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Best Practices for Activity Reporting In Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011
So you want to report on your activities in CRM—and that is a great idea. Activities such as appointments, phone calls, tasks, and e-mails are core CRM functionality and a great indicator of how your users are interacting with your customers, and how actively your users are adopting CRM.
For basic activity reporting, such as activity lists or viewing a count of activities by type by user, consider using the out of the box views and charts.
For example, if I want to see the number of activities by type and priority, I can just go to the Activity view in CRM and select the “Activities by Type and Priority” chart.
If you are not familiar with creating charts in CRM 2011, check out Kevin Wessels’ Introduction to charts in CRM 2011.
I recommend using the views and charts whenever possible, because it is fast, it is dynamic, and it can easily be added to your CRM 2011 dashboard.
However, if you find you want a report that requires more advanced formatting or that can be published to additional formats, such as Word or PDF documents, another option is to create a SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) report.
The point of this post is not to introduce you to SSRS. If you don’t have experience creating SSRS reporting, I recommend checking out resources like the report development section of the CRM 2011 SDK.
The point of this post is to discuss the unique challenges of working with activity data in reports. To understand how to work with activities in SQL queries, you need to first understand how activity data is stored.
Activitypointer – The “Anchor”
In the Microsoft CRM SQL databases, activity records are stored in an anchor entity view called filteredactivitypointer. This view contains the fields that are common to all activity types. This includes fields such as activityid, scheduled start, scheduled end, actual end, actualduration, subject, and description (the “body”). This entity also includes a field called Activitytypecode. This indicates what type of activity the record is.
Activityparty – The people
Any people, leads, or accounts linked to an activity will be stored in the filteredactivityparty view. This is a related entity that enables you to add multiple recipients/attendees/customers to activities. When you create an appointment, for example, and have 3 required attendees, 2 optional attendees, a regarding company, an owner, and a organizer, a total of 8 activity party records are created. Activity party includes fields like partyid (the GUID of the record related to the actity), partyobjecttypecode (the entity type code of the related record), and activity id. The filteredactivityparty view also includes some of the fields from the filteredactivitypointer view, such as scheduledstart, scheduledend.
One important thing to understand about activities and activity parties is that some activity parties are stored in both filteredactivitypointer and filteredactivityparty. The ownerid and the regarding objectid are fields in filteredactivitypointer, but they also are stored as activity parties related to the activity.
This is important to understand, because many people over-complicate their activity reports and views because they misunderstand this—if you want to see any activities where you are the owner, the regarding object, or a recipient/attendee, don’t do something like this:
select distinct a .activityid from filteredactivitypointer a inner join filteredactivityparty p on a.activityid = p.activityid where a.ownerid = @user or a.regardingobjectid = @user or p.partyid = @user
instead, do this:
select distinct activityid from filteredactivityparty where partyid = @user.
Since all people or accounts related to an activity are stored in the filteredactivityparty view, you can limit your query person filter to the activityparty entity, and make your query more efficient. This is why the default “My Activity” views in CRM filter the activity list by the related activity parties, and they get not only the records owned by the selected user, but also the records where that user is an attendee or recipient or regarding object.
The specific activity type views
As we discussed earlier, the fields that are common to all activity types are stored in the FilteredActivityPointer Anchor entity view. These fields are also available from the specific entity type views, such as FilteredEmail, Filtered PhoneCall, Filtered Task, Filtered Appointment (and the poor lonely FilteredFax entity view).
These views also contain the fields that are unique to a specific activity type, such as custom fields you might have added to the appointment entity, and status reasons that are unique to the activity type (for example, there is a “sent” status on e-mails, but not appointments).
Planning your report
So as you begin to design your report, there are a couple of questions you should ask:
1. What records do I want to return? Is this a report covering all activity types, just one type of activity? Should this show all activity statuses, just open/scheduled, just closed, or both?
2. How should this data be filtered? Do I want to see it for a single user, a group of users, a set date range, or a date range selectable by user?
