Saturday, February 28, 2015

Salesforce: Newton’s Second Law

The end of another financial year draws to a close for Salesforce and, as usual, I am doing my post-game analysis. Unlike the previous quarter, Marc is being very consistent so, for people like me, looking for the patterns, they are easy to spot. Let us see how he fared.

The Numbers

As usual, the numbers come from Salesforce’s own website. They are the numbers reported to the US Securities and Exchange Commission using the ‘Generally Accepted Accounting Principles’ (GAAP). This is an accounting framework allowing analysts to compare companies on a level playing field. When giving press releases, these days, Marc shies away from GAAP and uses his own special brand of accounting which, not surprisingly, make the numbers look more favourable (referred to as Non-GAAP). This was not always the case. As can be seen in this Salesforce press release from 2009, Salesforce used to embrace GAAP reporting, until the truth got in the way of a good headline i.e. they stopped making a profit. I understand this from a public relations perspective but, from a business management perspective, I struggle to see the benefit.

 

2014 Q4

2015 Q1

2015 Q2

2015 Q3

2015 Q4

Revenue

1,145,242

1,226,772

1,318,551

1,383,655

1,444,608

Subscription Revenue

1,075,001

1,147,306

1,232,587

1,288,513

1,345,358

Revenue Cost

273,530

292,305

307,831

333,211

355,923

Operating Cost

975,458

989,808

1,044,154

1,072,486

1,123,501

Salesforce Income

-116,623

-96,911

-61,088

-38,924

-65,765

Highest Transaction

   

2,037,819,946

2,502,030,346

2,872,068,400

Transaction Growth QoQ

     

23%

15%

Revenue Growth # YoY

310,561

334,139

361,457

307,621

299,366

Revenue Growth % YoY

37%

37%

38%

29%

26%

Revenue Growth % QoQ

6%

7%

7%

5%

4%

Total Cost % YoY

46%

37%

36%

20%

18%

Staff

13,312

14,239

15,145

15,458

16,227

Staff Growth (YoY)

36%

38%

20%

21%

22%

Margin

-10.18%

-7.90%

-4.63%

-2.81%

-4.55%

Growth Difference

-9%

1%

2%

9%

8%

Cash

781,635

827,891

774,725

846,325

908,117

Accounts Receivable

1,360,837

684,155

834,323

794,590

1,905,506

Cash/AR

57%

121%

93%

107%

48%

NB: I realised in writing this up that I had the wrong Salesforce income in place for 2014 Q4, being off by 13,000. It had no material impact on my analysis but I thought I would call it out before someone else did.

Apart from the staff and transaction numbers, all of the above are in the thousands. For the year, Salesforce generated around $5.4b in revenue and has made a big noise about being the fastest to five billion. As I have mentioned in the past, Salesforce is selling $10 notes for $9 which makes for strong sales but lousy profits.

Revenue growth is slowing (which I will look at later) but, thankfully, so are costs. As previously predicted a 20% year on year staff growth is now the new normal.

In terms of losses, for the full year, Salesforce lost around $260m

Cash has gone up but Accounts Receivable has skyrocketed. Again, I will look at this in more detail further in.

Revenue and Cost Growth

image

This is a good and bad news graph. Firstly the good news. Revenue growth is outpacing cost growth by 8%, about the same as last quarter. So while Salesforce is making a loss, this loss will reduce over time.

The bad news is growth is slowing. It is well and good to talk about Salesforce’s 26% year on year revenue growth (the first bullet point in their bold headline in the quarterly announcement) but what this fails to mention is this is the lowest it has been in almost five years. Compared to those Marc used to mock for their lack of cloud presence, Salesforce is slowing and is far from the triple figure growth of its competitors.

Margins

image

I am using a 12 period moving average to smooth out the variance. The advantage of the trending line is it is very difficult to glean insight from the numbers directly as they jump around so much. The trend graph suggests the deteriorating margins are slowing up and, if things continue, Salesforce will move towards profitability albeit slowly.

This is reinforced by the annual numbers. This year, Salesforce made an annual loss of around $260m, compared to $230m last financial year. In other words, they have increased their revenue by 33% but their loss has only increased by about one third of that. Perhaps this suggests there is a way for Salesforce to return to profitability through sheer size. It is very early days though and the loss would need to start decreasing year on year, rather than just growing slower than revenue for this to be realised.

Looking at the long term, other than when the IRS cashed in their tax credits, Salesforce has not turned a profit since 2012 Q1. The next quarter, using Salesforce’s terminology, is 2016 Q1. Therefore, if Salesforce fail to make a profit next quarter, it will literally have been four years since Salesforce made a buck from their operations.

