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Taking Care of Business (Central)

Because Calling it “NAV” is so 2005!

If you’ve been paying attention to all the hullabaloo raised within the Dynamics NAV community over the past few weeks, you’ll probably have already heard that Microsoft has rebranded Dynamics NAV (and the associated cloud-based iteration) as Dynamics 365 Business Central. While seemingly a straight-forward catch-all statement, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that there’s some confusion around what all of this means for the future of NAV, what Business Central actually is, and why you should care.

Jury’s still out on the last point, but to be absolutely clear, Marko Perisic, General Manager of the Microsoft Dynamics SMB team, has pretty much clarified that D365 Business Central is the solution name for what used to be code-named Tenerife… or Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, Business Edition… or Microsoft Dynamics NAV… or Dynamics 365 for Financials… and basically every variation of the theme.

If I haven’t already lost you, here are some key areas to note regarding this latest iteration of a great product.

One Code Base

If you’ve ever talked with anyone in the past about the D365 ERP options, they’ve probably all told you that it’s a “watered-down” or “feature-limited” version of NAV. While the terminology used might not be very accurate, conceptually that was the case; the on-premise version of NAV historically has always had more functionality than every cloud-based version (barring tiny nifty features that Microsoft had for the cloud, such as Power Suite functionality).

Unbeknownst to us all (or maybe only anecdotally benknownst to most), Microsoft has been plugging away to bring the two separate products towards parity – essentially “refactoring” (i.e. rewriting) the code of both versions to eventually merge as one. I’ll avoid waxing metaphysical about this and simply say that with the release of Business Central, the two do the same stuff now.

Cloud Today, On-Prem Tomorrow

By now you’ll probably be confused, since everything out there referring to D365 Business Central is exclusively about a cloud offering. So, what about the click-and-install Dynamics NAV (the on-premise) option?

Well, that will come later. This has entirely to do with the overall release cadence that Microsoft has historically had (which may change going forward). In keeping with the status quo, this Fall’s big Microsoft partner conference, Directions, which brings partners up-to-speed on the latest features and functionality of NAV, will be entirely dedicated to the umbrella Business Central solution. It is generally understood that it is around this time when the on-premise version of Business Central will be released.

Extreme Makeover: NAV Edition

To usher in this new era where the online version does the same stuff as the click-and-install version, Microsoft decided to not only adopt a new name for the brave new world of NAV, but also to provide a little bit of a face-lift, as you can see from the home screen of Business Central:

Dynamics 365 Business Central User Interface

I could quite literally spend hours dissecting the interface changes here, however, suffice it to say that while the home screen looks different, it does adopt the same role-tailored experience that you undoubtedly know and love. However, Microsoft has upped the game by dropping the wide-but-short ribbon design in exchange for a more flat tall-and-narrow Web 2.0 (and I daresay, “Dynamics CRM-like”) experience.

Two Flavours

As seems to be the standard with subscription-based products, D365 Business Central comes in a few different flavours. At present, it has two umbrella iterations: Essential and Premium. The distinction really boils down to the inclusion of the Service Management and Manufacturing modules, which are only part of the Premium version (and for which you’d pay a premium, pun absolutely intended).

A New Way to Customize

A few versions ago, Microsoft introduced a new way to ‘customize’ the system – i.e. add your own code or tweak existing logic – that they lovingly referred to as Extensions.

Not to be confused with what makes Beyoncé’s hair absolutely divine, Extensions are Microsoft’s solution to the all-too-common issue of not being able to easily and simply keep your software up-to-date because of all the tinkering done on the back-end.

The long-and-short of the history behind Extensions is that there were issues and limitations, so with some iterations of the improvements and enhancements, the second stab at the concept (appropriately called Extensions 2.0) was adopted and is the new standard for implementing code changes in the world of NAV Business Central. Provisioning and disabling them is – in theory – as simple as installing and uninstalling them from within the platform itself, as shown below.

Dynamics 365 Business Central Extensions

This probably means more to us Microsoft partners than it does to clients, but it does mean that anything non-native Business Central (including both independent software vendors’ add-ons as well as customer-specific customizations) will probably not immediately be ported over and available in the cloud or even possible, given the parameters of how extensions work.

Additionally, there is a new development environment (Visual Studio Code), new language capabilities to accommodate the cloud (e.g. Azure Functions), as well as the Business Central API which expands the interoperability with other solutions.

There’s An App For That

While not specifically new to Business Central, it is worth noting for those unaware that being cloud-based gives the product access to its own marketplace for “apps” – everything from payroll integrations to e-Commerce products to sales tax solutions – which is growing day by day.

Dynamics 365 App Marketplace

The Long and Short of It

This release will undoubtedly mean different things to different clients.

If you’ve been holding off on the cloud because of the lack of full functionality – such as manufacturing –  then this will be a huge deal for you. If you’ve been reluctant because of your customizations and/or add-ons, then this will be something you’ll want to start engaging with your Microsoft partner about. If you’re of the on-premise ERP variety and not interested at all in the cloud, this may pretty much just feel like a rebranding announcement to you.

However to that last point, I think it’s safe to say that the “cons” list of ERP-in-the-cloud continues to shrink day by day.

While I certainly can’t count clairvoyance as a marketable skill, it’s impossible not to sense great things on the horizon for this 30+ year old product and the growing excitement and promise that this evolution in the lifecycle of Microsoft Dynamics NAV brings. So to NAV/Business Central we say, to quote Roger Zelazny: “Good-bye and hello, as always.”

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