Articles are a standard entity in Dynamics CRM and they are not a new feature. They have been around since version 4.0 in one form or another and in subsequent updates and new versions they have been gradually improved into what you can do with them.
Articles are an amazing entity which form the greater knowledge base of your organisation. We’ll talk about how amazing they are in a moment.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to be using the Article functionality which is in the latest version of CRM which is CRM 2015 Update 1. This update has not given articles specifically any new features and just to clarify, we are not discussing the parature integration which utilises articles in a certain form.
I’ll discuss the standard features that come out of the box with Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 in this post, how to set up and use articles, what you can use them for and where they will help you in more than one area of the system.
In summary, the topics discussed in this post are:
- Article Templates
- Views and Searching for Articles (Advanced Search Style)
- Using articles for Case and Customer Management
- Using articles for internal organisational learning
- Creating a Dashboard for Article approval and submittal
- Configuring your multi-entity search for Articles
No code knowledge or even major customisations will be used in this post, the most complicated it gets are creating views and dashboards, which isn’t at all!
What are Articles?
Articles are essentially pieces of information that can be easily distributed. They can be as simple or as complicated as the need requires them to be. They are just contains of information and are based on a very simple concept – Knowledge Transfer. Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides the user the distributive capabilities through the system itself either through views, dashboards, cases, embedded emails & enhanced search functionality. The aim of an organisation would to be to create a living, breathing knowledge base and if done so correctly, can form a backbone to education and learning inside CRM.
On the main navigation, articles can be found under ‘Service’ and the ‘Collateral’ subgroup.
What are Article Templates?
Article templates provide the skeleton of an article and determine the article layout structure and where instructions are embedded into each section to assist the writer what type of information to include. You can also modify the colours, headings, font and font size. Once it has been created and activated, it becomes a fixed layout that then the contents of articles are built using it. Four templates are generated with your organisation – ‘Procedure’, ‘Question & Answer’, ‘Solution to a Problem’ and ‘Standard KB Article’.
Article Templates are found in ‘Settings’ > ‘Templates’ and ‘Article Templates’.
What are Subjects?
Articles also have a link to the subject hierarchy in CRM. Subjects are like a filing cabinet of sorts – you can have parent subjects that then have children, then they can have children and so on. The aim of subjects is you end up with an organised hierarchical tree of subjects that mean something to your organisation and if you do they will then help you identify, search upon and report on data in your CRM system. When you create an article, you are forced to link it to a subject.
Subjects are found in ‘Settings’ > ‘Business Management’ > Subjects
Set up your Subjects
Set up your subjects by going to the subject designer page and creating a simple format to start with if you wanted to follow this post, but in reality try to specify a good hierarchy related to your business e.g.
- Make a clear divide between those items which are for internal use only
- Split it into the types of service you provide and then provide more granularity from that e.g. ‘Microsoft Dynamics CRM’ > ‘CRM 4’ ‘CRM 2011’ ‘CRM 2013’ and so on etc.
Creating a new Article Template
Navigate to Article Templates and select ‘New’
You will be greeted with a pop up box immediately – enter very descriptive names here as both the title and the description will be available to the user when they go to create articles using this template.
Once you have completed that, you can now design your template. To the right (circled red in the screenshot below) you can see you have your task box where you can add sections, remove sections and also edit the sections properties. When you add a new section you have to enter a title for that section and also the instructions. The instructions will appear to the user in that section when they are making the article, not on your template.
Use Template properties to edit the detail you entered when you first created your template if you have changed your mind
In the middle you have your ‘Canvas’ as such. Your sections will appear here but you can edit the styling of your article appears to a certain extent. In the top left (blue circle) you’ll see ‘Modify’ and a drop-down of three options:
- Body Text: Select this and any of the font size, font, or colours you edit will affect the body of the text only
- Title: Select this and any of the font size, font, or colours you edit will affect the body of the text only
- Section Heading: Select this and any of the font size, font, or colours you edit will affect the body of the text only
Once you have finished creating your article, select ‘Save and Close’. Your template will be activated automatically. If you was to deactivate a template, you will not be able to publish articles using it – to deactivate it select your template and click ‘More Actions’ and then ‘Deactivate’.
