Why does no one ever ask me about The Microsoft CRM GP Connector?
I had someone ask me this week about how SmartConnect compared to the Microsoft CRM ‘free’ connector.  This got me to thinking why nobody ever asks me this question – which I decided was very strange.   I have had a number of customers come to me and buy SmartConnect after wasting 3-4 weeks trying to squeeze their business requirements into the connectors functionality – but no one comes out and asks this up front.  

Given we at eOne are selling more SmartConnect than ever for Integrating CRM and GP I thought I would dig into why people were not really taking the Microsoft Connector for GP seriously:

Single Function
The biggest issue with the connector is that it is seriously limited to a single function – integrating between CRM and GP. For most organisations this is just a tiny part of their integration needs, and reality is not as clean and simple as Microsoft are making out.
1.    Companies need to bring data into Dynamics GP from a myriad of data sources.
2.    Companies need to regularly bring data into CRM from a number of different sources as well.  
3.    Beyond that they need to export data to data warehouses, to point systems and other business specific application.
4.    Website and shopping cart integration to both GP and CRM
SmartConnect solves and hundreds of more integration needs for customers.
Customized Systems
The reason a company invests in Dynamics GP and not QuickBooks is because GP is so Configurable and Customizable to fit your business.  The changes to GP may take the form of third party addon’s, configuration with eXtender or custom development within GP.   The CRM connector is not going to be of any help within any of these scenarios.
On the Flip Side the reason you buy CRM is that it is so easy to mould to your business needs.  SmartConnect identifies all custom entities instantly and makes them available for integrations – where there is much more back end work to expose them within CRM.  If you have to open visual studio then you are working with a development tool and not an integration tool.
Object to Object
The CRM connector for GP provides only integration between a predefined object to a predefined object – which is great for the simplest of integrations but does not always match reality.  From experience we find people want complex data source going to complex destinations.  For example – you may want to take an order in CRM – grab all the order data, the customer data, the customer address data and roll it all into a single map that creates the customer, the customer address and the order in GP at the same time.  If you add to that the 3 eXtender fields you need populated you are going to miss the mark with the out of the box Microsoft connector.
Initial Data Load
When you move to a new CRM system you will need to load your existing CRM data into the new CRM system. The out Microsoft CRM connector is not going to assist with this. There are standard import functions within CRM – but this requires you producing spread sheets in the right format. I recently moved eOne from using Sales Logix to Microsoft CRM and used SmartConnect for all our migration. I was able to read the data directly out of the Sales Logix database (transform the data on the way via entity lookups, translation tables and calculated fields) and push it all right into the exact spot in CRM.  One integration tool all opportunities, opportunity lines and associated notes right out of Sales Logix and created them all as opportunities in CRM.
Bulk/Real Time/Change
Nobody has the exact same needs as any other company.  Some companies require immediate integration between CRM and GP, some want to run integrations every hour, others want to run integration manually at a time that suits them. There are other companies that want to review the data before it integrates allowing them to reject records or even modify them before integration. All of these options are viable options with SmartConnect.
Why Integrate CRM with GP anyway?
Remarkably I think Microsoft, Many CRM and ERP resellers as well as end customers have forgotten the reasons why you would integrate your CRM and ERP?  I see so many people trying to simply  move data from one spot to another. For example move a list of inventory items in GP to a list of products in CRM? Woohoo how exciting.
The reason you want to merge a customer relationship systems data with data from your operational and finance system to get ‘gain competitive advantage and efficiencies across the entire workforce’.  (I made this definition up but I like it). Yes there are times when you should keep duplicate records of customers in two systems  – but you should limit duplication if you can.
What you really should be doing is using the data from one system to make the other system better.  Let’s look at an example that I believe hits the spot.  I have a customer that has an integration between their ERP (GP) and CRM scheduled to run on the 1st day of every new month.  This integration does NOT move one piece of data to a new spot.  This integration sums up the total sales of professional  services spend per customer for the month. For any customers that purchased more than $30,000 (or 1.5 man months) it creates two outgoing activities in CRM. The first is to trigger an activity for the VP of Consulting to make a call to the customer to say thank you for your business and enquire that everything is on track with the project.  The second triggers a survey work flow action seeking feedback from that customer – but only if that customer has not had a survey in the past 12 months.  
As you can see here this is real customer relationship integration. Taking data you have collected, analysing it and driving true ‘customer relationship management’ through integration the back office with the front office.
Does Microsoft Dynamics CRM integrate with Dynamics GP with the ‘free’ connector. Yes absolutely if you want to move one single record form one place to another.  This is a very good thing and is an essential requirement of taking these products to market.

The functionality probably covers about 15% of most businesses integration needs so really misses the spot. In addition this functionality is limiting the creative and real benefits available by integrating the back and front office.  So you can go free but as a result you miss out on all the business advantages waiting for you.