Friday, November 29, 2013

A Codeless Rollup Field

I owe this tip to my fellow CRM partner-in-crime, Oakton Canberran Julie Stedman who discovered it on a project we are working on. It works for both CRM 2011 and CRM 2013.

The Problem

Often a client asks to roll up the number of child records to a parent record or, perhaps, roll them up and split them by status. An example may be enrolments for a course. On the course record we want to see the number of enrolments and whether the attendees have paid.

Traditionally, we add a field to the parent record and use a plugin to query CRM to populate the value in the field. However, there is another way.

The Solution

A little-known property of adding a sub-grid to a form is the ability to only show a chart instead. This means we can add a bar chart or pie chart to a record showing totals for the child records. Scroll down to the bottom on the sub-grid properties for the magic tickbox to ‘Show Chart Only’.


That is it. With this ticked, instead of a grid showing, you see a chart which represents whatever related data you desire. Here is an example where I have added the chart to a Case record to summarise the associated activities.


The only drawback with this is you cannot drill down into the chart but, for rollup totals, this is probably not the end of the world.


For a quick and elegant way to show rollup totals of child records on a parent record, consider this trick. You still have the power to configure the look and feel of the chart(s) and you avoid adding a bunch of fields and populating them via plugins which can be time-consuming and, therefore expensive.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review: Surface 2 32G (Why I Am Shocked How Good It Is)

I write this as I return to Sydney, Australia, after attending another great MVP Summit. Sometimes Summit can be frosty, depending on how the previous 12 months have been but this was not one of them. This was a ‘good’ summit and thoroughly enjoyable. In fact, it was probably the best I have attended.


One of the ‘thank you’s Microsoft threw the way of the MVPs at this Summit was a discounted Surface 2 32Gb. I have a Surface Pro and have done a few reviews on it. (here and here).

I did not see the need to get a machine that ran Windows RT, as opposed to a full version of Windows, but my wife needed a machine that was more portable than her large Dell laptop. After showing her the Surface 2 in a local electronics store, she agreed the Surface 2 would meet her needs.

I purchased the Surface 2 and, being tech support for the family, set it up under my account (I did not have my wife’s Windows login and password at the time) to see how it works.

My Fears

The original Surface RT was a clear play against the iPad; it ran an efficient non-Intel chip and ran apps rather than ‘standard’ Windows software. My thinking was I needed a ‘real’ laptop-like device and the Surface Pro fit the bill. As mentioned, in my previous review, the Surface Pro is more comparable to a MacBook Air than an iPad, based on its specifications and functionality.

Also, Windows RT will not run legacy software. I did not want to be in a position where I could not run an essential program (whatever that might be) so buying the Surface Pro was erring on the side of caution.

While it was not important to me, the non-Pro versions do not support a digitized stylus so they are limited in their use as, say, a drawing implement, without an external writing pad.

Finally, the original Surface RT had a lack of Outlook support. I live in Outlook and this was a deal breaker.

So, at the end of February, at the previous Summit, I opted for the biggest, most powerful, Surface Pro I could get, the Surface Pro 128. It did everything I needed and I still use it at home, work and in-between.

Why My Fears No Longer Apply

Every excuse I made not to buy the original Surface RT do not apply to the Surface 2. Here are the reasons I no longer want to give the Surface 2 to my wife and keep it for myself (which is never going to happen, by the way. She deserves the best and the Surface 2 comes pretty close).

Outlook Support

The Surface 2 comes with Microsoft Office for free, including Outlook. Often, when I told people the reason I do not have an iPad was a lack of Outlook support, they would tell me ‘but it has a mail app’, which, of course, it does, but Outlook is so much more than this. Outlook is a one-stop shop for my emails, calendar and RSS feeds. I can link to two Exchange boxes (my Office 365 Exchange and my work Exchange), send emails from either, consolidate my calendars and so much more. The mail and calendar apps of the iPad seem awkward and clumsy in comparison. I was fearful the Surface 2 version of Outlook was going to be a cut down, pale imitation, of the ‘proper’ Outlook but this is not the case.


Everything I need from Outlook is there, without compromise, with the default settings optimized for the Surface. The only thing I have not tried to install is TwInbox, which I use to bring Twitter into Outlook, but there are plenty of Twitter monitoring tools out there, if required.

Legacy Software Support

Here is a screenshot of my Surface Pro taskbar with the programs I most frequently use, roughly in order of popularity.


