You may sometimes wonder about the value of having a software partner to support the regular upgrades of the Microsoft Dynamics NAV or Dynamics 365 Business Central system you use to help run your business. You might question this after struggling with an upgrade project or when your partner takes a long time to get back to you on a support issue. For some organizations, the strength of their internal IT staff might lead them to believe they don’t need any help.
Business relationships with software partners vary depending on your needs
These are all valid reasons for questioning the value in having a software partner, but there are many levels of partner relationships possible. Because of this, in our mind the answer is a qualified “yes” to the question of whether a software partner adds value or not. You could be out of sync with your partner in terms of the type of relationship you actually need. Or perhaps you just haven’t found the right partner yet.
Unless you don’t plan to evolve your system for 10 or 15 years and never making a change, you will need a software partner at some point. It is important to be aware that all Dynamics NAV customers will eventually have to move to Dynamics 365 Business Central in the future if they are planning on an upgrade. For now, customers still have a choice between on-premise installations and a cloud option, but this may not be true in the future.
Microsoft works exclusively through partners for NAV & Business Central
Microsoft is significantly invested in the cloud option. The last major Business Central release in Spring 2020 has removed the Windows client interface for Business Central and all new implementations or upgrades have to commit to the browser-based interface. There is a temporary option for customers to retain an older version of Business Central which allows for the Windows interface, but this is a short-term solution and probably shouldn’t be in your planning horizon.
Microsoft chooses to work exclusively through partners for these two products and not engage directly with customers. There are some very specialized exceptions to this statement, but they are very rare and unlikely to apply for the vast majority of Dynamics NAV or Dynamics 365 Business Central customers.
Software partner relationship type 1: “We need a change to our license”
This means that at a minimum you need a partner to process license changes such as adding users and additional functionality, etc. Although you can generally continue to run your software indefinitely without a partner, you need a partner relationship if you need any changes to your license.
In the older versions of Dynamics NAV, this could just mean additional functionality, whereas in later versions and in Business Central the only licenses available for on-premise databases are the Essentials or Premium license. The latter adds capability for manufacturing and service management. You may not need the additional capability but this restriction to license changes also applies to adding more users. If your business grows, you could find yourself limited with too few users.
For cloud licenses in Business Central, there are more ways for you to maintain basic changes to your own license but generally these are processed through a partner, whether directly or through a customer e-commerce portal.
Type 2: “Our system needs an upgrade”
If you plan on upgrading your Dynamics NAV system to a newer version or to Dynamics 365 Business Central, you will need at least a minimum interaction with your software partner to trigger the license change. The actual upgrade effort can be carried out by either your internal staff or the license or other third-party partner.
If you are considering moving from Dynamics NAV to a cloud version of Business Central, it’s important to note that the internal development language has changed from the proprietary C/side development toolkit to Visual Studio AL (Application Language). Visual Studio AL is similar to the .Net code your developers may have learned in the past but it is substantially slower to develop in than C/side. Keep this in mind for internal or external time and cost budgets. Microsoft continues to work on improving the Visual Studio AL toolkit, but this is our reality for now.
To move on to the latest version of Business Central, you will NOT be able to keep your existing modifications “as-is.” They will have to be re-done in the new toolkit. If this is the first time your developers have worked with Visual Studio AL, you could be looking at five to 10 times the time penalty versus your current C/side coding until your developers get up to speed. This is one reason to consider having your partner execute the upgrade effort as they should have some good experience by now.
The good news about upgrading to Business Central is that in certain situations upgrades are processed automatically by Microsoft for minimal cost. Heavy customization may require some updates to meet new technical requirements from Microsoft, but in the long run the overall effort and cost will be substantially cheaper and less disruptive than the historical pattern of going through Dynamics NAV upgrades.
Type 3: “We occasionally need technical support”
Some organizations don’t have the level of expertise or experience necessary to handle all the issues that might arise, whether technical or arising from the software itself. Both Dynamics NAV and Dynamics 365 Business Central are extremely reliable and generally require minimal assistance once your initial implementation or upgrade has been live for three months.
Microsoft has offered customers a direct option for technical support plans for Dynamics NAV, but this can be somewhat inefficient as support techs don’t always have the first-hand knowledge a partner should have - especially the partner personnel who were involved in the original project. This same qualification also applies to high volume partners who rely on local or offshore support centers.
Most software partners have a good handle on Dynamics NAV, but there are still partners out there who either haven’t made a serious commitment to Business Central or don’t have in-depth experience with it yet. Make sure you are satisfied with the level of your software partner’s expertise with and commitment to Business Central before starting an upgrade or implementation project – or it may come back to bite you, especially if there are complex customizations required.
Type 4: “We need support often”
In this situation, you definitely should engage with a partner who is committed to your business. They can handle the license changes, upgrades, and help you resolve your system issues. Find a partner qualified to support your system and especially if you are considering a move to Business Central with its substantially more complex development environment.
Type 5: “We believe in a partnership relationship with our software partner”
A true partnership relationship is based on mutual respect and means both parties are committed to working together to get the maximum value out of the system. The actual level of interaction will vary depending on the customer’s internal support capability, but the two parties are working together with proactive planning, regular contact, and strong technical capabilities. The customer is assigned an account manager who understands the capabilities of both the core product and key add-on products that will bring further value to the customer.
Questions to ask when considering which software partner relationship is best for your business
- Do we ever plan on upgrading?
- Are we interested in moving to a cloud solution?
- Can we support ourselves technically?
- Is our partner capable of or interested in supporting us?
- Do we view our partner relationship as being a true partnership?
Once you answer these questions, you will have the answer to whether you actually need a software partner for your Microsoft Dynamics NAV or
Beware of software partners who have no historical experience with Microsoft Dynamics NAV and are now selling Dynamics 365 Business Central. This is often true for IT partners who now sell Business Central off a Microsoft price list or are currently supporting other ERP products and are looking for an alternative.
Find more information on Microsoft Dynamics 365
*Malcolm Roach is President and CEO of