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Briware Solutions Inc.

My 30-day experiment: Can I Run My Small Business on Dynamics 365?


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What can you learn about an accounting system in the first 30 days?  Lots!

For the past 30 days, I’ve been running an experiment.  My thought was that if I can use Dynamics 365 to run my small business, then I know my clients can too.

The topic of moving your business to the cloud has been discussed in hundreds of posts, articles, and infographics already, but I don't think anybody has really approached it from a startup business owners standpoint – aside from cost that is.  What about a company like mine?  With little more than an idea and some moxie when I started the company, I learned quickly that you can do DIY infrastructure on the cheap...but it’s a pain in the butt!

My small business, Briware Solutions, has been using Microsoft Dynamics GP for the last 4 years or so.  I wanted to know: would I be just as happy using Dynamics 365?

So I started my experiment and began moving my business data from Dynamics GP to Dynamics 365.

Before I tell you the results, though, let’s go back to the very beginning so that you can better understand what I am comparing to.

In the beginning

When I first started Briware Solutions, setting up the infrastructure was pretty easy - I could just have everything on one server.  In fact, for the first several months by “server” I meant my laptop.  Eventually I went to Best Buy, bought myself a PC, and set it up with the required operating system, server components, and Dynamics GP.

I admittedly had an advantage over many other companies at my level of growth; as a Microsoft Partner I had access to SQL Server and Dynamics GP right away.  And as a techie I was able to save on consulting by setting it up and maintaining it all myself.

One major drawback back then was that I couldn't easily access the data from anywhere else.  But the server was in my home and I was working all hours anyway, so that was okay.  When I needed remote access to the server, I used my TeamViewer account and it got the job done.

As I started adding more customer projects I partnered with JOVACO and implemented their project suite with Dynamics GP to run my consulting engagements.  This is a great tool, and it really brought a lot of professionalism to my projects and efficiencies to my billing process.  If we’re talking Pinto, Pathfinder, Porsche though, this was definitely a Porsche while my business was probably more at the base model Pathfinder stage (maybe even souped up Pinto?).

Fast forward a bit and all of a sudden I had a staff!  Now I had to be able to share resources with them and get them to record time against projects.  So I set up a VPN connection into the domain (which basically meant re-networking my house and learning about firewalls…that was fun.)  I did outsource the setup of the firewall eventually, but it all ended up taking months if you measure it chronologically.

So now we had users able to VPN into the domain, which gave them the ability to enter timesheets and remote desktop to the server for Dynamics GP access.

I should mention that in the beginning I had also implemented Office 365 and loved it.  In fact, one person I later hired said that because of how we were using Office 365, Briware was one of the most collaborative companies she'd ever worked with.  Yes, she still works here and yes, I use that quote as often as I can.

Back to the story...Microsoft Dynamics GP with JOVACO Project Suite and Office 365 was a great solution for our small ERP consulting company, but I still had the following pain points:

  • Each piece I added had not only a cost of its own, but also a prerequisite cost.  For example, in order to use Management Reporter the user needed to be logged into a domain which meant implementing a domain controller (Windows Server).
  • Each component took a relatively long time to implement.  Installation and configuration took time – and we all still had full time jobs.  Not only did it take the time, but most of the components couldn’t be utilized or provide value until they were fully implemented.
  • At the end of the day, everything was self-contained, accessible only by Briware employees.  To review project plans and provide updates, we needed to have a meeting.  If a customer had a question about time, their only recourse was to call.
  • According to that timesheet system we implemented, I was spending about 30 hours a month maintaining and supporting the infrastructure.

There are ways to work around all of those issues individually, but collectively they are fairly daunting for a relatively new business owner to deal with!

Enter the cloud

Up to now, we’d focused entirely on project management and billing – but according to the time sheets most of our work is actually customer support!

About a year ago we implemented an online helpdesk solution called Zendesk to manage our support tickets.

Like most online solutions today, Zendesk had a 30-day free trial period so I signed us up.  Within a weekend and with no monetary investment I had a full featured ticket management system which customers and my team could log into to create, review, or update support tickets.  Users didn’t need to log in to create a ticket either – they could just send an email and we could route the ticket.

I have to say that as far as introductions to implementing cloud based solutions go, this was a very good experience.  I had my customers in the solution within a few days and it has become an integral part of our business infrastructure.

This did inadvertently create a problem, though.  Now I had staff recording time against tickets in Zendesk and then manually reentering that time in Jovaco for invoicing.

Then came Dynamics 365

Microsoft released Dynamics 365 for Financials in November 2016.   I know a lot of Dynamics GP partners are trying to ignore it, but I wanted to see if I could sell it right away.

That was when I decided to try and implement it for us, to see if Briware could run our own small business using Dynamics 365.

In short, it works great for us.  But like Dynamics GP, it doesn’t work entirely by itself.  Let me explain:

Financials

Within the first week or so I had completed the core implementation tasks.  I had setup the multicurrency features, restructured the chart of accounts, setup posting, and transferred my master data from Dynamics GP to Dynamics 365.  At that point, I could process new transactions.  I have a separate post coming on the differences I found between GP and 365, but suffice it to say that I was very happy with what I found.

One disappointing aspect of the transition was that the available “Dynamics GP Data Migration” utility doesn’t do any transactional data.  However, while I was listing and troubleshooting gaps in functionality for my business I figured out how I could import my AR from GP into 365.  I used SmartConnect from eOne Solutions and built integrations for open AR, AP, and Purchase Orders.