For all of these, I can either run them on the Surface 2, or work around the issue without too much compromise.

  • Internet Explorer: It is there and appears to have both flavours (Metro and Desktop)
  • File Explorer: Available
  • Firefox: I cannot find it in the store but, as long as Internet Explorer does not flake out, I will not need it
  • Chrome: See Firefox
  • Outlook: Available
  • Word: Available
  • OneNote: I have found the touch-optimised Metro version which connects seamlessly to my SkyDrive OneNote Notebooks
  • PowerPoint: Available
  • Excel: Available
  • Project: It does not appear to be available but I only use it for work, and infrequently, so it is not a show-stopper for me
  • Live Writer: Not available (see below)
  • Snipping Tool: Available
  • Calculator: Available
  • Skype: Metro version available
  • Tree Size: Metro version available
  • Remote Desktop Connection: Available
  • SureStep: Almost certainly not available as a download for RT, but is available online, which is good enough
  • Adobe PDF Reader: The Metro Reader app can display PDFs
  • Notepad: Available
  • Microsoft Money 94: Not available (see below)
  • Zune: Available through updates in Windows 8.1 apparently (not yet tested)

For Microsoft Money 94, while it does work on the Surface Pro (although if you try to tap with the stylus it crashes), it will not work with the Surface 2. I use Microsoft Money to keep track of some stocks that I own. It works really well for this but, being almost 20 years old, it is probably time to find an alternative. Looking at the options in the Microsoft Store, Yahoo Finance seems to be a good replacement and available for the Surface 2.

After two days of using the Surface 2, the only other program which caused me grief was a lack of Live Writer support. You cannot install Windows Essentials and, therefore, the excellent blog-writing tool, Live Writer is not available on the Surface 2.

Searching on the internet I could not find a solution to this until I dug around in the Surface 2’s version of Word 2013. Under the ‘Share’ option in the File menu is a ‘Post to Blog’ option which it claims, like Live Writer, supports Blogger, the home of my blog.


Unfortunately it turns out not to be true. I tried my hardest to register Word with Blogger but it refuses. I even created a new gmail account, added it as an author to my blog and tried that instead without success. Therefore I was forced to use Live Write on my Surface Pro to get the blog out of the door. Hopefully Microsoft will fix this bug but if not I either move to a different blog host or stick to my Surface Pro with Live Writer.

Hard Drive Size

The 32Gb solid state drive is quite a drop from my Surface Pro’s 128Gb drive and, after the operating system took its share, there was about 18Gb remaining. Fortunately, Windows 8.1 comes with its own version of Dropbox in the form of the integrated SkyDrive directory. Everything in your SkyDrive account is visible but you choose what is synchronised to the local drive. Therefore, the need to store local files is greatly reduced and anything that is put on the drive, such as photos through the camera, can be transferred to SkyDrive, freeing up the local drive.

After configuring Outlook, which is keeping a local copy of the previous month’s emails and appointments, I have about 14Gb spare.


As with my Surface Pro, there is also the MicroSD slot on the back of the machine if I need to boost the local storage.

Other Reasons to Consider a Surface

The first reason is the Microsoft Store customer service is outstanding. I reported, in my previous review, the dodgy ‘c’ key on my Type Keyboard. Being back in Seattle, I had the opportunity to take the keyboard back to the Microsoft Store in the hope of exchanging it. I was a little concerned as I had no receipt and it had been nine months.

Going to the Bellevue Microsoft Store I was informed that, while they would be happy to exchange, the popularity of the Type Keyboard meant they were out of stock and could only offer me a Touch Keyboard, which I declined. I noticed that Seattle also had a couple of Microsoft Stores; one in the University district, which was a little out of my way, and another ‘speciality store’, at Pacific Place, near the corner of Pine and 6th in downtown. The speciality store turned out to be a small booth. Even though this was the case, they had stock and Chad was more than willing to exchange. Again, unfortunately, they had run out of the original Type keyboards so, instead, he replaced it with the new edition of the Type keyboard with backlighting. All keys are working like a charm and I can type on the flight back to Sydney, without the overhead light on, letting my fellow passengers get a good rest.

My only criticism of the keyboard is that while the keys are backlit, the touchpad is not, which means you must resort to feeling around the keyboard to find it. Given the original keyboard had no backlighting at all, it is still a great improvement.

The second reason to consider a Surface 2 is the battery life. The efficient CPU used in the Surface 2 machine means it gets much longer battery life than my Surface Pro. I have not had the opportunity to fully test this yet but I have read battery life estimates of nine hours (compared to four with my Surface Pro and around six with the Surface Pro 2).

