Microsoft CRM integration and customization: SharePoint Document Gateway

MS CRM is very close to document workflow automation, including Microsoft Office documents: Words, Excel, etc. Document workflow was perfectly automated in Lotus Notes Domino about 10 years ago. In this small article we describe the solution based on MS CRM integration with MS SharePoint.

Microsoft CRM is a new player in the CRM application market and is gaining market share. Different paradigm in its design (it relies on Microsoft operating systems and technologies and completely ignores alternative platforms like UNIX, Linux, Oracle, etc.). The Microsoft CRM market is very diversified: from small (5 users) to large (several hundred MS CRM user licenses) and serves a variety of industries: transport, logistics, lawyers, pension funds, high-tech and many others. The use of technologies such as Windows Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange 2003/2000, SQL Server, Crystal Reports Enterprise, Biztalk, Microsoft Outlook, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Great Plains and Navision in the near future makes CRM a popular system for Microsoft-oriented IT departments.

Let’s get straight to the point.

The main problem with storing documents in MS CRM in the form of attachments to activities is the inability to work on these attached files in collaboration with other colleagues who do not need to use CRM. This is necessary if several service employees are processing requests from the same customer. Currently you can use an alternative way if you save office documents in the folders of your file system and when changing the document save it and reattach it to CRM. This is impractical because initially all your editing users must have CRM licenses, which delays CRM implementation.

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We seem to be making document storage systems like Microsoft SharePoint, Oracle Files, etc more popular. Implementing such systems gives you time savings related to document revisions and versioning, approval cycles and workflows, web access via web portal systems, and the like.

The goal of our product is Microsoft SharePoint integration with MS CRM for document storage. Let’s take a look at the details of the high-level technical implementation:

oThe main change from MS CRM side is a change in the default system behavior when you open an attachment in Activity. Unmodified standard CRM suggests you to save documents in file system. The modified version saves the document in the SharePoint document library (the required library must be set up by the MS CRM system administrator) or keeps it unchanged in MS CRM (for documents of minor importance). From the moment the document is saved in the SharePoint document library, it is not saved in MS CRM – CRM now only saves the link/reference to the document. Also, you have the opportunity to open and modify the document at the place of opening, which significantly speeds up the MS CRM user performance.

oTable, storing the links to the documents is in a separate database and does not deal with MS CRM tables (you know that you are forbidden to make structural changes in MS CRM db)

oSaving documents in MS SharePoint is done in MS CRM and with its help – SharePoint Bridge, which performs adding and updating the existing document to the target document library using MS SharePoint web service calls

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oAfter adding to the document library, MS CRM – SharePoint bridge registers the document in the special table for future data extraction or notification mechanism registration

o Interested users can then easily edit the documents with MS Office 2003 or other programs/editing tools, provided these tools have access to MS SharePoint

oFeedback is provided by the MS SharePoint Event Handler component. This is a special handler that checks the document change status, is transferred from MS CRM to the document store (SharePoint) and informs the activity owner about the changes with notifications on the home page (user home page in MS CRM). The user, in turn, can see the history of document editing – who made the change, when and where

oOpen activity where the document is “attached” and actually placed in the MS SharePoint document library and by pressing the open button the MS CRM user gets a live version of the data

oThis approach allows you to seamlessly work with MS CRM documents throughout the information domain of your organization

oAdditional improvements to this product can include management of document libraries directly from MS CRM (web interface – means remote), management interface for revision of MS Sharepoint documents, ability to generate reports on document storage status, rights/access management ( Author, reader, contributor, etc.) of MS CRM, integration of portal pages with MS CRM to name a few.

Have fun coding, implementing, customizing and modifying! If you want us to do the work, call 1-630-961-5918, 1-866-528-0577!