Friday, March 21, 2008

CRM Document Management...the low budget way

For those of you who work in the small to medium business industry, keeping tabs on budget is key, and typically (though not always) you are asked to do deliver a hot rod on a moped budget, and/or you have to deliver in half the time you would like to spend to make the solution really solid.

When this is the case for my clients I do my best to give them something usable that may or may not do 100% of everything they requested but will get them by until they are ready to spend the time and money on the complete solution.

When implementing MSCRM, document management is one of the topics where "baby steps" are necessary. I am a fan of SharePoint for document management, most of my clients are as well. However, as soon as they see that rolling out SharePoint is a whole other implementation, with software, licenses, server, installation, design, training, etc, I find out that they aren't as big of fans as was originally thought. From a solution implementators' perspective, that's totally fine. The goal that I then have is to help get them ready for the complete solution, just when they as a company feel ready to make the jump.

In the mean time, the company still needs to have some kind of document management and of course they want it either directly inside of MSCRM or to integrate with it. Here are my "low budget solutions" for document management.

1. Use and FTP site
2. Use a file server, or a shared folder on a server with a sufficient amount of disc space

Now, remember this is "low budget" so that means that there will be a number of manual steps but keeping those to a minimum will go a long way. Also, these are work-arounds, not full solutions, so there will be limitations to each solution. These solutions are very similar upon implementation, it's just a matter of where the data is stored.

Using an FTP site will allow users to store files while local or remote to the network, whether the FTP site is hosted by the company or someone else will dependent on the needs are desires of the company you are implementing the solution for. You can then embed the FTP site in an IFRAME on a specific form or put a link on the left NavBar, or give them a button that will open it in a new window. However, opening to the main page of an FTP site (whether they have to log in or not is entirely up to you) then makes the users have to click more in order to drill down to the level at which he/she wants to store a given document. Here's the customization that can go a long way.

I did this as a button but the concept is the same for a NavBar item as well. Using an IFRAME is a bit different, but I'll go over an IFRAME solution shortly.

In the isv.config.xml document on the CRM server add a button to the desired form similar to the following XML:

<Button Title="FTP" ToolTip="View product images stored on FTP site" Icon="/_imgs/ico_18_debug.gif" JavaScript="'ftp://fptserver/Clients/' + + '/')" PassParams="0" WinParams="" WinMode="0" />

Using this code will require that the folder structure on the FTP site is maintained so that there is a folder for each client under a Client folder but users are now able to get to shared documents for a given client (or opportunity, product, project, etc) with a single click. For the end users, this is fantastic. For the admin to administrate this may not be as fun however. But through custom code one could maintain the folder structure if necessary. Again it depends on budget and timing.

Also, take note that you will need to use the JavaScript attribute because the Url attribute expects an HTTP link. Lastly, note that it will be absolutely necessary for you to put the "ftp://" full URL in the code, otherwise the link will be assumed to be HTTP.

Now, for a shared directory. The limitation here is that users have to be local, or on a VPN in order to access it. If that isn't that big of a deal to the client then this can be great solution for end users.

First, on the entity you are using, add an plain text attribute called "Shared Folder". Place it where you want on the form (I suggest a tab solely dedicated to file sharing, but to each his own). Then create an IFRAME. Name it FileShare (or whatever you want), allow for cross frame scripting, hide the display name, etc. Set the URL to be "about:blank".

Now add script to the onLoad of the form. Add the following:

if(crmForm.all.new_sharedfolder.DataValue != null && crmForm.all.new_sharedfolder.DataValue != "")
document.all.IFRAME_FileShare.src = crmForm.all.new_sharedfolder.DataValue;
document.all.IFRAME_FileShare.src = "about:blank";

Then all users have to do is type in the UNC path, or directory path to the directory desired. This could be scripted upon the creation of a form for a static path with a dynamic name at the end, much like the FTP example from above, but again remember that the folder structure will need to be maintained one way or another.

UNC: \\fileservername\Clients
Directory path: Z:\Clients

If you use the directory path option then you will have to make sure that the drive is mapped correctly on the user's machine, otherwise it will break. Otherwise UNC works every time (as long as the computer is on the network).

There isn't any auto version control but it gives the users a place to store documents "inside" MSCRM in a form that they are used to and comfortable with. Once they out grow this then it's time to move onto a real document management solution. But until then, happy "low budget" coding!

David Fronk
Dynamic Methods Inc.

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