Cash and Accounts Receivable

image

The purpose here is to consider the quality of Salesforce’s current assets (assets which, in theory, could be cashed in quickly, if needed). The two major components for Salesforce are Cash (literally cash sitting in a bank account) and Accounts Receivable (money owed to them). Cash is generally considered more desirable than Accounts Receivable if only because it is much easier to get money out of the bank than it is to get money out of people who are in your debt.

The part jumping out at me here is the regular spike in Accounts Receivable (the red line). However, it is completely predictable, based on the historical values. At the end of every financial year, Accounts Receivable jumps up and every year the jump seems to be increasing. What is the cause of this mysterious pulse?

The answer is a human one. At Salesforce, “every month is end of quarter” so imagine how important the end of financial year is. The Salesforce sales team want to earn their commission and end the year on a high. If there is a way to close a sale before the end of the financial year, they will. In this case it is signing the contract before they have the money in hand. Terms of credit are extended significantly in the final financial quarter. What this tells me is if you are looking to get a good deal on Salesforce’s CRM, January is the month to play hard ball.

I also feel it is time to revisit the cash flows of Salesforce. How is it, if they are generating losses for so long that they continue to stay in business. Part of the story is the selling of shares to prop up operating cash flow but there is a bigger story around the ‘deferred revenues’. I think I will cover this in another blog article in the next few weeks.

Subscribers

Based on the transactions, subscription growth has slowed from 23% to 15%. It is probably a bit early to say if this is a trend or an outlier but it is worth keeping an eye on.

image

The loss per user per month has gone up from about 75c to about $1.10, which is not great and defies a transition to profitability. Another one to keep an eye on.

Earnings Call Buzzword Bingo

 

2014 Q4

2015 Q1

2015 Q2

2015 Q3

2015 Q4

Number of words

3700

2400

4731

3922

4017

Customers/Customer

25

22

38

34

23

Revenue

29

19

27

26

25

Cloud

14

15

22

47

32

ExactTarget

15

7

8

1

1

Platform(s)

12

10

13

27

18

Service

13

13

15

12

5

Sales

4

6

6

7

6

Growth

12

9

18

16

13

Marketing

11

5

10

8

4

Cash

16

10

11

9

10

Operating

10

11

11

8

20

Enterprise(s)

3

8

10

8

7

Salesforce1

11

6

7

7

3

Dreamforce

   

11

14

2

Analytics

     

14

11

Software

       

12

The rule is the words on the list have had ten or more mentions in the past five periods with the text used being the call transcript after the introduction and up to, but not including, questions.

As we can see, we say farewell to ‘Sales’. The origin of Salesforce as a sales force automation platform is now well and truly in the past, although the Sales Cloud is still the main part of the Salesforce revenue. We also say hello to the word ‘Software’. Salesforce’s catchcry used to be “No Software” so it is a little surprising that the word Salesforce used to rally against is now a key part of Marc’s quarterly speech. Marc, in the quarterly announcement, refers to Salesforce as a “software company” seven times, obviously embracing the term he once reviled.

In terms of words in danger, we have ExactTarget, the acquired marketing automation platform and Salesforce1 which Marc refers to as the “foundation of everything we do”. It may be the foundation but it is the cloud, revenue and the customers which are at the front of his mind.

Google Trends

The term “dynamics crm” continues to have more interest than “salesforce.com” globally. Moreover, while the term “dynamics crm” is the most popular it has ever been, the term “salesforce.com” is generating the least interest ever, with the graph going back ten years.

image

Google Trends could not generate the region trends so I cannot include these this quarter.

Insider and Institutional Sales

 

2014 Q4

2015 Q1

2015 Q2

2015 Q3

2015 Q4

Insider Sales

0.50%

0.50%

0.40%

4.70%

4.60%

Institutional Sales

2.72%

2.71%

2.67%

3.20%

3.11%

The big sales we saw last quarter continue. In 2015, so far, Marc Benioff has sold off close to half a million shares worth about $27m. Here are all of the sales for this year, to date.

Insider

Value of Shares Number of Shares

Marc Benioff

27,299,125

462,500

Parker Harris

3,631,752

75,408

Joe Allanson

26,384

418

Burke Norton

1,465,560

24,372

Maria Martinez

120,117

1,903

Craig Conway

59,865

1,000

Lawrence Tomlinson

379,528

6,400

Alexandre Dayon

142,857

2,500

Grand Total

33,125,188

574,501

To give some perspective the largest sales are by:

  • Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO
  • Parker Harris, Co-Founder
  • Burke Norton, Chief Legal Officer

Two of the co-founders are off-loading despite one of the analysts on the call likening the quarterly results to the Lego movie song “Everything is awesome”. For some reason Benioff and Harris no longer want to be ‘part of the team’.

