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The Dynamics Duo talk about CRM and Office Business Applications (OBA)

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In the last episode we talked about Microsoft Office SharePoint Server; in this one we talk about Microsoft Office on the client side.

CRM actually integrates really really well with Microsoft Office Outlook right out of the box.  That’s a natural as it’s the place where many people work day-in day-out (and especially those sales and marketing folks).  But what about those people that need that data in Word or Excel?  In this episode we talk about how easy it is to customize the integration of Dynamics CRM with Microsoft Office on the client side.  This category of applications, often referred to as Office Business Applications (OBA), help to unlock the value of line-of-business (LOB) systems, such as the ones built on the Dynamics CRM platform, and turn document-based processes into real applications.   There’s lots more info about these types of apps over at OBA Central.

In the demo Girish put together, we see how the app is surfaced with a custom ribbon.  This in turn opens a Status Report template which has a custom task pane.  That task pane pulls all the relevant information for my status report from the CRM server (in our case CRM Online).  It authenticates and then grabs the project info.  When I choose a Project it also pulls in the work items for that project.  Just like with the SharePoint example, it’s trivial to open a CRM form right from within Word where I review more detailed info or even start an Office Communicator session with the owner of the work item.

I can then insert the work items along with descriptions and hours worked directly into the status report.  Since you’ll want to share that status report with your customer, Girish built in the ability to publish it to Office Live Small Business.  Office Live is the ideal place for sharing documents with customers or partners who won’t have access to SharePoint sites behind your firewall (and it’s free!).

The secret sauce that allows these kinds of apps to be developed so quickly is right in Visual Studio in the form of Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO).  As you might expect, the same authentication code we used in the SharePoint example is used for authentication from with the OBA.  Then it’s just a case of using the Dynamics CRM web services to pull info from CRM and post it into the Word doc.  Nice!

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