Creating an external facing web portal for your external users is a pretty common requirement these days. Whether they be potential customers, recurring customers, partners or other external parties that you want to empower to self-serve and manage information stored in your Dynamics CRM based system you've got a couple of approaches available to you:
- Let them into Dynamics CRM directly (requires licenses, user management and careful segregation of data)
- Build a custom web application that retrieves / stores data in Dynamics CRM
- Utilise a ready-made, pre-built web application that also retrieves / stores data in Dynamics CRM
ADX Studio Portals fits that third category and is a compelling product that will enable you to get rapid results if you're looking to deploy a web portal for a subset of users. It's such a compelling product Microsoft announced this week that they are buying it, so expect to see even closer integration with Dynamics CRM in the future.
In a nutshell, ADX Studio Portal provides:
- An ASP.NET based web application framework that natively stores data in Dynamics CRM (2011* / 2013 / 2015).
- It can be used to provide different portals for the same Dynamics CRM (e.g. think customer, vs partner).
- It comes with a collection of pre-configured portals, so your needs might already be met with some tweaking and branding required
- It's based on the Twitter Bootstrap layout so it's responsive, and also meets WCAG 2.0 accessibility requirements (Government organisations I'm looking at you).
- There's a range of authentication options - from anonymous, to credentials stored in CRM to federated authentication (Facebook, Google, Live, ADFS etc)
- It can hosted on-premise, or ADX Studio provide a cloud hosted option for you
- You can connect it to CRM Online, or on-premise CRM - all you need is web service communication between ADX Studio and Dynamics CRM
- It doesn't have to be external facing, you could use it for your internal users who don't need all the inner workings of Dynamics CRM (think simple service request, view status patterns)
- If you license the on-premise version you get the ASP.NET source code and can leverage the framework to apply custom logic as needed - like all COTS products though, consider this option carefully.
- Configuration of the portal forms is undertaken in Dynamics CRM, so the same skillset for configuring CRM can be used to configure some elements of the Portal. Generally, the requirements are:
- An IIS server (if you're hosting it yourself)
- Connectivity between ADX Studio and Dynamics CRM web services - ADX doesn't store data, it's a direct web extension of Dynamics CRM that calls these web services at runtime.
- If you go with the ADX Studio hosted option you won't be able to modify / add source code
It's really easy to get up and running with a trial - you can create a Dynamics CRM Online trial organisation in a matter of minutes, and then sign up for an ADX Studio trial which is also hosted online. This is all automated provided you input the right details, and within a few hours you'll be able to get your head around the concepts and configure a portal.
For me the key advantages of this product over a custom solution:
- Vastly reduced cost in terms of time and effort, and of course dollars. The 'plumbing' - the data persistence into Dynamics CRM comes for free, you're not writing your own WCF wrappers for your custom web portal to call, carefully mapping form fields to the correct parameters in your web service call so they end up in the correct field in CRM.
- Less risky - you're leveraging a framework that is already built, tested and validated by thousands of other customers
- You can rapidly configure the product and deliver the portal in an agile manner, similar to how you can rapidly configure Dynamics CRM
If you're using Dynamics CRM and you want to extend a subset of functionality to users who may not be Dynamics CRM users, then look at ADX Studio Portal. In a world of reuse, before buy, before build and commodity SaaS offerings I think it's an option that is hard to go past. For a full list of features, check out ADX Studio Portals.