Looking to the Future

Last quarter I predicted revenues of $1.46b-1.48b and an operations loss of around $20m. I was off on the revenue, which was $1.44b, by around 1%, which I am quite pleased about. For the operations loss, it was almost $65m so I was much less accurate. I thought the ship would be steering towards profitability a lot quicker than it is.

For next quarter, I predict revenues of $1.56b and a loss of around $50m.

Conclusions

Almost a year ago, I used Newton’s First law as an analogy to the lack of desire of Salesforce’s management to change direction. This time around I will use Newton’s Second Law which states that the force needed to accelerate an object is proportionate to the mass of the object. In other words Force equals = mass times acceleration. In this case, the ‘mass’ is the financial size of Salesforce and the acceleration is the growth of the organisation.

Warren Buffet talks in his annual reports about how it is very hard for him to generate the returns of the past because Berkshire Hathaway is now so large. The same is true for Salesforce. A number of indicators are suggesting a slowing of growth (revenue growth has slowed, staff number growth is slowing and transaction growth is possibly slowing). There is no mystery to why growth is slowing; what was once an untapped market is becoming crowded. New opportunities are harder to find and those that are available are being aggressively pursued by the competition. The effort required to grow the business (force) is now much larger because of their previous success (their mass).

As Salesforce becomes a mainstream “enterprise software company”, it begins to face the same challenges as its competitors. Ten years ago, Benioff famously said of his mainstream competitor Siebel “Even dinosaurs mate a few times before they die. It's the end of software.” Today, Salesforce is becoming one of those behemoths he once had disdain for. The big question is will Salesforce evolve into a bird and soar or will it become a lumbering carnivore doomed to be a collection of bones in the fossil record.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why Do We Need CRM Systems?

I recently presented the “Conference Room Pilot” (sometimes reduced to the inauspicious acronym ‘CRP’) for a system we are implementing. In essence, a CRP is a review of the system before it is put through user acceptance testing (UAT), or more generally into production. The audience was about fifty people, from all levels of the organisation, many of which were unaware a new system was coming or why it was needed.

My job was to show them their new stakeholder management system but also put it into context and convince them this was not just another piece of technology coming in, to be replaced in 18 months. I needed to make the system relevant and generate a sense of urgency and excitement within the crowd. This got me thinking why we need CRM systems in the first place. What is it about the way we work that makes a CRM system indispensible? I had previously written about the ‘what’ but only touched on the ‘why’.

This is what I came with.

The Eternal Conflict

image

There is a battle waging in many organizations. The battle is between the end users and management. The end users come to work every day to do a good job. They sell the products and provide the services. They know the problems of the organisation, where the waste is and where attention needs to be focussed.

Management want to do everything in their power to make the end users and, by extension, the organization successful. Usually their success is directly linked to it. They are not as close to the clients as the end users, or the products and services the organization provides, so they rely on feedback from their various systems to guide the business.

This is where the problem often lies. The end users, deprived of the resources they need to service their customers, do the best they can. Time poor, they do not have the time to dot the internal ‘i’s and cross the internal ‘t’s. Information systems, when they exist, are filled in poorly or, worse, circumvented. Management, with limited and incomplete information make the best guess they can as to the issues within the business and where the resources should be best deployed. And so the cycle repeats.

Aligning People, Processes and Technology

The idea of aligning people, process and technology is a topic I have touched on in the past. The solution here is to consider all three elements and how they can work together to improve communication between the end users and management. Starting with the technology,the information systems must be simple to use (so they do not get in the way of the end users), aligned to the business process (and vice versa) so they do not hinder efficiency, and capture the essential information required to deliver great service to the clients and communicate with management the health of the business. For example, knowing how long a service call takes and the waiting times for callers is irrelevant to addressing a client’s immediate problem but is essential in setting appropriate staff levels.

Where practical, the system should be a ‘one-stop shop’ for a given end user. There is no value in having an end user jump from system to system when servicing a client or when they are ticking the internal boxes. It is inevitable that multiple systems are used within a business (for example, CRM systems make for lousy ERP systems) but as long as each end user uses as few systems as possible to do their job, this will minimise the frustration of constantly jumping from one system to the next.

