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Understanding the Tracking and Synchronization of Activities with Dynamics CRM

Synchronizing activities like email, appointment, task between two activity management system Microsoft Outlook + Exchange Server and Microsoft Dynamics CRM has been a very common need for users. When Salespersons create meeting requests with one of their opportunities via Outlook client, needless to say they also want to track the activity inside the CRM system against the Opportunity record. There are essentially two most common scenario where the synchronization was required:

  1. An activity is created via Outlook client and is required to be tracked inside Dynamics CRM system.
  2. An activity created inside CRM system, for example by a workflow, which is required to be synchronized with mail client Outlook or server side component Exchange.

Prior to the release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, there were two components used to achieve this : Outlook Connector and Email Router.

The Outlook connector is a client side Outlook plug-in which was capable to tracking and synchronizing the Contacts, Emails, Appointments and Tasks between Outlook client and Dynamics CRM.

The Email Router is a component which would send and receive emails between CRM system and Exchange Server. For example, when a CRM workflow sends an email activity, the email was sent using a Email Router. However, Email Router couldn’t synchronize other activities like Appointments or Tasks.

A big question arises here! Is there any difference between Tracking and Synchronization?

Yes, Of course! Tracking is the action by which a Outlook activity is brought to the world of CRM and Synchronization is the on-going continuous update process in one system when the other has updated an item being tracked.  For example, when a Salesperson creates an appointment with one of its client using Outlook, CRM system has no clue about any such appointment unless the user clicks on the “Track in CRM” button. When this button is clicked, the appointment activity item gets created in the CRM system and the process of synchronization begins. Once a tracked item is modified inside CRM system, the changes also reflect in the corresponding Outlook item. So in nutshell, synchronization of an activity begins only after the item is tracked.

Activity Sync with CRM 2011


While Tracking is a client side feature but synchronization would typically be a server side stuff. Once enabled for tracking by a user using a client side tool like Outlook client, the synchronization between the CRM and Exchange should essentially happen as a server side thing without needing any users/clients intervention.

But with Outlook connector, even the Synchronization is part of a client side component. Hence, unless user has the Outlook client tool running, the activities didn’t synchronize between CRM and Exchange system.

To explain the scenario with a real world example, let us assume that a Salesperson created an Appointment with a client via Outlook and tracked it in CRM system. After being tracked, an appointment record also got created inside the CRM system. Assume that the Salesperson had a call with the client over phone and the client requested him to move the appointment date to a future date. Salesperson changed the Appointment date using his mobile phone’s Mail App which is connected to his organization’s Exchange server. What does the Salesperson expect? Naturally, he expects the appointment in both Exchange and CRM should get updated to the new date. But what would happen in reality? Only the appointment in Exchange got updated, but not the CRM appointment. WHY? Because the synchronization component (the Outlook connector) is not running! Till the Salesperson launches his Outlook client, the CRM appointment does not get updated. This has been a real challenge in a world where users were using various mail client applications other than Outlook like Mobile clients.

With the release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, Microsoft has introduced a Serverside Synchronization capability between CRM and Exchange server. With this capability an activity marked for tracking (using Outlook Client) would be synchronized between CRM and Exchange even when the Outlook Connector is not running.

With the release of this new feature, Microsoft has truly separated the client side Tracking feature with the server-side Synchronization. Activities would still be enabled for tracking by Outlook Connector but once tracked all synchronization would be taken care of by Server-side Synchronization feature. Unlike, Email Router Serverside Synchronization can also synchronize Appointments, Tasks and Contacts.

Server-side Synchronization

With Serverside Syncronization, a simple Tracking flow would look like this:

1. An activity is created in Outlook and is being tracked using the “Track in CRM” button.

2. This item is now stored in Exchange Server connected to this Outlook and Exchange server synchronizes this item with CRM using Serverside Synchronization feature.

3. Serverside Synchronization creates the item in CRM

Serverside Synchronization - Tracking Flow

Once the Activity is created in CRM after tracking, if any user updated the activity item using any client interface e.g. a Mobile device, the item is synchronized with CRM without the Outlook being running.

1. An tracked activity item is updated by a user with a Mobile device. The mobile device saves the change to the connected Exchange server.

2. Serverside Synchronization synchronizes the item with CRM.

3. CRM updates the CRM activity with the changes details.

Serverside Synchronization - Update Flow


Serverside Synchronization comes with some more added advantages:

  • This feature can be administered right inside the Dynamics CRM. So there is no need for separate hardware like Email Routers.
  • This feature is installed along with the Installation of the CRM product. Hence there is no additional installation headache.
  • This feature comes with nice Alert mechanism to alert administrators about any error or warnings related to the feature.

Although, it seems like Serverside synchronization would solve all our existing pain points around activity synchronization between Exchange and Outlook, but there is one important aspect to keep in mind…the support matrix. With the current release of CRM 2013 only the following scenarios of Exchange and CRM combinations are supported by this feature.

Serverside Synchronization Support Matrix

About Dipankar Bhattacharya (59 Articles)
A multi-skilled Dynamics 365 Professional with strong experience in delivering IT projects especially across multiple industries. A Microsoft technology evangelist, a regular speaker at tech events, blogger and avid reader. Certified IT Architect and well versed in Solution Architecture of Business Applications using Microsoft platforms like Dynamics 365, Azure and Office 365.

1 Comment on Understanding the Tracking and Synchronization of Activities with Dynamics CRM

  1. Nice Explanation

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