The final reason is the freebies you get with the Surface 2. Firstly, there is a Skype offer, which appears to give a year’s worth of free international calls, although I have not activated it yet. Secondly, you get 200Gb of SkyDrive storage free for two years. I was looking for somewhere to store my photos where they would be easily accessible (ADrive is great but it is hard to review the photos stored there). SkyDrive is ideal as I can load all my photos up there and share the drive with my family and friends, as needed.


I bought the Surface 2 thinking it was a ‘wannabe laptop’; the laptop you have when you do not have a laptop, but I was completely wrong. Even for a power user such as myself, the Surface 2 provides everything I need (well, except the ability to publish blogs but I will see if I can get around this). While it will be of limited use for people who work heavily with legacy programs, for me, it does the job. The programs I use every day are here and, while it only has 2Gb of RAM I notice no significant difference in speed between it and my Surface Pro with double the memory and a much more powerful processor. I am sure my wife will be very happy with her new Surface 2.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Three Stonemasons of CRM Consulting

You will often hear the wisdom that if you are implementing a CRM system you should get a partner or CRM consultant involved to maximise the chance of success. This is true but not all partners and consultants are created equal. So what kind of partner/consultant is right for the job at hand?

The Three Stonemasons

There is a story, usually told in MBA courses, used to discuss the concept of vision and its importance in motivation and passion in the workplace.

Three stonemasons are building a cathedral when a stranger walks by. The stranger approaches the first stonemason and asks ‘What are you doing?’. To which the stonemason replies ‘I am chiselling this block, of course’.

The stranger approaches the second stonemason and asks the same question to which the stonemason replies ‘I am building a wall’.

Finally the stranger asks the third stonemason what he is doing and the stonemason replies ‘I am building a cathedral to last the ages. Many generations will come here to celebrate birth, marriage and death. Once completed I can die content in the knowledge I made a difference in this world’.

The idea being that if an employee is provided the vision of where a company is heading, they will be inspired to move mountains to make it happen (assuming it is a good vision).

The idea of small, medium and big picture thinking equally applies to CRM consultants.

The Block Cutter

Sometimes you need someone to come in do a very specific job and then get out. This is the specialist surgeon of the CRM world. Often they are developers and the problem is a specific plugin that needs changing or written. They do not care so much about what the business context is but more about getting a difficult job done and done well.

The Block Cutter is often an independent consultant and, if you need one, ask a CRM MVP. We either are one or know of one we can recommend.

The Wall Builder

In this case you recognise that CRM could be used to manage another process in the business. Perhaps it is complaint management or the office safety audits. Whatever it is, a new module needs to be written for CRM. This is where the Wall Builder comes in. Rather than being a specialist, these consultants are more general, having some development skills but also some business consulting skills. They will sit with you, determine the requirements for the module and then design the solution. They do not necessarily need to know the full system vision, relying on you to ensure the module fits in with the bigger picture.

The Wall Builder can be an independent consultant but is often a small team of three or four consultants working together in a small practice. Again, the CRM MVPs who are not working for themselves often work for practices like this as it gives them a level of autonomy not always available at larger organisations. Again, ask an MVP what you are after and we can guide you in the right direction.

The Cathedral Maker

Often this is the pilot implementation of a CRM system; it needs to service the requirements of multiple departments, all with diverse processes. You may be daunted at the prospect of putting in such an all-encompassing system and know that you need help. The various stakeholders may have different requirements and all of these need to be corralled into a seamless, functional system.

This is where the big guns come out. The larger consulting companies have CRM consultants which can provide all manner of service and some even specialise in specific industries meaning they not only know the pitfalls of CRM, they know the pitfalls for your specific field. They will hold your hand from the beginning through to implementation and beyond. When you need someone to take care of the entire project, the Cathedral Maker is the best choice.

In the case of the Cathedral Makers, if you are tired of asking your friendly neighbourhood MVP for advice, Microsoft can also put you in touch with a CRM implementation partner who specialises in your industry. It is in Microsoft’s interest that you use their software for years to come so you can be sure they will do their best to find the right match for you.


Just as there are many tools in a toolkit, there are many different CRM consultants for different kinds of jobs. Finding the right consultant in terms of skill set and cost can be difficult but, with the help of a CRM MVP or Microsoft, you can save yourself a lot of money and heartache finding the right stonemason for you.