Finally our system needs to have reporting tools so that, assuming it is aligned to the business’ processes and it is not getting in the way of the end users, management can extract insights into the business and deploy resources accordingly. For example, if support consistently answer questions on a specific topic, perhaps this topic should be covered on the business’ FAQ, or if a particular product consistently shows a specific defect, this can be the focus of future research and development.

The Right System For The Job

The system I am describing is, of course, a CRM system. While traditionally focused on managing sales processes, CRM systems have come a long way and are consistently used to manage all manner of processes within a business. In the case of Dynamics CRM, the tight integration with Outlook, reporting tools, and a workflow engine to automate repetitive tasks and manage escalations make it ideal for the system I am describing.

Responsibilities

With the right people in place, efficient business process and a CRM system to help them do their job and capture the key ‘levers’ of the business, it is then the responsibility of the end users to use CRM appropriately. When they do so, management can use the reporting tools to better understand the business and their clients, and they can then deploy resources appropriately to further improve operations. The end users get the resources and system to help them do their job and the business thrives.

The Circle of ‘Business’ Life

image

If we now revisit our diagram, it takes on a new paradigm. Rather than describing conflict in the business, it describes a self-reinforcing process for improvement, with all elements of the business working together, rather than against one another.

Conclusions

A common complaint with CRM systems is that they increase end user workload or that they are ‘Big Brother’. While CRM systems do require effort to use and are a monitoring tool for the business, these criticisms need to be considered in a larger context. With centralised, consolidated information, visibility of the business is gained and the system, rather than keeping end users and management apart, bring them together and aligns them so they both work together for the business and, most importantly for the clients. This is the reason CRM systems are so important and are essential if a business is to succeed.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Setting up Handy Links in Dynamics CRM 2013/2015

Something which is often requested by client, but which has been difficult to do is set up handy URL links on a CRM form. Before CRM 2013, the best you could do (without code) was add web links in as reports. While this worked, it was not obvious that the link was there. Also, it did not allow us to add dynamic URLs to our record.

Using a few of the new features of CRM 2013/2015, it is now possible to add default web links directly to the page.

CRM Links

How To Do It

Firstly, we need to set up the fields to hold the URL. The trick here is to make sure we tell CRM to make them URL fields. This is done by setting the format of the Text Field to URL. Make sure you do this at creation though as once it is set, you cannot change it.

image

Now we add these fields to the form and make them read only.

image

Finally, we need to insert a web link, which we do with the new Business Rules, found on the form. As I mentioned in my previous post, Business Rules are a nice way to do some things without JavaScript. In our case, the Business Rule looks like this.

Default Links

The net result is a bunch of clickable web links on our form which, when the record is saved, get auto-created. It is that easy!

Dynamic URLs

This is a nice way to add a static URL to a field and display it on the form. If you need a dynamic URL, our friend the real-time workflow comes to our aid.

image

In this case we construct the URL by using the ‘Append With’ Operator

image

In the above we append the Account name to the web string. Using this with successive Update steps we can make the URL read whatever we like.

Conclusions

There are always web links to applications which are useful to the CRM user but which are not worth fully integrating. This is a quick and simple way of giving access to them without code and without a lot of expense.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Faking JavaScript Codelessly

I am quite a fan of not using code where possible and where practical. However, there is no point sacrificing code if the user experience makes the system unusable. CRM 2013/2015 gives us a few tools in our kitbag for avoiding using code without sacrificing experience. I thought I would explore them.

Real-Time Workflows

I am so pleased to see real-time workflows in CRM. In the old days, workflows could only run in the back end. The problem with this is while you could make them do lots of interesting things (Auto-numbering, Lead Assignment and Counters, for example), the user experience was sub-par. The main problem was that while the workflow did everything you wanted it to, the user did not know what was happening because it was all on the server and not on the form. This has now changed with real-time workflows.

Any workflow can be converted to run in real-time by deactivating it and hitting the ‘Convert to a real-time workflow’ button at the top of the form.

image

I made of use of real-time workflows in my address finder article. The experience in that case was, once the location was set, the other fields appeared updated on the save of the record. In other words, if you are looking for something which behaves in a similar way to the OnSave event, a real-time workflow gets us close.

So what other events can JavaScript trigger off? You will remember from my Developer Essentials article that JavaScript triggers off of four events:

  • OnSave (saving of the form)
  • OnLoad (when the form opens on the screen)
  • OnChange (when the value in a field changes)
  • TabStateChange (opening and closing of Tabs)

So we have covered off the first one. What about the others? For these we will need Business Rules.