3. How will this data be consumed? Is somebody going to look at it on the screen, in a dashboard, export to a spreadsheet, or print out a PDF?
1. Over complicating the query. If you just want to have a count of activities by person, there is no reason to join activity party to activity pointer and union together the filteredemail, filteredtask, filteredphonecall, and filteredappointment views. Overcomplicated queries are the main reason why activity reports are frequently slow or time out.
2. Misunderstanding how dates in activities work. There are a number of date fields in filteredactivitypointer—scheduledstart, scheduledend, actualstart, and actualend. No one of these date fields are consistently populated on all activity types. For example, tracked emails will typically just have an actualend date, and not a scheduledend or scheduledstart, and only closed appointments have an actualend date. This is one of the main reasons why dates in activity reports and views do not work as expected.
To account for this, I recommend using a case in your SQL query to accommodate various date fields being null. For example:
(case when actualend is not null then actualend
when actualend is null and scheduledend is not null then scheduledend
end) as date
This approach puts priority on the actual close date, so if the activity is closed, it will count that as the date of the activity, but if not, will use one of the scheduled dates.
It is also very important to understand what your audience expects to see as the date of an activity—if they expect the date of an activity to be what it was scheduled as on their calendar, but they close the activity two weeks after the appointment, if you select actualend as the date of the activity in the report, the results won’t match their expectation.
3. Misunderstanding how dates in SSRS report parameters in CRM work
Consider this common scenario—the user wants to enter a start date and an end date and show all activities that fall between @start and @end. So, at first glance, you assume that the report query should say something like this:
“where date between @start and @end”
Not so fast. You first need to understand that when you populate a date parameter in an SSRS report in CRM, it assumes the time of day when you are running the report. So, for example, if you run the report at 3:30 PM on January 5, 2011 and say start date is January 2 and end date is January 4, you are really saying between January 2 at 3:30 PM and January 4 at 3:30 PM. Any activities earlier in the day on the second and the end of the day on the fourth will not be returned.
The right way to do it is to adjust your parameter values so the start date is the beginning of the day and your end date is the end of the day. For example:
“Where date BETWEEN DATEADD(dd, DATEDIFF(dd, 0, @start), 0) AND DATEADD(minute, 1438, DATEADD(dd, DATEDIFF(dd, 0, @end), 0)))”
In this example I am using dateadd to set the @start parameter to the beginning of the day specified, and using dateadd to add 1,438 minutes to the start time of the @end parameter. All activities between these dates will be returned.
4. Lacking a clear focus
Once you start building your report, it can sometimes grow beyond the original scope and purpose of the report. Users will want to add additional fields and be able to group or sort by different fields to use the report to answer different questions. This is fine, but be careful that in doing that you don’t over-complicate the report.
The best reports serve a specific purpose and are consumed in a specific way. Reports that are exported to PDF should not have more fields than will fit in one page width. If you keep adding fields to the report, your query will run more slowly, and you may exceed the number of rows that will fit on one page.
Formatting of reports is driven by the way the report will be used. Column layouts that look good in PDF don’t often look good when exported to Excel, and Excel optimized layouts may not look good when exported to Word. If you try to make the report exportable in all formats, you frequently will wind up with a report that doesn’t look very good in any format
Also, many times the users want the report to handle every niche scenario, so, for example, if there is a custom field that just exists on appointment records, they will want to include it in an activity report. This small change can make a big difference in report execution performance, as it means having to join or union in the filteredappointment view in your query. If you have additional custom fields on other specific entities, that makes it even slower.
Best practice is to limit your fields in the report to just the minimum necessary for the main use case for the report, and if there are any entity specific fields needed for other scenarios, you may want to build additional reports that just focus on those activity types.
- Whenever possible use views and charts for activity reports
- Whenever possible, report from the filtered views
- Whenever possible, use the FilteredActivityPointer entity view for activity reports rather than unioning the specific entity views.
- Build report people filters from the FilteredActivityParty entity view
- Create your report with a clear focus, not an open-ended “all things to all people” activity report