Can you self-implement Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central?

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In early December 2020 I convened members of New View Strategies’ Strategic Partner Program for a panel discussion around Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central. Now that the product has been out for a while, it’s a good time to reflect on the current state of the product, and in particular how it is similar and how it is different compared to Dynamics NAV with regards to implementing and upgrading. Following is part of the transcript from that discussion, which has been split into 5 parts. In Part 1, I asked the panel “What are your lessons learned from implementing Dynamics 365 Business Central?”. To view the recording please visit the New View Strategies YouTube channel, and to listen or download the audio file please visit our website.

 

Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies:

Hello everyone. This is Mark Rhodes. We're doing a new thing called the NVS Huddle, and I've got four fantastic community members, partners, general geniuses with me today to talk about their kind of insights and lessons learned around Business Central. Business Central has been out for a couple of years now, maybe two and a half years, and it really has gotten to a much more steady state. They've made tremendous improvements with the modern clients. The browser interface, a lot more adoption is happening. We're seeing a tremendous amount of volume and interest this year. All the partners in the community are very busy. And I thought it'd be a good time to take a breather and talk about what implementing Business Central is all about. In particular, I think a lot of people had early on this hope that maybe it's going to be a lot easier. Maybe as a customer I can do a lot more by myself. Maybe it'll be a little bit more wizard driven than the traditional big multi-figure implementation and upgrade projects of the past. And while it is a little bit easier to get your arms around, it's not a QuickBooks. It's not something you can install in a couple of hours and be up and running with really any success, certainly if you want to drive some improvement in your company. And really a lot of this comes from just calls that I have been getting saying, "Hey, we've been up on Business Central now for a month or two, and we still haven't closed our books. We have shipments we can't track down. We can't get product out the door." Those are scary calls to get. And to talk a little bit more around that point, that the role of the partner, how important it still is to optimize the implementation and your upgrades and make sure that you really have the system configured to drive your business. So on our panel today, I'm just going to go from left to right. We've got Tom Doran from Innovia Consulting. We've got Erik Hougaard from E Foqus Canada. We have David Gersten from Dynamic Consulting, and Ben Baxter from Accent Software. Hey guys. Thanks for joining me today.

Tom Doran, Innovia Consulting:

Hey, Mark.

Erik Hougaard, E Foqus Canada:

Hey, Mark.

David Gersten, Dynamic Consulting:

Thanks for having us.

Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies:

Absolutely. Let's go around the room, do introductions real quick. And then let's go ahead and dive in with some questions. Tom, I'll call on you first since you're in my upper left.

Tom Doran, Innovia Consulting:

Sure. I'm Tom Doran. I'm with Innovia Consulting. I've been with Innovia for about 13 years. And I've been working with Business Central and its predecessors since 1998.

Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies:

Fantastic. So you've seen the highs and lows and you got to be pretty excited about where we're at right now.

Tom Doran, Innovia Consulting:

I was just telling a joke about Ben's mom, Julia, once looked at me and said, "Tom, can't you just sell a simple project once?"

Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies:

Always the goal. Erik, introduce yourself, please.

Erik Hougaard, E Foqus Canada:

I'm Eric. I have been with what we now call Business Central since it all started back in Denmark in 1990. At that time, it was IBM product called Navigator. And I'm currently working in Canada, in Vancouver, a company called E Focus. And I have been receiving the Microsoft MVP awards for quite a few years now. And you might also have stumbled upon my newest endeavor on YouTube. I usually deal with the development side, but like a year and a half ago, I thought that with the whole change in how software is delivered, how Business Central has changed, we, and by that I mean the customers, are actually needing something else. So I spent a lot of time writing the book that sits on my shelf behind me, which is a field guide for people to get started with Business Central, perhaps without a traditional partner, without a traditional project. But certainly as a help to qualify customers when they're working with a product like this.

Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies:

Excellent. And let me tell you folks, it's a pretty thick book. So a lot in there. David?

David Gersten, Dynamic Consulting:

Hey, Mark. Thanks for including me. David Gersten, Dynamic Consulting, I'm the SMB ERP strategic engagement manager for organization. We've had a mid-market SMB practice for a couple years now, about three years. Traditionally I've been in the enterprise F&O space. But we saw great opportunity with legacy GP and NAV customers, as well as the change of the Business Central world. I came on board about a couple of years ago. I've been in the channel about 10 years though, always in GP and the Navision space, and real excited. I've been involved with Business Central, specifically since Chicago four years ago when Project Madeira launched and has really learned a lot on that. I am on the more sales and engagement side of the world, so I could talk about the storytelling and what we talk to customers and the reality of what I see what our great team does in deploying these solutions and how to sell them and change that mindset of the customer. Because what they are seeing in the marketplace and what Microsoft is telling them compared to reality is a totally different paradigm. So I spend most of my day doing mindset changing to get them to understand that it is a good product and a good project. And Erik, I'll tell you, I love your book. I have the PDF version and I love the updates. I mean, I just keep save as save as every time you give us a new one. I appreciate that contribution to the community.