Business Rules

Another new function for CRM 2013/2015, Business Rules allow us to configure form behaviours. I mentioned Business Rules in my updated Auto-Number post from last year. Business Rules are configured on the form and here is a simple one I set up to test the behaviour. In this case, when the Main Phone is populated, the value is copied to the Other Phone field.

image

When activated, it becomes clear Business Rules run on both the OnLoad event (on loading the form, if the Main Phone had a value and the Other Phone did not, the value was copied) and OnChange event (if I changed the Main Phone value and tabbed out of the field, it was immediately copied to the Other Phone field). Please note that, with Business Rules, synchronous plugins run first and then the Business Rules fire in the order they were activated (oldest to newest). Also, in 2015, Business Rules were changed to fire server side, not client side (as they did for 2013). This means if a value changes in the back end (via integration, for example) the rule will fire without the need for opening the record. From a user’s perspective, it still appears as if the rule is firing OnLoad and OnChange.

Tab State Changes and Other Stuff

There are no codeless equivalents for triggering off the opening or closing of a Tab and there are plenty of other things you may need to do which simply cannot be done with the limited actions available for Workflows and Business Rules. In these cases you will still need Javascript.

Also, as a word of warning, with the many ways to emulate JavaScript-like behaviour, it can be difficult to determine exactly how a form does what it does. For this reason I know of a few senior developers who prefer to use JavaScript in all cases, even though the codeless alternatives may be quicker and as effective. In their case they are considering the future administration of the form. If everything, or nearly everything can be contained in one place, it is easier for an administrator; no rifling through numerous places trying to find the right thing to change.

Conclusions

If you are upgrading and have a system with lots of code, there is plenty of opportunity with the improved functionality of CRM 2013/2015 to remove some of that code and replace it with configuration (especially if it is breaking in going from CRM 2011). Similarly if, like me, your coding days are a bit of a distant memory, the new functionality gives you something to impress clients and potential clients with when showing off what is possible with CRM forms and making them user friendly. Try them out and see how easy it is to configure what used to be coded.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5: A Windows User’s Experience

We bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 on the weekend and after 48 hours of setting it up and watching YouTube tutorials, I thought I would pass on my thoughts.

It is no secret that my house is a Windows house. My wife and I both have Nokia Lumia phones (she has the one with the big camera, mine has the smaller camera but same grunt under the hood), she runs a Windows 7 laptop and Surface 2 and I use my trusty Surface Pro 1 (nearly two years old) both at home and at work (I am using it now). My son has an old hand-me-down Windows laptop (which was my machine before the Surface and really needs replacing) but he and my daughter generally spend more time on the Surfaces because of the tablet form factor, fun apps and overall performance.

There are some iPods gathering dust somewhere but these are tools of the past. If we want music, my wife reaches for Spotify and I reach for Pandora. There are no other Apple products in the house.

The Itch That Needed To Be Scratched

The household had a problem though. Obviously there was the fact that the vast majority of companies jumping on the app bandwagon release for Apple and Android, and thumb their nose up at Windows Phone/Windows 8 but this was not it. To be honest, there was no killer app which meant we had to get a non-Windows device; the everyday apps I used a year ago are the same ones I use today and all are available for Windows. Nothing else stood out to make any other grass look greener.

The actual problem was my wife’s profession and expertise. As a senior marketer and known entity in Australian marketing circles (or so she tells me) she is sometimes asked to be a judge for marketing awards. Part of that is to judge the materials they create, which includes apps. As to be expected in today’s marketplace, these apps were only available on iOS and Android. Generally, she begged or borrowed an iPad from somewhere and used that, but it was an annoyance.

Also, my son’s school had its own school app and recommended educational apps but, again, these were Windows-unfriendly and, combined, this tipped us over the edge.

Why the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5?

We both researched the best 10 inch tablets in the market and, consistently, Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 won out against its rivals, including Apple. I do not have the links now but review after review put it either in the top spot or, at least, in the top three. It is a good, all-round tablet. Research aside, I was quite happy we were going Android over Apple. Being able to tinker in the back-end appealed to my Windows pedigree. I am sufficiently old to remember working on DOS 6 ini files and Slackware Linux config files so the idea of being cut off from the back end completely was disquieting. Android still gave me the power to poke around if I so desired.

