Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book Review: Packt Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Applications (MB2-868) Certification Guide

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

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:

  • Preface
  • 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.

Preface

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 Appendices

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.

Conclusions

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.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Getting Rid of the Flow Forms in Online

As you probably know there are a bunch of features in CRM Online at the moment which have not yet made it to CRM 2011 (On Premise). Some of these I am very keen to see (such as Bing map integration and Yammer integration) while others I am happy to leave in the cloud.

One of the features in the second camp are the Flow forms for COLA entities (Contacts, Opportunities, Leads and Accounts). If you have not yet played with a 30 day trial of CRM online, this is what it looks like:

We now have three columns, the ribbon is gone, as is the navigation on the left and jscript. As a glimpse of the future, it is great. As a tool for my CRM workshops, it is troublesome, especially if those workshops are for a system which is going to be on-premise. In terms of its limitations, it reminds me a little of the Absolutely Fabulous remodelled kitchen by Bettina and Max in “White Box” (‘We will bring back the stairs with Orion’).

Using a CRM Trial in the Workshops

For CRM workshops, I find a CRM demo trial invaluable. Often, many of the people telling me about how their business works have not seen CRM before or, at least, are unsure of the finer details of how it works. Having a configurable demo system during these conversations gives the future users a sense of what the system is capable of (and not capable of) and provides a palette to mix their ideas with the configuration tools available.

When you have nervous executives in a room whose reputation, career and business depend on the system being able to perform a process as least as well as their current systems, the trial system gives a level of comfort difficult to achieve without it.

Unfortunately, an online form with a completely different look, feel and functionality to its on-premise contemporary hinders these goals. So how do we go from the above form to our, more familiar, ‘classic’ form?

Form Security

Our best friend in this case is form security, which I have talked a little bit about in the past. CRM (both online and on-premise) allows you to create multiple forms and to specify which roles can access these forms.

Suddenly the issue of the new form becomes simple to solve; we simply deny access to it to all roles. To do this we need to go to Settings-Customizations (or Solutions if the configuration is part of a Solution) – Customize the System – Entities - <Entity of Choice> (in our case, the Account entity). Once here, we can expand the drop-down to reveal Forms (which is where we want to go).

You should see three forms (I have Parrot above, which is an excellent add-on, but not part of the standard CRM suite). These forms are:

  • Information – Main: The ‘classic’ form
  • Account – Main: The new form (unless someone has access to more than one form, in which case it changes to a 3-column ‘classic’ form)
  • Information – Mobile: The configuration page for the Mobile Express form

In our case we want to remove the ‘Account’ form from being accessed by anyone. To do this we select the Account form and click ‘Assign Security Roles’. We then remove any access to this form for any role and remove it as a fallback.

The fallback is available so that if a user cannot access any form, there is at least one form they can use (the fallback option).

We then also make sure users have access to the form we want them to use. In our case, this is the Information – Main form.

Once we save and publish, we find our world has changed and the Bauhaus forms are gone and the more playful ‘George Nelson’ forms return (who would have thought I would learn about modern art while researching a blog post).

Conclusions

If, like me, you are not quite ready for the ‘modern’ style of the flow forms, you now have a way of turning them off. This is especially useful for workshops and demonstrations where the client will be using an on-premise installation with the ‘classic’ forms. Be warned though, when Orion is released, you can expect to see a lot more of the flow forms so do not think of this as a permanent form fix but more a stay of execution until On-Premise and Online are aligned.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Electronic Arts: Social Technology But A Less Social Attitude

In case you missed it last month, The Consumerist, a consumer affairs blog, released their “Worst Company in America” poll. The same company won it last year as well. What was surprising was the company was not one of the usual suspects e.g. pharmaceutical, financial organisations or oil companies but a computer game company, specifically, Electronic Arts (EA).

The poll was online and, clearly, many of EA’s consumers occupy the same space so perhaps this explains why EA ranked so highly. However, EA recognised their online contingent a little over a year ago, when they became a ‘social enterprise’ with Salesforce (the Microsoft Xbox in the picture tickled me).

The merits of the poll and whether EA deserve this emotive accolade can be debated elsewhere, what struck me was Peter Moore’s response (the Chief Operating Officer) in the light of their social outlook. You can read it here.

Peter’s Thoughts

Peter’s response begins with the quote “The tallest trees catch the most wind.”, akin to the Australian idea of the “Tall Poppy syndrome”; those which are successful are the ones people seek to tear down. Peter explains they won the award last year for a dodgy ending to one of their games and for being misrepresented in their support of SOPA.

