Lucky 13: SharePoint 2013, Microsoft Office 2013, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 (a lucky bet)

Written By: Josh Behl

from December 11, 2013

The case can always be made to select and prioritize phases for change that make sense for an organization. Today, many organizations find themselves on different versions of interoperable products from Microsoft; and, perhaps other vendors as well. Rather than an organization thinking they should overhaul Microsoft SharePoint 2013, Microsoft Office 2013, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 systems as a necessity, they need to consider why moving to the “Lucky 13” triad is a smart decision.

Microsoft SharePoint 2013
Microsoft has continued to evolve SharePoint from version to version making it easier and easier for organizations to accomplish what is needed without the overhead of highly technical staff or consultants. While document management has long been the hallmark of SharePoint, over the past two versions, SharePoint’s business intelligence capabilities have made it a fantastic conduit for users to visualize vital company data, perform ad-hoc reports, and even to browse and analyze data from multiple data sources outside of SharePoint.

Furthermore, while the feature sets between SharePoint Online and SharePoint On-Premise versions has historically been “relatively” aligned, what can be done On-Premise has regularly outpaced its online counterpart. While SharePoint 2013’s On-Premise version still has features unique to that variation of SharePoint, the online version has closed the gap.  Because it is bundled with Microsoft Office 365, the setup, configuration, deployment, and integration between Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 as well as Microsoft Office 2013 is now faster and easier as well.

A several key enhancements to Microsoft SharePoint 2013 make it an even better integration partner to Microsoft Office and Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  Business Connectivity Services (BCS) facilitates the ability to consume disparate data sources from systems like Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, ERP systems, or even cloud-based data sources which allow users to search for and interact with data in a more streamlined manner. Through consumed external lists of data, BCS can enable data to be created, read, updated, and deleted all from within SharePoint.

Microsoft Office 2013
Not to be forgotten, Microsoft Office 2013 (like Microsoft SharePoint 2013) blends some of the impressive enhancements found later in the lifecycle of Microsoft Office 2010 into the core set and some additional features as well.

While two of the more interesting ad-hoc (self-service) reporting tools have had to rely heavily on SharePoint in the past, Power View and PowerPivot are now available directly through Microsoft Office Excel. In fact, organizations do not even need SharePoint in the environment to use them. Organizations using Microsoft Office 2013 Professional or Microsoft Office 365 Professional can enable both Power View and PowerPivot directly within Excel to create highly interactive and flexible reporting solution.

Additionally, for organizations using SharePoint, data connections and queries to an application such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM can be stored within Data Connection Libraries. This allows users who regularly use Excel for reporting needs to point to these pre-configured data connections and queries without having to worry about the query design. In other words, a data analyst or developer can expose data elements and an end user can point Power View, PowerPivot, Pivot Table, or even simple Workbook to that data with relative ease.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM
While the concepts many organizations are likely familiar with have not changed (Sales Management, Customer Service Management, etc.), the amount of control that Microsoft has provided business analysts, managers, and customizers over business logic without even having to write code is very impressive.

That said, a number of other features from previous versions are still very much part of the overall extensibility picture. First consider the integration with Microsoft SharePoint. The integration, from a functional perspective, has not changed. On the other hand, to make the Microsoft Dynamics CRM List Component cross-browser compatible, the solution required an entire rewrite. As in the past, the deployment process is simple and makes document management extremely streamlined and simple to set up.

Microsoft Excel is also very much part of the overall integration picture. Users still have the ability to export data from the application into dynamic Pivot Tables and Worksheets. Additionally, those data connections can be saved within SharePoint. In other words, a user can design filters and query using Advanced Find within Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, export the results to a Pivot Table (for example), and save that query from Excel directly into a SharePoint Data Connection Library. Now, other users can leverage that data connection (if allowed by the security configuration) to design Power View, PowerPivot, or other types of Excel based reporting.

Each of the individual components in this “Lucky 13” triad is very flexible and useful. With the combination two or three of these components, organizations can control their overall cost of deployment and management and provide insight into their company through the consumption of multiple data sources, built in analytic tools, a single repository for document management, and overall ease of use. Because many organizations have at least one or more of these products, existing IT investments, training, and user experience can be further leveraged to build on top of what they already have with minimal costs.