The Hardware

So on to the review. Obviously comparing the Galaxy to a Surface Pro is problematic. The Surface Pro runs a full version of Windows and converts into a laptop form factor easily. The Galaxy is a tablet and, while it has plenty of power for the apps it runs, without a keyboard, it will always come second in terms of productivity (yes, bluetooth keyboards are available but, as I will explain later, even this is not enough to bring it on par with a laptop running Windows Office in terms of productivity).

Similarly, comparing the Galaxy to my Lumia is also problematic. There is only so much that can be done on the little screen of a Lumia 925 which is, of course, why even Apple have relented and made a phone screen which is larger than the reach of a thumb.

Really the best I can do is point out the stuff which sticks out to me and hope it will be a guide to others.

Firstly, the screen of the Galaxy is incredible. The Super AMOLED display leaves the Surface Pro LCD screen for dust. The reason for this is backlighting; the Surface Pro needs it and the Galaxy does not. For the most part you will not notice this, except with blacks. I have done my best to capture this below, using my lock screen pic; the Cassini eclipse shot. Both machines are tilted at about the same angle and there is no light source behind me for reflection. I tried to adjust the brightness so it was about the same on both machines. The top one is my Surface Pro and the bottom one, the Galaxy. If you look at the left of the image, it is clear the colour saturation is a little higher on the Galaxy (the ring is a little more blue and the planet a little more yellow) and the black is blacker on the bottom machine.

image 

I did not compare it to my Lumia, mainly because it is difficult to adjust the brightness on the Lumia and also because the main place this will affect you is when watching movies which, for me, is more of a tablet thing than a phone thing.

In terms of comparing the power of the two machines, I noticed no drag on either of them when running comparable apps. I am sure if I fired up a high-end game we would put them through their paces but, if you are a gamer, neither of these machines are for you.

Both machines allow for the storage space to be extended through a micro SD card and while the Surface has a ‘proper’ USB port to plug in things like external hard drives, the Galaxy has a micro USB which can also be used for charging (I am charging the Galaxy off of my micro USB Lumia cable, connected to my Surface power pack, as we speak).

Certainly the Galaxy is thinner and lighter but weight has never been an issue for me. I never carry my Surface without the mini-shoulder bag of cables, USB sticks and notepad and it has the stand if my arms get tired of holding it.

In terms of on-board storage, I opted for the 16Gb Galaxy model. I also bought a SanDisk 32Gb micro SD card for $50. If I had bought the 32Gb Galaxy model, it would have cost me $100 more and, instead of 48Gb total storage, I would have 32Gb.

I am sure the battery life of the Galaxy is longer, but the four hours (or whatever it is these days) of the Surface Pro 1 is sufficient for my purposes. I only really use battery on commute and flights and it always gets me through without hassle.

A nice touch (no pun intended) with the Galaxy is the fingerprint reader. I have activated this for my login and, so far, it was worked well.

Finally, the Galaxy has an infrared port, which the Surface Pro does not. I am yet to find a TV remote app which works with my Panasonic Viera but I will keep looking. All tips appreciated.

Apps

OK, let us deal with the elephant in the room from the outset. Android has many, many more apps than Windows. However, there is a difference between quantity and quality. For my Surface, I need:

  • An internet browser
  • Outlook
  • Office apps

90% (if not more) of my computer time is spent in one of these. Everything else is details. In the browser department, the Galaxy is fine. It comes with Chrome and, so far, this has done the job. There is no Outlook and, let me be very clear on this, when I say Outlook, I do not mean an email app. I use Outlook for:

  • Email (work and personal)
  • Calendar (work and personal)
  • Task management (work and personal)
  • RSS feeds
  • Twitter feeds (via Twinbox)
  • automated routing of emails to folders, based on priority e.g. Pizza hut offers go into a different folder to emails from the head of the MVP program

To meet this level of functionality in Android requires roughly half a dozen apps with limited cross-communication. Outlook kicks arse, plain and simple and it remains my benchmark for OSes. The most relaxed CRM MVP in the world, Joel Lindstrom, recommended I look at Accompli Email but even this only covers about half to two thirds of what I need.

The Galaxy comes with an Office app equivalent called Hancom Office. While I can open my Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents and edit the text, even simple things like adding a row to a column are troublesome. This is also a black mark in making the Galaxy a Surface killer (which I do not believe it aims to be).

To work out what apps to get for the Galaxy, I read through half a dozen ‘xxx apps for Android’ blog post/articles and downloaded the ones which sounded interesting. There is no doubt that while it is more productive working on a Surface Pro, you can have a lot more free fun on an Android. FX Guru, My Bar Free and What’s For Dinner, I will get good mileage out of and the kids already love Angry Birds Stella, Inventions, and Sprinkle Islands.

