IBM Bluemix: creating a service portal for Microsoft CRM quickly and easily

e-office uses both Microsoft and IBM for its internal system solutions. Doing this, we are always looking for the best match between the different solutions and our purposes. We also integrate our systems in order to combine the best of both worlds. Some time ago, our support and administration system for the registration of incidents and calls has been migrated from an IBM Domino application (developed in-house and meanwhile outdated) to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. After the migration had been successfully completed, we still missed a web portal through which we could provide our customers with an overview of their service calls.
We had the following demands for this service portal:

• Give insight into open and closed cases, as well as activities connected to the cases (e-mails, tasks, telephone notes).
• Initially only provide the option to view cases, but already taking a next version into account, in which cases can also be submitted through the portal.
• Enable a simple way of searching for cases based on keywords, date, requester etc.
• Show the number of hours spent on a case. This information originates from the hour registration system (Assistance PSA).
• Accessibility from a desktop as well as from a tablet or even a smartphone (responsive design).
• Login through ‘social login’ because this has advantages for both the user (convenience, no need to remember an extra password) and the organization (no need for functionality to register users, reset passwords, etc.).
• Not dependent on changes within MS CRM Online.
• Process support information into customer-specific reports.

After some research we soon realized that the standard solutions did not entirely meet our requirements. So did we have to start building it ourselves, then..?

entering IBM Bluemix
Bluemix is IBM’s Platform as a Service (PAAS) environment, offering the possibility of building and testing applications in the cloud, as well as hosting and managing these. Since the introduction of Bluemix mid-2014, the platform has been expanding rapidly. Now there is a choice from several runtimes (java, node.js, Python, Ruby, PHP etc.) and more than 50 services are available (databases, messaging engines, security, Internet of Things, cognitive applications based on IBM Watson, integrated DevOps approach, etc.). Particularly since the IBM InterConnect conference at the end of February, there is no escape from it: IBM is fully committed to making Bluemix a success.
Within e-office, enthusiasm is increasing at a proportionate pace. Bluemix quickly became an option for the realization of the service web portal. Moreover, we had already gained experience with the integration of data from CRM for our ConnectPoint project. This made the choice for a custom-built solution much easier.

For the Bluemix-enthusiasts within e-office this offered a nice chance to experience if Bluemix could fulfil the promise to develop applications quickly and efficiently, in the case of an application that is really intended for production. And we have to admit: Bluemix passed with flying colors.
For the realization of the web portal, we could use the following building components from Bluemix:

1. Websphere Liberty Profile as java server. At a touch of a button in the Bluemix dashboard a Liberty Profile runtime is started, ready to host your application.
2. Single Sign On service to enable ‘social login’. Users can login with their LinkedIn account.
3. A Cloudant NoSQL database to link the LinkedIn accounts to the customer organization in CRM in a quick and easy way. Linking LinkedIn email addresses to CRM account ID’s is the only registration that has to be done on our side.
4. The Data Cache service to store data of all cases, for quick access. Retrieving the hours spent on cases may take a while, but will already be started in the background as soon as a user has logged in, and will be stored in the cache.
5. The Cloud Integration service (Cast Iron Live) for easy interaction with the MS CRM API. Unfortunately, the MS CRM API that was available through Cast Iron Live appeared somewhat limited, so we had to perform some customization to be able to collect additional data.
6. Custom domain ‘service’ to be able to use an own URL and to secure this domain with a SSL-certificate, in order to create access to the portal through a safe ‘https’ connection and an e-office subdomain.

conclusion
IBM Bluemix delivers on the promise to develop applications in a quick and efficient way, also because of the various state-of-the-art functions (‘services’ in Bluemix terminology).
Apart from the services used by us, services appealing to the imagination, like Visual Recognition, Personality Insights, Watson Ask & Answer (machine learning), Internet of Things, Big Data, etc. are available. There services now become available to small and medium-sized organizations.

Adding the various services to the application proceeds in a smooth and simple manner. In the end, we were able to realize the CRM web portal in half of the time planned. Not bad for a first introduction!

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