CRM 2011 - Visualise Business Data Using Charts

Posted by Optimation Editor on 11 November 2011

In the first "where's the business value" article we looked at how the breadth and depth of data visualisations within CRM 2011 provide a powerful tool for gaining business advantage by providing the ability to bubble to the surface critical business information, or alternatively allow users to spot trends and drill down for more information.

One of the visualisation options mentioned was the CRM 2011 charting facilities, which are powerful enough to warrant a dedicated post… so here it is.

One of the most powerful facilities in CRM 2011 is the charting functionality. For me what makes it so powerful, is that it is also very easy to use, customise and extend (for non-technical end users), making it very accessible to the end user. So many systems provide a lot of advanced functionality, but unless you combine that with ease of use to your end users, you will always have a more limited uptake and reduced business value.

CRM allows for charts to be viewed inline (on the same screen) as any data view/list, the chart itself being built in real time based on the data being displayed in the current view. This means that by using the filtering facilities in CRM 2011 (think Excel column filters), the chart also updates based on the filtered view data.

This means the user can easily work with the business data, and use the charts to quickly provide visualisation of the data and spot business trends. To make this even more powerful, users can click on any segment of data in the chart and drill down in more detail on that. For example you have a chart showing the sales pipeline broken by opportunity stage, you can click on any stage, and within seconds produce a new chart of the selected stage broken down by opportunity owner.

In addition to providing powerful data visualisation control to end users, the CRM 2011 charting facilities can also be extended further by power users using the chart export facilities. Any chart can be exported, which produces an XML file containing the chart definition information, including the FetchXML used to define the data query. Any of the data in the XML definition file can be customised, allowing a power user to further extend the charting facilities beyond what is provided by the built in charting wizards.

A couple of examples of how you can edit the definition file to further extend charts include:

  • The ability to scale break a chart. This is useful where you have extended the chart to display multiple series, and the series may differ in scale. By adding a scale break you can ensure the chart still displays both series in a readable format.
  • Adding multiple series to a chart. This is useful where you might have something like a revenue by customer chart, which could be extended to display both estimated revenue and actual revenue.

There are many other extensions that can be made to charts by editing the XML Chart definitions, and the charting visualisations can be viewed in any of the CRM clients (online, on-premises, Outlook CRM Plug-in). By providing a combination of easy to use (and create), plus powerful real time charting with drill down facilities, CRM 2011 allows end users to gain that big picture visualisation of critical business information and trends.