An Introduction to Activity Feeds for Dynamics CRM 2011

I had a chance to play around with the new Activity Feeds utilities in Dynamics CRM 2011 and while there are some big limitations (see below) and it didn’t go quite as far as I had hoped, the capability is smooth, easy to set up and manage, and creates an event-driven mechanism for monitoring Dynamics CRM.

If you haven’t yet heard, Activity Feeds are essentially a mechanism to have Activities and Entity related actions create “posts”.  A post is a short note, similar to a social post, created manually or automatically, that records specified activities with references to the Entities on a “wall”.  Walls are places that accumulate posts, similar to the wall concept that social networking sites utilize.

The Activity Feeds capability is pre-installed with all new CRM Online trials and implementations.   If you are already a Dynamics CRM user (online or on-premises) the Activity Feeds functionality downloads and installs as a solution from the Dynamics Market Place.  All that is needed is the configuration rules to determine where the walls are located and what causes a post to be captured.

What is the business purpose behind Activity Feeds?  In my opinion, Activity Feeds are meant to allow you to collaborate more easily with team members about customers, opportunities, or incidents that you are working on.  For example if a team is involved in an opportunity, actions can be posted on the opportunity wall.  Anyone with privileges to view the opportunity can see all the posts to quickly get a view of all the touches to that opportunity. It is possible to create role specific forms to hide the posts but they would still technically be available to an advanced find.  Further if you choose to “follow” that entity (or that user), the same post will appear on your personal wall.  As you can see, this functionality is very social network-like but utilized within the business settings of your CRM.

Let’s use the opportunity example above to provide a few more details.  You first enable Activity Feeds for the Opportunity entity.  That will also preload several rules that will cause posts when a new Opportunity is created, when an Opportunity is Won/Lost, when the probability is updated, or when a new Competitor is added.  Additionally if you enable Activity Feeds for Activities, posts can be created for new or closed phone calls, appointments, and tasks.  That combination may create more posts than you are interested in seeing so you can easily deactivate rules to reduce clutter.

At this point any of the selected activities to the selected entity will cause a post on the entity wall.  If you and your team are following that entity, a post will appear on your wall(s) as well.

So far all those posts were system generated with a little icon to identify where it was triggered.  You can also add manual posts to your own or an entity wall – and even personalize those with a photo.  Just type the update on the wall and it will be reflected on all the following walls.  You can reference other entities in your manual post simply by typing the @symbol.  A nice little cache tool brings up the more recent 16 entities but you can click to use the standard lookup tool to look up any entity.  And again that reference would cause that post to appear on that entities wall and also on all the follower’s walls.  That might sound a little confusing but it really becomes quite easy to work with and understand once you start looking at it.

It is also important to note that Activity Feeds are not a replacement for workflows or emails (however workflows can trigger posts and posts can trigger workflows).  They are also not a total monitoring solution yet either - at least not in this first iteration.  Among the limitations I see at first glance is that system entities are predefined (although they covered most and you can add up to 50 of your custom entities).  A bigger limitation is that you cannot tweak the rules – they are active or inactive. And the biggest limitation is that you cannot add new rules.  This means that if I was interested in knowing whenever an entity is modified (a common request) I still would need to do some custom work or create workflows to cover all the possible edits unless the modification was one of the predefined rules or activities.

So that is my quick primer on Activity Feeds.  If you have any questions about how you might use Activity Feeds to help you get a better picture of your customers please give us a call.  As a Microsoft Dynamics CRM Certified Gold Partner we have helped over 100 customers successfully implement CRM and CRM enhancements for their organizations.   You can read about their CRM customer success stories on our website.

By Ledgeview Partners – Wisconsin based Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner serving the Midwest and Heartland regions

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