By: Linda Rosencrance
The idea is fairly simple: Get the Microsoft Dynamics CRM community to share its implementation challenges and triumphs, and collect the solutions for easy access – say, solutions collected in a single schema, specific to a vertical.
Next month, Microsoft is set to launch Dynamics 365, the solution platform that will eventually replace a significant portion of the current Microsoft Dynamics CRM and ERP product lines, and will include a few other applications.
“The challenge is that within implementations, depending on the industry, there are often different customizations required as they store and use different data,” said Dynamics CRM developer and consultant at Cambridge Online Systems Ltd. in the UK, in a blog post announcing the project. “This can be time consuming for an implementation and also challenging to create.”
Critchley and Scott Durow, a Dynamics CRM MVP and solutions architect at Develop 1 Ltd, introduced the Schema Project to address that challenge.
The Project is designed for the community to work together – using Dynamics CRM’s out-of-the-box schema for the Account and Contact entities initially – on an open-source schema for these record types. In the future, that schema could also feed into the Common Data Model (CDM) of Dynamics 365, according to Critchley. CDM is the foundation for the integration and interoperability between Dynamics CRM, AX, Project Madeira, Office 365, Power Apps and Flow. Still in preview, CDM provides an out-of-box business database for storing and managing business entities.
No need to start from scratch on every project
The idea to turn to the community to tackle the very common problem of customizing the out-of-the-box schema in CRM projects came about during a conversation between Critchley and Durow.
“I was talking to Sarah, who is on the CRMUG UK Committee (as am I], and we were mulling over how every single project you start, there’s always this initial period of hanging where you have to go through this process of reworking the out-of-the-box schema you get with Dynamics CRM,” Durow says. “We all have our own little pet customizations that we always add in.”
The pair got to talking about the limitations of the out-of-the box schema and they also discussed the Common Data Model of Dynamics 365.
“Then we had the idea of coming up with a single way of solving all these problems that we have to solve when we start these projects,” Durow says. “And if we could work with the community to get everyone’s pet little customizations that they add to every single project and maybe cherry pick the best ones and combine them together…and get a bit of consistency between implementations – that would be pretty awesome.”
This goal is to reduce the time and effort required when organizations customize the Account and Contact entities by enabling them to simply import a broad, pre-defined schema for those entities, rather than defining these record types manually. Requirements that define a schema can be based on industry, features or even both. Ultimately, the plan is for the project to expand beyond the Account and Contact records, stated Critchley.
“The project aims to be able to create features, which are suggested and created by the community, so that common requirements of businesses (or part of) are already created for you and it is those features that can be based on industry specific (e.g., financial) or they can be more generic (e.g., social media),” according to Critchley.
Call for solutions
Durow says he and Critchley have put out a call to members of the Dynamics CRM community asking them to think about the challenges of their particular industries, their common problems and their solutions and add that information to the project page on GitHub.
“The plan is that the solutions within CRM are broken into ‘features’ where then an organization can adopt the schemas they need which will then combine to create their overall solution,” according to Critchley.
Durow and Critchley are asking community members to put forward their ideas on what should be feature solutions to the overall schema for the Account and Contact entities in Dynamics CRM.
“We’re suggesting adding them as open questions, [such as] ‘how do we deal with this?'” he says. “We’re also going to run a round table at the next CRMUG meeting in the UK in November and ask people to do the same thing – discuss it and get the people to raise the common questions that they have and lay down the gauntlet for certain problems. So that’s the first stage.”
Then Durow and Critchley, who are the facilitators/custodians of the project, will put those questions to the community and ask for submissions on how to solve them.
“We’re not about creating solutions with lots of very complicated functionality, we’re just trying to recognize that functionalities do form a schema, so the schema is the thing you have to get right in the first place,” Durow says. “We have a tool in the GitHub repository that automatically exports the XML of your entities to a folder so that you can easily commit your customizations directly to the project.”