Erik Hougaard, E Foqus Canada:

Thanks.

Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies:

Well said, David, there. You highlighted something I didn't really key on in my opening thoughts. There are a lot of mixed messages out there. We're going to get into that. And that's partly why we're talking today as well. But let's wrap up with intros. Ben.

Ben Baxter, Accent Software:

Yeah. Mark, really appreciate you having me on here. My name is Ben Baxter with Accent Software. We've been doing BC and NAV and Dynamics and Navision way back when, and I've been doing it myself for over 15 years now, longer than I could imagine I would be doing it. But I still love it. I still get excited about the product and what it is capable of doing as long as you properly utilize it. We specialize in manufacturing, job costing and service, but talk with people in just about every industry.

Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies:

It's amazing the years of experience we have there. And for anybody who's really newer to the space, maybe just a recent Business Central customer or somebody looking at this software, you'll see this through and through our community passionate, passionate people who love the software and have been obviously using it and involved with it for decades. It's really, really impressive, the staying power. And really that speaks volumes, I think. Okay. Let's level set. Business Central, again, has been out for two, two and a half years now. Predecessor, for all intensive purposes, was Dynamics NAV. It is the same, yet it's not. It was rearchitected very different implementations now, very different structure to all of it. If folks are watching and they're just getting into it, there's a lot of similarities, but yet a lot of differences. If you're running on NAV and looking to upgrade to Business Central, hey, there are a lot of changes to get your arms around. So I'm going to ask the first question to the panel. What are your lessons learned so far implementing Business Central? What do you think? Tom, we'll start with you again.

Tom Doran, Innovia Consulting:

Sure. Thanks, Mark. And I was thinking about those lessons because there have been many as the product has evolved. But I would say the two biggest lessons, and David touched on it, it's setting the right expectation at the front end of the project to ensure the customer's clear. And the other, because we have such a robust ISV community, is ensuring that whatever ISVs you're considering are in fact ready for the product.

Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies:

Somebody want to explain that bit for those who are a little bit more uninitiated?

Ben Baxter, Accent Software:

Yeah. I think that ISV point is a good one. Because it's not just having the product there, but being in a good relationship with that ISV provider. Because if you need to extend it or do something to make it work in a better way for that particular install, you need to be able to work with them, ask them questions and drill into it. You don't want to just pick one off AppSource because it has a pretty name or something like that. You got to know what you're working with.

David Gersten, Dynamic Consulting:

Yeah. I'll add to that where there's also a lot of assumptions. So I'll leave the ISVs name out of it. But it was a very interesting learning experience that the product that they have in the Business Central AppSource and ready for Business Central cloud-based experience, even though they've been in the NAV space and the GP space with the same exact product, it was not the same exact product. They launched it so that it was in the space, but really common core functionality that you just think it's the same product was missing. And we had to wait until future bugs or updates would happen. And then those go through a long lengthy process as well, creating a lot of delays. So I think the lesson was really drill down into that extension or that ISV that you're working with. We like to call modules in this space. I hate the term ISV because it really hurts us competitively with other products that are out there. It's just an extension to the product. Even those that have been out there 15, 20 years, the product is still a new product and a new code base. And it might be their first rodeo, even though they've been around.

Erik Hougaard, E Foqus Canada:

Business Central is just the next version of NAV in some way. In other ways, it's a whole new beast. And one of the ways that it's... Stop me if I get too technical, because that's what I usually do, but please stop me. So when we have NAV, a very typical installation would be that you would have a primary ISV, a primary add-on to the system. That ISV had intrusive customizations throughout the system. So the base functionality of Dynamics was changed by that primary ISV you had installed. Then you could have other ISVs that were more like sitting on the side and not really having a big impact. But you had that one major thing that was kind of the start and that defined your project. With Business Central now, as products like that do not longer exist, it's not possible to make that work in the cloud version. And so the old NAV, we had awesome software, awesome IP. And thousands of customers who loved the product have really been scrambling to figure out how can we provide the same kind of functionality in this new world and being applied to a Business Central that gets updated once a month with new functionality and everything? Because Microsoft also... I don't know if anybody knows this, that 17.1 was not a CU cumulative update. It was more features. Features that didn't make it into 17.0 just came in 17.1. So now we have two feature updates a month apart. And if your extension, if your add-on is not rock solid and can handle that, then it's going to break. And you thought, okay, I just need to handle the 17.0, then I'm good for another six months until breaking chains. That's no longer how it works. There will be new stuff added every single month now.

Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies:

And keeping track of all this, when I think of the role of the partner, certainly it's changing. I guess that's a fair way to say it, right? The role of the partner is changing. When I think about the strain on the resellers, the VARs, and the strain on the ISVs and how this has shifted over the past couple of years, one of the things I think about is the complexity of keeping everything in sync and also the complexity really in licensing and making sure that you have the right licenses for what you're doing at your operations and the right versions for your workers. Key role for the partner, I think. And you guys have probably got some great stories around those items as well as all the shift is taking place.

David Gersten, Dynamic Consulting:

I think one of the things we saw, because we had been through the AX to finance and operations switch, and we also had a CRM practice that went from on premises CRM to D365, the continuous upgrade concept, we had that process in place before we took on Business Central. So I think it gave us a small leg up to other partners that had been traditional legacy products and hadn't been used on without having the controls that are in place. Now you can still have a little bit more controls and Microsoft add in more and more of those controls to managing the upgrade. But I think it comes to a different level of dependency on the customer. We try to talk about the customer after the implementation, that they're going to be independent. They're going to be able to have a lower cost of ongoing support. Although what we do talk about is both the major wave one and wave twos, but those minors that are coming in that are a bit more bigger than minors. Like Erik just said, the dot ones and dot twos, they're bigger than... You can't control those. You can't test those. You can't control them like you can in the wave ones and wave two, where you can schedule those, you can test it, you can do it in a sandbox. But you have to create a sort of a managed services program around those now and set that expectation to the customer that you're going to sell a bundle of hours. And these are going to be dedicated to managing those expectations. Now, what's good is we know the base core product is going to work, because the code isn't disrupted. Like you said, Erik, in the old days, the ISVs disrupted the base code and you had that to worry about. At least now you've segmented, you know, BC with no extensions will work. It might not meet their business process and it might not meet all their requirements, but if you pull the extensions out, most likely the functionality of the solution is going to work at that point. So you have that to fall back on, which you used to never have that to fall back on at least. But it does change that post live support methodology. And we were already on board with that. We had some of those programs in place. So it was less painful for us.

Ben Baxter, Accent Software:

And I'll jump in here. We've talked a lot about ISVs and add-ons and extensions. Functionally, Business Central is a great product. I would say going from NAV to what we now have in BC with all the connections, BC cloud, you can still do a lot of the connections with on-prem as well. I mean, functionally, it is a very strong product. And so you don't have to jump into ISV products like you did in the past. So I just wanted to reference that and make sure people understood it's a very solid product on its own. ISVs are there to fill the functional gaps depending on the industry.

Erik Hougaard, E Foqus Canada:

I would say the biggest problem that we encounter on every single customer these days is the lack of bank integration out of the base product. Bank integration is the Achilles heel right now of the Microsoft offering. Especially if people come from QuickBooks or something like that, where they open up QuickBooks, they click on the local for their bank and then everything is synced and everything just works. And then they come over to BC and we say, yeah. So if we go into the data exchange, we can set up something that's like 85% to 90% of the file format that your bank probably delivers or requires. That's right now the place where every single one of our customers go to some sort of app to help, because that's just not good enough at present.

David Gersten, Dynamic Consulting:

The dependency on Yodlee has been a challenge in even the most recent weeks and months.

Erik Hougaard, E Foqus Canada:

And you're in the primary country that Yodlee support.

David Gersten, Dynamic Consulting:

Right. Yeah, that's very US-centric. Absolutely. And NAV was never a US-centric. So it's definitely a paradigm shift. And having those conversations, again, that's that change of mindset. It's not just an OBX file or whatever they're called that QuickBooks has. And explaining that, banks do have different formats, but QuickBooks has done that. It's, again, that mindset. But I agree with them. I like to say it's the best cloud-based solution out there for mid-market in the world. Of all the ERP solutions, it's the fastest growing cloud-based ERP solution in history. No other cloud ERP system has many installs as Business Central has today based on Microsoft's numbers in the short amount of time that it's been around. And in my experience, which will differ... A bunch of your questions are about like NAV to BC. Most of our customers are net new to the ERP. They're not coming off the NAVs. They're not coming off the GPs. They are coming off of Mass 90s, or Peachtree 50, or QuickBooks. I'm not seeing a cannibalization of the existing customers. So this is just a whole new process for us, which has been exciting.

Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies:

And Ben also, Microsoft continues to invest very heavily in improving the product, right? Each new major release has a ton of new functions and features. So it's very exciting to see that along with the rest of the Microsoft stack. But Tom, you had something else?

Tom Doran, Innovia Consulting:

I was just going to line up a lot closer to Ben. Navision, NAV, Business Central now, ISVs have been part of the solution forever. We've competed effectively. Do we lose some deals here and there? Sure, we do. I think it's one of the strongest products I've ever seen with a new release and I sell it confidently.

 

To review the rest of the discussion and learn more lessons learned from implementing Dynamics 365 Business Central, please visit the New View Strategies blog.

 

Blog by: Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies – We want you to enjoy your Business Central system as much as we do.

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