Creating a new Article
Navigate to Service > Articles and select ‘New’
Select your new template – can you see that your description appears to the user to the right?
A new blank article will load and you will be able to see immediately your template design. To continue:
- Give your article a good name – people will be searching this and it needs to be descriptive of the contents
- Select an appropriate subject
- Enter keywords – good for searching
In the main body of your article, you can see from your template that the instructions are per section that was set on the template – this is extremely useful as it can guide article writers and assist in content expectations being met and standards are kept. You can only edit the actual section areas in an article and no-where else. (see the screenshot below) and you over type the instructions when you do so, so you don’t need to worry about your instructions appearing on your final article.
Once you have saved at least once you’ll be able to see your article title appear in the main body along with a unique organisational created number for your article.
Once you have finished, submit your article for approval. If you are using the security roles as they were intended here, generally speaking a manager or supervisor will then approve articles where they become published for all users to see. Articles can get rejected and then they have to get edited and so on.. article comments are good for this which you can add using the ‘Article Comment’ note at the top on the ribbon. It’s worth noting that article comments can also visible when an article becomes embedded into a case. These are mentioned a little later in the post.
Once the article has been approved, all users who have access to Articles can now see your new article.
Searching for that Article
Searching for articles is very simple and very powerful.. which is why in the creation of your templates and articles if you have taken good use of a descriptive title, keywords and appropriate selection of subjects, searching for articles will be very enjoyable for a user.
Navigate to your Published Articles View and on the right hand side you may notice a slightly different search bar.. with an additional spyglass icon to the right. This is an advanced search that lets you specify which part of the article you want to actually search upon.
You can search on:
- Full Text
- Subject (free text)
And then additionally add a specified subject filter to your searches. Selecting a specific subject using this will actually filter your view immediately.
You can also choose whether to use exact words or ‘like’ words – like words can be classed as plural for example e.g. cats not ‘cats’ which was specified in the article, it’ll still pick it up if you use ‘like’ words filter.
Because of this awesome search function, creating views for articles is almost not required. I say almost, it does really depend on how many articles you plan to use and also your preferred use of CRM. The advanced search is so easy to use, especially to just specify and filter based on subjects and keywords for example. However you may want to group your articles based on views automatically, so you can then pin those views as default for example, use them with your GMRU functionality etc. Suggested ways to help with this is to prefilter based on ‘higher’ more generic subjects to start with.
Using Articles for Case and Customer Management
Articles can be embedded into emails from both the web client and also the outlook client. This makes them perfect for distribution to clients that have both just enquired about something (and not necessarily met the conditions for a case to be created) but also additionally for those that have an active case that is in investigation. In the case form there is a tab right at the bottom for ‘Articles and Contract Information’ where you can relate an article to the case that may be relevant.
When you select the lookup, you’ll be pleasantly greeted with a different type of popup than you may have been expecting (“Look for more records”) – instead the ‘Article Search’ which is infact the same article search described above that is available on the article views. It allows you to search on Full text, title, keywords, article number and subjects. If you find the one you’re looking for, you can then associate it to the case and choose to show the article if you wish where you can toggle the comments display.
Why the Article Comments are amazing
Commenting your knowledge base articles might be easily dismissed as just adding ‘notes’ to a record and not actually that useful. It is in fact it’s own entity (kbArticleComment).
Adding comments to articles means that other users (not necessarily the creator) can add their thoughts and generally, the articles can then be improved in time, for example after a monthly review, the comments can then be reviewed and the article edited and republished so that information is always kept up to date, but it is more of a group effort.. but in the interim showing the comments in the case screen and also when you have an article open independently of a case, reading comments shows the interaction and other users input which is crucial to be able to grow and expand knowledge rather than invest time into creating articles and then leave static and (what may become) unrelevant data over time which will clog searches.
Using your Articles for organisational and customer knowledge transfer
Once you have your articles set up, you can then use them in different ways. Earlier in the post I referred to articles being utilised for both internal organisation knowledge transfer and also to assist learning for clients. Consider the following scenarios:
- Creating articles to document your core organisational business processes. Using the individual sections as the steps in those business processes. The nature of the inflexibility of article templates will force you to keep it simple. These documents will then assist those that are new to the business but also for those who require a refresher to remind them which steps to follow, especially if they don’t need to follow it in their day to day activities. This also helps an organisation infer responsibility and ownership over the duties they would expect an employee to perform.