Project Accounting

 In Dynamics 365 the project management functionality is pretty light; it is really more of a job costing tool.  It has some timesheet functionality but you can’t put any real notes into the timesheets as my customers have come to expect.  While you can enter project tasks and assign resources, there’s no real project management functionality – it’s all project accounting.

Since we had already implemented Zendesk, I did a search in their marketplace for project management add ins.  I came across a connector for a tool called TeamWork and started doing some research.  Within a weekend we had a full featured project management portal which customers could log into to track and participate in their projects.  On top of that, it integrates nicely with Zendesk so that I could have users enter all of their time in 1 spot!  It has already become an integral part of several key projects for us.

Even better, using SmartConnect I was able to utilize the REST API from TeamWork to integrate with Dynamics 365.  When time is entered into TeamWork (including time from Zendesk), a time sheet record is created in Dynamics 365.  The relationship is maintained until the line is invoiced in Dynamics 365, and then the invoice information is passed back to TeamWork.

That part took more than a weekend.

I can now give my customers access to their projects and support tickets via a portal.  If the customer has a question on any aspect of their invoice, they can easily review the time entry in TeamWork.  If they still have a question, they can add it directly to the billing line in the portal and we can action it - leaving a complete record of the conversation for later review.

When I started showing my customers the new project management portal and how their invoices tie to it they all invariably said ‘wow, this is very, very cool, thank you for doing this’.

The Result

On December 31 I had Dynamics GP with JOVACO and Zendesk running my processes.  As of January 1 I have Dynamics 365 with Teamwork and Zendesk running my processes.

As I mentioned above, from a customer facing standpoint the initial results are extremely positive.

So far, Dynamics 365 for Financials has been able to not only handle, but in some cases, enhance my business processes.  For example, managing AP has always been a weak spot for me.  Vendors would email an invoice and I would tell myself I would get to it later.  When I did sit down to do AP I invariably forgot at least 1 email.  Using the Outlook add in, I can now mark the email as an incoming document, adding it to a queue in Dynamics 365 so that nothing gets forgotten.

I haven’t gotten there yet, but there is actually an OCR add in that should help turn those incoming documents into vouchers even more easily.

Was this easy to do?

To implement Dynamics 365, including the opening balances, took me about 3 weeks.  That was not pure dedicated time, though. There's more for me to do but I am running my core business!

I implemented Zendesk myself in a weekend.  I had a working process where customers could send their support emails and have tickets created automatically.  I've tweaked it since then and will continue to do so, but the initial implementation took a weekend.

Teamwork was the same thing.  It took me about 2 days to figure it out and get everything set up. Now we have this really cool looking portal that makes us look very professional and took almost no time to implement.

I will admit that the process of getting all these systems fully integrated is still relatively technical, involving API’s and SmartConnect REST adapter configuration.  If you’re technically minded and inclined to do so, you could certainly figure it out – I did.  If you aren’t there yet, no worries!  Give us a call and we’ll happily help you out.

All of the systems were super quick to get up and running and once you get them integrated, it is pretty cool.

Do I need to do double entry?

For the three systems that I tied together, my whole purpose was that there should only be a single point of entry for any piece of data.

  • Project management data is always entered in Teamwork
  • Support information is always entered in Zendesk, with time entries being sent to TeamWork..
  • All the accounting information, including the project accounting data, is entered into Dynamics 365.

So within our process there's actually very little manual data entry when you talk about moving the data around.  It's pretty much invisible to us.

Am I saving money?

Total cost of ownership is a great question.  In this model I am subscribing to all the software.  We are paying per user per month for each of the products.  However, I don't have to give every user full access to all of the systems.  I have people who only do support; they need full access to Zendesk but not much else.  They can have a Dynamics 365 Team Member license (at just $6.10 CAD per month) to get information like customers' outstanding balance and contact information.  They can create a quote or enter timesheets but they can’t create invoices.

When you look at Dynamics GP (or NAV or AX) if a user needs to enter a purchase order and that is their only job, historically they needed a full user license. So licensing the individual apps actually can work out cheaper.

You can save money this way but it's an ongoing cost.  You pay as you go and you pay as long as you go.

Am I saving time?

Right away this decision to move to the cloud took away a ton of infrastructure.  There is no VPN to maintain. Remember that 30 hours a month I spent supporting the infrastructure?  That is basically gone.

I literally had a call this morning from one of my users who couldn't get to the VPN to do some time entries in the old system.  No one else was having problems, just him and it took up an hour of my time.  All of that goes away. Now I just have a monthly cost, that isn't really that high when I think about it.

Is anything missing?

We don’t have a CRM system to track our sales opportunities yet.  I'm looking forward to Spring 2017 when the sales and marketing functionality is released for the Dynamics 365 Business Edition.

I've actually gotten to a point now where I've got three SAAS products basically running my business. Support and project management, and the financials in between. Everything is set up except payroll and payroll is next week's project.  I'm sure that I will hit bumps along the way, but for now I seem to have everything I need.

I am very excited about the outcome of this experiment. I can confidently say, with some real world proof, that Dynamics 365 Business Edition is a great fit for a small business just like mine.

If you would like to discuss using Dynamics 365 to run your small business, contact Briware Solutions at 844-BRIWARE or rod@briwaresolutions.com.

By Briware Solutions, www.briwaresolutions.com

Follow me on Twitter: @Briware_Rod

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