It seems the list of complaints has grown in twelve months because he also goes on to admit certain failings this year with the promise to do better. However, just as he trivialised the reasons for winning the award in the previous year, he vehemently denies and snipes back at other complaints. Here is his quote:

  • “Many continue to claim the Always-On function in SimCity is a DRM scheme.  It’s not.  People still want to argue about it.  We can’t be any clearer – it’s not. Period.
  • Some claim there’s no room for Origin as a competitor to Steam.  45 million registered users are proving that wrong.
  • Some people think that free-to-play games and micro-transactions are a pox on gaming.  Tens of millions more are playing and loving those games.
  • We’ve seen mailing lists that direct people to vote for EA because they disagree with the choice of the cover athlete on Madden NFL. Yes, really…
  • In the past year, we have received thousands of emails and postcards protesting against EA for allowing players to create LGBT characters in our games.  This week, we’re seeing posts on conservative web sites urging people to protest our LGBT policy by voting EA the Worst Company in America.”

So Peter applies a few tools of argument here:

  • Of those issues he cannot refute, he acknowledges them to take the sting out of the tail. Any time these issues are raised again, he can confirm he has already acknowledged them and move on. What was not provided is a plan outlining how they will be addressed.
  • For SimCity, he simply denies the claim i.e. it is not DRM without explaining why the concerns are without foundation or the true motives for forcing solo players to be connected
  • He appeals to numbers for Origin and micro-transactions
  • He ends with a couple of trivial grievances so the reader is left with the thought that all of the issues are trivial

He ends off the post with some inspirational rhetoric being “committed to fixing our mistakes” and saying how they are constantly “listening to feedback from our players” (presumably with the tools put in place by Salesforce.) He ends by saying, in reference to his tree quote at the start “we remain proud and unbowed”, confusing, for me, whether things will be addressed or not.

The Problem

There are people that disagree with my position on this, such as Nic Healey of cnet. Nic is rightly impressed that Peter is responding at all and likes that he is committed to improving. I agree with this to an extent. However, the tone of Peter’s response strikes me as more Parent-Child than one of conversational equals. As a reader, the message I hear is “We have made some mistakes which we have given lip service to (and a free game) and, while you are telling us about other issues, we will ignore them because we do not consider them important or legitimate; we know best.” Arguments referencing the ‘silent majority’ do not confer respect and simply nullify the argument through fallacy. There is no way to know whether the silent majority are happy or not.

The problem is EA are hearing through their social tools but not listening. They are then telling their customers what is going to happen (and what is not going to happen) rather than conversing with them to find a solution.

Social Tools versus Social Philosophy

EA have social tools, thanks to Salesforce and Jeff Bradburn, EA’s Senior Director of Support Systems, says “The close relationships that we're building with customers (via these tools) are a real game changer.” However, winning The Consumerist poll two years in a row suggests, at least for some fraction of their customers, there is a problem. Buddy Media and Radian 6 are industry-proven tools so if the technology is not to blame, what is?

The problem lies in the culture exhibited by the COO and the associated social strategy. If you are going to reduce the barriers to communication you must be willing to engage respectfully with the people complaining. I have talked about the Cluetrain in the past and, again, we see the problems corporations face when they do not heed its warnings. My guess, given EA has won the award two years in a row, is that the COO is embodying an attitude evident in other areas of the business and it is this that is causing problems.

There is a wisdom regarding complaints that says that while your customers are complaining they still care and it is when they stop complaining that you are in trouble. Another wisdom suggests if you can turn around your harshest critics, they will become your strongest advocates. By ignoring the merits of the criticisms, EA is running the risk of disenfranchising those who use the services but are dissatisfied, sending them to competitors. Unless this attitude is addressed EA are, in my opinion, at risk of making the award three in a row.

The Similarities of Social and CRM

Just as CRM is both a technology and a philosophy, social networking is as well. It is very simple to access technology to open communication through online channels, what makes companies truly great is when they give great customer service through this and their traditional channels. Similarly, just as automating a bad process with CRM makes your company worse much quicker, using social channels to receive feedback and then dismiss it angers customers with much greater efficiency than possible without social channels.

Conclusions

I often come across prospective clients who have seen social tools built into CRM and are excited about the opportunities. It is true there is great potential in interacting with customers in near-real time through online channels. However, the question which I ask them and which always must be answered is “what is your social plan/strategy?” Without one you are doing the social equivalent of putting up a million web feedback forms and ignoring all of them. Social channels are a tool and, just like any tool, they can be used to delight customers or, as appears to the be the case with EA, they can be used to isolate customers.

 
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