Activity Relationships in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011

One of the hidden surprises in CRM 2011 customization is the new ability to create 1:N relationships from activity entities. In previous versions, you could only create N:1 relationships from activity entities such as phone calls and appointments. This meant that you could have look-up fields on activity forms, but you could not relate other records to the activity.

This new capability will greatly enhance CRM activity management and make it easier to enhance the out of the box processes to better fit unique activity management scenarios. A couple of example use cases:

1. Trip reports

In industries such as Insurance and Financial Services, it is a common request to create a trip report when an account manager visits a client. These trip reports commonly include details such as discussion points, follow up items, and products discussed.

In CRM 4.0, since we could not create 1:N relationships with activities, the trip report usually had to be created using a custom entity. While this approach worked, it created a disconnect between the appointment for the meeting and the trip report record. The user would have to manage the appointment on their calendar, and then go to an unrelated entity to create trip reports.

Now that we can add relationships to activities, we can use the appointment record to contain the trip report details, and link it to related records, such as products discussed, or follow-up items, which can be other activities, such as tasks. Appointment and trip reports can be managed in one place.

2. Follow-up activities

In CRM 4.0, there was a button on the phone call form called “Follow up.” When you pushed this button, a new activity would be created that includes the details from the original call, and this was a useful way to quickly create and schedule a follow up call.

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In CRM 2011, this functionality has been removed. So what can you do if you want to quickly create follow-up activities?

The new activity relationship functionality is a great replacement for the follow-up button.

In 2011, I can create a self referential activity relationship. For example, I can customize the phone call entity and create a 1:N relationship for phone call to phone call. When I do this, I set it to use a custom label for the navigation link, and call it Follow Up Calls.

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Then from the mappings settings, I can map the fields that I want to be copied from the originating call to the follow up call.

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Once I publish, I will now see a navigation bar link for “Follow up calls.” When I create a phone call, I can now create a related follow up activity that contains the data from the originating call.

This also give us some new capabilities that the old follow up call button did not:

1. Follow up activities are related to their originating call. The 4.0 follow-up activity button would create a new call, but it would have no relationship to the originating call. With the new approach, related activities are joined together, so you can group conversations together.

2. You can now customize what maps when the follow up activity is created. Given that you set the mappings of the 1:N relationship, you can choose what fields to map, and which not to map, even with custom fields.

A few considerations with this approach:

1. You cannot map the party-list type fields, such as the “to” or “attendee” fields. These fields are a unique type of field that actually display the contents of multiple related records (activityparty), so the contents of these fields will not map to the follow-up activity.

2. You have to create a follow-up activity prior to closing the activity, since related records cannot be created from inactive records.

Post by: Joel Lindstrom, Customer Effective
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