- Creating articles to document how to perform regular and standard tasks with reference to the service or equipment that you sell. For example, your organisation may sell bikes, and so you may wish to create a generic troubleshooting guide that you can send all clients where you require some more information when something is wrong but you are having difficulty getting more information from the client. The article could prompt the user to check certain areas of the bike and note information down that they could then return with.
These two different scenarios can be utilised using the standard article management system which I have described in this post. To make managing both of these scenarios as effective as possible, you would need to take care when:
- Creating subjects: Create and plan your subjects – this may seem a simple area of the system but I would recommend planning and having a few individuals involved from your organisation to help with brain storming and ideally those that have knowledge of, and take into consideration the entire organisation
- Create articles with search in mind (‘Search Optimised’) : You can perform searches based on the title, subject, keyword and the main body of your article. The first three can be tailored for searches to ensure they are as descriptive as possible, the subject is search friendly (not too specific) and as many relevant keywords are entered as possible.
Don’t be afraid of overlap between the two, it happens– As long as you make it clear for example where certain articles are ‘Internal Use Only’ so they do not get sent to clients – there could certainly be overlap with information only intended for internal training use and information that can be distributed to clients. It is not unheard of to have certain items customer facing and others not, just ensure this is managed with a policy that is easy to use e.g. putting ‘Internal Use Only’ in brackets at the end of your title for example. A scenario where you may find this is if you deliver items, you have a ‘Delivery Policy/Information’ Article – you may wish to create two versions, one to send to clients in the case of an enquiry about a missing or late parcel, and one for internal use which details certain actions that can be taken in the event of missing or late parcels.
The CRM user will need to take responsibility to send the right detail to clients, but as the administrators or the people who create article’s, attempt to make the process as easy as possible so there is no confusion. It will negate all your hard work of article creation and management if a user hesitates as they are not sure if they can send the information to the client as it’s not labelled correctly – no knowledge is transferred but the problem still exists and needs to be managed which will still take time.
Creating a Dashboard for Article approval and submittal
There is no standard Dashboard that looks at the approval and publishing of articles. However creating this functionality is relatively simple, a nice and simple dashboard to assist in the managing of users creating, submitting and publishing articles will help make this process seamless and easy to manage. Providing it’s just not one user doing all three as then this is clearly not required, but if you have expanded the security roles so you have one main ‘approver’ or ‘disprover’ then this dashboard will help to begin with.
An article has three statuses:
- Draft (On first creation, it is draft, and if it is rejected, it goes back to draft status)
- Unapproved (It becomes unapproved when it has been submitted for approval)
- Published (It becomes published when an unapproved article has been approved)
The dashboard above is made up of two standard views and one simple custom view (in bold):
- Unapproved Articles – Articles that you need to action, either approve (and Publish them) or disprove (and send them back to draft(unpublished) status)
- Unpublished Articles (Draft articles people are creating, Rejected articles you have rejected) This could be improved if you want to know the split, so have the standard view ‘draft’ articles and a new view of ‘draft articles’ which you have modified – modified user = current user)
- Published Articles (This Week) – Articles that you have modified by publishing them and has the filter so you only see this weeks published articles otherwise you’ll see all of them
Its not perfect, but it gives you a great way of managing article management in the first instance and then you can tweak it to suit your individual or organisational needs.
Configuring your multi-entity search for Articles
Finally, it’s also worth noting that you can configure the multi entity search introduced in the 2015 Update of Dynamics CRM to work with your articles, so your users only need to search for the title of the article for it to then appear in your results.
You need to add it into your multi entity search by adding it in through system settings
Then you need to remember to change the Quick Find view for Articles – otherwise your results will look like this:
Change the Quick Find View to include extra columns such as the KB Number and the Subject (You don’t have THAT much to choose from) and your multi-entity search has suddenly improved tenfold in usefulness:
Thats it in terms of creating and using articles – they have amazing potential and do not require much to set up – the initial effort in doing so will ultimately pay off in creating a structured and well researched knowledge base of information that is accessible to all your CRM users.
If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments!