can do.
Chapter 3: Managing Marketing Automation Applications – Marketing Lists and Campaigns
This is a fairly standard review of Marketing Lists, Campaigns and Quick Campaigns. There is a nice comparison of Campaigns and Quick Campaigns. There is a section on reporting at the end which is very light on details, other than on how to schedule snapshots. For example, the Advanced Find section is about a page in length. Perhaps this is influenced by knowledge of the kinds of questions asked in the exam but, as a reference guide it is, in this aspect, a little lacking.
Chapter 4: Managing Sales Applications
This is also a broad summary of the sales module with a good focus on the COLA entities (Contacts, Opportunities, Leads and Accounts). There is no mention of the flow forms which is, presumably, a function of when it was written. As with the previous chapter, there is a high level summary of related reports and dashboards.
Chapter 5: Managing the Product Catalog and Order Processing
This is a good summary of products and how they are put together. The author even touches on how to manage ‘service products’ using units of consulting hours. It then continues by completing the sales cycle, covering the essentials of quotes, orders and invoices. Given the difficulty people can have understanding how products hang together in CRM, I feel the chapter is a good walkthrough to this topic.
Chapter 6: Managing CRM 2011 Outlook Client
A good summary of the Outlook client with something I have looked for, for a while; a summary of the deletion rules for Outlook-CRM synchronisation. If you want to know what happens when you delete a tracked Outlook contact, this is the chapter for you. One thing that is missing from this chapter is coverage of the rules behind what data go offline. There is a paragraph mentioning the offline client but little more.
Chapter 7: Managing Service Management Applications
Cases are covered, as are recurring appointments (which I was expecting to see in Chapter 2). In fact the essentials get good coverage here, including the often misunderstood Queues and the seldom-used Contracts. As a high level review of service management, it does a good job.
Chapter 8: Managing Service Scheduling Applications
Quite rightly, the author has devoted a chapter just to cover service scheduling. Although I rarely use this part of the product because it is difficult to configure/customise, the functionality is very powerful and definitely examinable. Even details like Selection Rules, Resource Groups and customer preferences get a mention.
The exam questions in the first appendix follow the format of the actual exam questions very closely with the ‘choose all that apply’ type and the standard multiple choice questions. Also, like the real exam, the questions are quite curly but easily discoverable with the product in front of you e.g. the required fields for a Lead. The bonus question was a nice touch.
The answers in the second appendix also has a brief explanation justifying the answer, which is a great touch.
Based on the preface, I was expecting a reference guide with pointers for the exam. However, the content appears to be more selective than that, specifically covering the aspects called out as being in the exam but rarely stepping outside of them.
This, unfortunately, leaves the book incomplete as a general reference guide but a great proxy for the Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) materials for the exam.
Also, by using a fictitious company, the book gives context to the functionality and gets the reader thinking about how the functionality is used in the real world.
If you are looking to take the exam and need something which will give you context to the functionality being examined, rather than simply the answers, this is a good book to buy and will help you with the exam (even if they modify the questions, as they sometimes do) and with your consulting. However, you will need a more general administrator’s guide if you are planning to work extensively with CRM beyond the exam and need a general reference source.