This week Microsoft released their integration adapter for Dynamics CRM and GP. This is now Microsoft's third attempt at integrating their own applications.
For anyone who used their first integration solution with BizTalk server in CRM v1.2, my hat goes off to you. It was a bear to set up, even worse to troubleshoot, and once everything was in place you never breathed on that thing again for fear of it breaking it was so delicate.
The integration with CRM 3.0 and GP 9.0 was much better but still had a lot of limitations. And since the previous attempt was so ugly I think most people avoided it.
And now, we have been introduced to the integration between CRM 4.0 (Rollup 5) and GP 10.0 (SP4) (yes those are the minimum software requirements for the integration). At first glance the tool looks like a lot more time, effort and thought was put into this integration than the other previous attempts. Well, a lot of thought and effort was put into the BizTalk integration I'm sure, it just didn't work.
The integration runs on a service and the console has been built on WFP. In it's current version 1.0 status it links up very well between anything that comes out of the box. Without some customization there is no way to get custom attributes or entities. I'm not surprised by this because that's typically how Microsoft CRM additions start out. They make sure they can get the base entities handled, then they grow out to the custom entities. Case and point, look at CRM v1.2, no custom entities and limited custom attributes, CRM v3.0, custom entities and free reign of custom attributes; out of the box imports, only to out of the box entities in CRM 3.0 and CRM 4.0 allows for imports to custom entitites; etc). What this integration package will include however is it's own SDK so that partners, developers, customers, etc can write their own integration templates, integration links between fields, and integration connections (to other applications).
This integration doesn't provide any upgrade path from previous integrations but it was mentioned how there are plans to include integration templates/connections to other Dynamics applications (Nav, AX, SL, CRM Online etc). But with the release of the SDK coming before the end of the year anyone will be able to work on their own integrations utilizing this tool. That's right, the SDK is going to allow for developers to create connections/adapters to whatever you can connect to, whether it be a Microsoft product or not. Now, here's the catch. They said that this was a "lightly extensible tool" so I'm not sure light they are talking about until I'm able to get a hold of the SDK. If you integrate any Dynamics product with another Dynamics product (CRM, GP, AX, NAV, SL) then the integration is 100% FREE (assuming that you have a current Enhancement/Support plan). However if you integrate with another system then you must purchase a Dynamics Client for Office (DCO) license. From the presentation slide they state:
"...for every person who sends data to Microsoft Dynamics GP or receives data from Microsoft Dynamics GP must have a DCO license."
Couple of high points, things that I liked:
1. The Log/Error catching looked really good. The messages appeared to be detailed, read the problem fix it and then you could retry a given error again and have that push. You could stop a retry (default is to retry an error 7 times) and (again) retry the error after you stopped it.
2. Scheduling when a given adapter would run. Anywhere from Continuously (3 times a second) to Once. Very flexible and easy to set up.
3. SDK promises. Developers will be able to create their own mapping functions (if there were no SUM function you could create it with the SDK) and ability to add custom fields and connect to other systems.
Couple things that I didn't like (personally):
1. A lot of wizards. Wizards are great because they help guide you in a step by step process but it just seemed to me that there were wizards in places that didn't need to have them. For instance there is a wizard for mapping one field to another. If I map them, shouldn't it just map field to field and then if I want to do something more complex I would then edit the connection? Having wizards may be something that a lot of people like and makes this integration tool appealing to them, so don't let me get you down if you like them. I just set up a lot of data migration/integrations and thinking about the time I would have to spend mapping field to field for something that's not in a template already just seemed tedious.
2. I didn't get to see what really goes into writing a script on a mapping. I saw some scripts but thye were always cut of. The script looked like it was similar to VBScript but it definitely wasn't. It also appeared to be similar to Scribe's scripting language that is used between mappings though. So, I'm sure it will be some mesh of the two but at the same time it will be it's own beast to learn. It could be good, I just didn't get to see much of it.
3. Out of the box you can only use the templates that Microsoft provides, which is only between GP and CRM. It's version 1, but it's definitely limited in what it can do out of the box. A lot of development time will need to be spent if someone wants to integrate Vendors for instance. Hopefully a wizard will be built to build templates for GP records and any CRM entity.
All in all, I'm actually excited to see where this integration goes. Integration packages from companies like Scribe and Nolan still have a leg up on this integration solution. But Microsoft is offering to allow it to customize it as necessary for any given solution. Scribe provides adapters that do a catch all and those adapters typically are pretty solid. But if you come across any issues with an adapter it has to go through development modifications within Scribe to get a fix. Again, Scribe is pretty good about getting those fixes out but your integration suddenly becomes subject to another company's timeline, and that timeline may or may not match your timeline for the integration being set up. On the other hand, no coding is required from products like Scribe to connect up to other applications, whereas Microsoft's solution will require A LOT of development.
So, how do you get the adapter you ask? Well, you must place an order through Microsoft via PartnerSource. And you must be a Registered Dynamics GP Partner. They want to know who is using it so that they can release any updates/fixes to people who have it installed. Hey, if I had an out of the box integration and 2 months after release I realized that if under a certain condition my tool wiped out all customer numbers, or credit terms, or something very scary that could happen to an accounting system, I would want to push those out as fast as I could as well so that I wasn't sued for screwing up an entire business.
My jury is still out on where this integration will fall within the integration competition market but it's peaked my interest and is definitely worth checking out. Free is free, and even though only out of the box fields can be used out of the box, most people who want to integrate these systems use the name field, the address fields, credit hold, terms, etc.
Currently this version only supports US English language installations. Just be aware of that.
For some more information on this you can check out Microsoft's Sales and Marketing collateral on PartnerSource or CustomerSource at the following locations:
Dynamic Methods Inc.