Two apps which did not make it onto the article lists which should have been there are OneNote (an Evernote equivalent) and OneDrive (like DropBox, only by Microsoft). Both of these are very solid in what they do and were conspicuous in their absence from the lists.

OS Navigation

I watched a couple of tutorials on navigating the Galaxy and I was away. It is clear Windows has been ‘inspired’ by some of the features on the Galaxy, especially in Windows Phone. Both feature a swipe-down menu with quick buttons and an activity log, and both feature a ‘Kid’s Corner’. The Surface Pro does not have the swipe down menu, which is a pity because navigating the right-hand control is not always simple (try turning on airplane mode, for example, which is Left-Swipe, Settings, Change PC Settings, Network, Airplane Mode or Left-Swipe, Settings, Wifi Icon if you have been burnt before and committed it to memory). On the Galaxy, all those common toggles are a swipe down away (as it is on a Windows Phone).

User management and, by extension the kid’s corner is something I think is handled better by Windows. The Windows Phone has no concept of multiple users but getting to the Kid’s Corner is a left swipe away.

There is no Kid’s Corner equivalent in the Surface but you have full user control so, in the past, I simply set up two more user accounts for my children, limited their rights and turned on the Windows monitoring (built into the OS) so I get weekly reports of what they have been up to. This covers their activity on my son’s old laptop, as well as the Surface devices.

For the Galaxy, there are two kinds of users: One Owner and many Users. The Owner is, in effect, the administrator. In my case, not fully appreciating the consequence, I set up the Owner account as my wife and then set myself up as a User. The kids will use the Kid’s Corner equivalent and, therefore, do not need accounts. It is not possible to give a User administration rights so I cannot, for example, add users, activate or administer the Galaxy equivalent of Kid’s Corner. Either I log into my wife’s account or she handles all that. Neither option is ideal. I am the tech geek in the family, after all.

App icon management is in a league of its own in the Windows Phone but in comparing the Surface Pro and Galaxy, it is half a dozen of one and six of the other. Moving the icons around is a lot more intuitive, for me, in Windows. You press and hold and then drag. If you do this in the Galaxy, it acts like it is going to move but never sticks. In the Galaxy case, you first must click the edit button.

The multiple home pages is nice in the Galaxy and is more manageable than the long scrolling Windows Phone option. Similarly, while you can group the icons in the Surface, multiple desktops in Windows would be great. I remember it from the old Linux days and it is very useful.

The ‘recent apps’ equivalents in Windows Phone and the Surface seem to be a lot more robust than the Recent Apps button in the Surface. On a few occasions, I opened up an app and then went to the recent apps button and it was not there. I do not recall this ever happening with Windows.

Conclusions

If, like me, you are looking for a tablet which can run specific apps unavailable in the Windows ecosystem, you will be very happy with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5. While there are areas of strength and weakness, in comparison to the Windows Phone and Surface Pro, it is a solid machine for recreational use. Even with a keyboard, the functionality does not come close to Office but as a media player and device to keep the kids entertained (and off my Surface), it is solid value.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

An Improved Codeless Address Finder

Back in 2011, I showed how, by using filtered lookups, it was possible to make an address finder. While instructive in showing how filtered lookups worked, one shortcoming in the approach was that the address fields had to be replaced with lookups. For the Contact record this is problematic because the address fields synchronize with the Outlook Contact address fields. This means that if the user tracked a Contact from Outlook, in effect, the address would not come across.

I thought I would revisit the design, using the improved workflow functionality to see if we can do better in CRM 2013/2015, inspired by something I saw in a client’s system.

The Inspiration

For the last couple of weeks I have been conducting workshops with a client for implementing a new Dynamics CRM implementation. While they have an existing ‘proof of concept’ system built in CRM 2011, it had been added to incrementally and, so, they wanted to re-build from a blank slate. In looking at screenshots of their old system I noticed a ‘Location Lookup’. Basically you lookup a location and it populates the address fields for you.

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I did not look into the back end of how it worked but my guess is some OnChange jscript does the heavy lifting. What is nice about this design is it gets around the issue with the Outlook client; if the user tracks a Contact, the address fields still populate. It is only the location lookup which is left blank, but this is ok.

Replicating in CRM 2015: Reference Data

The first thing I needed was a list of the cities, post codes and states for Australia. Fortunately I still had the old CSV files from my first blog, which was lucky because Australia Post charge to get them these days (they used to be free). If you are interested in Australia city data, a quick search yielded this, which also has longitude and latitude coordinates and appears to be free to use.

I combined the information into one CSV (we are only doing one import this time).

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Next, I needed an entity to hold the reference data. I created one with the default name field and a text field for each of the above called Reference City.

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The Name field I populated with a background workflow which ran during the import.

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Then I ran the import to create my reference data.

Replicating in CRM 2015: Setting up the Location Field

The Location field is actually pretty easy to set up. Firstly, you add a lookup, on the Account form pointing to your Reference City entity. Then, you add the real time workflow which does the work.

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The field change is set to trigger off of the Location lookup field we added. You also need to run it off of the Record Created event otherwise it does not trigger for the creation of new records.

The Result

The end result is reasonably close to the original. The only difference is it shows on the form OnSave, not OnChange, so the address fields remain blank until you save or until the AutoSave kicks in. I tried ‘fixing’ this by adding a Business Rule to the form but it did not work. Something to watch out for but nothing that could not be handled as part of training. The first screenshot is actually my version of the Location Lookup and here it is again.

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Conclusions

I really like this approach. It is codeless and completely extendable. If you had street data, you could extend the solution to accommodate this without too much difficulty (although be careful of the size if you are using CRM Online). It also keeps the original address fields, which gets around Outlook sync issues, Word template issues and Bing Map integration issues. If you are a consultant, this is simple to put together, offers a lot of value to clients and does not rely on expensive, third party address software.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Adding InsideView To Your CRM Instance

May the seasonal greetings you feel most comfortable with be upon you. My last post for 2014 before getting into the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

If you are outside the USA you may have heard about something called InsideView, and that it is free for Dynamics CRM, but not had much experience with it. The reason for this is it is not added, by default, to CRM Online, except for CRM Online instances on the US servers.

This is how you can add it to your CRM 2013/2015 instance. Admittedly I have not tried this for on-premise but it should work there as well.

Get an Instance of CRM

Firstly, you will need an existing CRM instance. If you are looking for a trial, here is the link. At the time of writing, the page steers you towards getting an agent to walk you through the hearty goodness of CRM. If you are more interested in spinning up a trial than speaking to people, scroll down a bit and look for the blue arrow.

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After a few clicks, you will have a trial instance and are ready to go. To make sure it was not being added, I went to an account record in my new trial and, sure enough, no InsideView pane.

Interestingly, a demo I set up a few weeks ago (for the calculated fields review and through a pre-configured partner link) did have an InsideView section but nothing inside but a link on how to set it up.

This is the magic link you will need to get InsideView in CRM.

Get the InsideView Solution File

Going to the link, gives you the solution file.There are a few terms and conditions you must give the nod to before acquiring it but, assuming they are good, you are in.

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You should obtain a file called “Insights_3_4_online_managed”

Install the InsideView Solution File

The file installs like any other Solution file. It took a minute or two for mine to complete but it did so in the end.

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The warning was about labels not working for languages not installed in the instance and was nothing to worry about.

Enable Syncing

Next we need to connect Insideview to CRM. To do this, go to the solution file in Settings-Solutions, double-clicking on the InsideView solution and going to the Configuration section.

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Then click on the start button and grant and accept access to your CRM system.

Eventually you will see a success message.

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Fixing the Form

The first thing you will notice is the default forms have been updated. Adjust, as required although do not delete the InsideView objects unless you are completely sure; they are quite tricky to add back.

There is a tab called insights but you will not see a lot in it. It is hidden by default and, even then it seems to only show ‘out of the box’ for old-style i.e. legacy 2011 forms, not the new style. This is a shame as it is nicely laid out and has a few useful functions.

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I tried all sorts of parameters to get it working in the new forms and finally found success with this:

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which rendered like this:

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The main changes were the title of the tab (going from Insights to InsideView) and the parameter version changes i.e. dropping the form name. I assume it was one or both of these that finally cracked it.

I even managed to do a successful sync of information from InsideView to my Contact record.

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Data Quality

While it is handy to have this tool outside of the USA, the quality of the data outside of the USA is not great. Doing a vanity search i.e. creating a Contact with my name, returned nothing useful.

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So I tried our Prime Minister (the rough Aussie equivalent of the President), Tony Abbott. The first few hits were not great.

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but eventually, towards the end of the eleven, we got close (zero points to the Reader’s Digest though, unless they know something I do not).

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Conclusions

If you are InsideView-curious, this is all you need to start playing. Be warned though the data is not great for individuals outside of the USA and if InsideView are looking to piggyback on the international success of Dynamics CRM, they will need to address this.