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Dynamics CRM Eye for the NAV Guy – Impressions of Directions North America

Directions North America

This week I had the pleasure of attending the annual conference for NAV partners, Directions North America. As a long-time Microsoft CRM guy and current Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement (CE) cloud partner, Directions North America might seem like a strange conference to attend with such a full schedule of Microsoft business conferences from which to choose.

Mark Abes (VP of Sales and Marketing) and I decided to attend as we are partnering with more NAV partners than ever before to provide Dynamics 365 CE implementation services. As the NAV channel moves toward a major shift in their product delivery and licensing construct, I wanted to get a sense of how the channel partners and ISVs were dealing with it.

With a brilliantly insightful piece of analysis, I will unequivocally state – it depends.

Microsoft Dynamics NAV partners are passionate, smart, dedicated, and understand their product. Many have been in the channel for years with a significant group carried over from the early Navision days before Microsoft bought them. With this rich history and knowledge, trying to figure out what’s next in the cloud era of rapid and constant change can be difficult. Time to move their cheese.

Many partners I spoke to this week are resigned to having their cheese moved and are trying to be ready for the trip. Some, not as many as I expected, are fully embracing the change and have been on board with it for a year. Others still don’t want to believe it. After hearing their cheese was definitely on the move in a crazy, mixed message debacle at last years Directions NA, many partners and ISVs came back this year for clarity and to figure out where their cheese is going so they can pack for the trip.

Here are a few of my immediate thoughts and observations.

  1. The NAV product, renamed Dynamics 365 Business Central, is in great hands. The product team, led by General Manager Marko Perisic, has positioned themselves well for the challenges of the cloud. I was impressed with the transparency of NAV product team members I interacted with this week. Nope, I don’t agree with everything they are doing, nor does the channel. But, they seem to be fostering a good line of communication to keep the progress moving forward. Great job Marko and team!
  2. Hallway networking is alive and well! I “grew up” in the Great Plains / Dynamics GP channel, before Microsoft CRM was a reality. I learned hallway networking in Fargo from my GP partner, friend, and boss, Randy Forkner. “Randy and Andy” party anyone? The NAV partner group is keeping that hallway tradition alive and well. Thanks for reminding me how effective and enjoyable it is.
  3. Martin from eOne SmartConnect is still Martin. Keep it going, buddy.
  4. The NAV product team is still viewing themselves as different than the rest of the Microsoft ERP space and Microsoft Dynamics as a whole. Some of the results seem fantastic (Alt-Q search instead of massive menus) while others are annoying to the rest of us Dynamics product specialists (Multiplexing? Really?) trying to build a complete picture of the Dynamics 365 family workloads and experiences.
  5. Speaking of multiplexing, licensing is mostly the same story as with every other Microsoft Business Application – confused, bloated, and misguided. The licensing team is making a major cheese move shift with the switch from a concurrent user to named user construct. They understood that and made, in my eyes, a great concession for users and partners. In the transition, you get two named user licenses for every concurrent. Heard lots of attendees mutter “wow, didn’t think they would help us with that.”
  6. As part of the licensing, I suggest they embrace being part of the Dynamics 365 family and provide a plan license option that includes Business Central and Dynamics 365 for Sales (or the full CE lineup). The excuse I heard for not doing it was something lame about partner margins. Join the family, assimilate.
  7. If you can, and you should demo the full Dynamics 365 BC -> Dynamics 365 Sales workloads. Integrate them in your demo environment (not with the included connector though). We are going to – and we don’t directly sell Dynamics 365 BC. We have some very smart NAV partners that will though. You Dynamics 365 BC partners need to work with CRM partners like us to deliver the full solution.
  8. Product documentation needs work. My impression before I got to the conference and it hasn’t changed. All the partners I spoke to agreed.
  9. The conference food was some of the best I have had at a conference. Great job Sheraton Harbor Island!
  10. Dynamics 365 Business Central DOES have the same NAV functionality regardless of what you might hear. FUD abounds, even in the channel. During the first executive Q&A, Marko took great exception to be told (rudely told I should add, I guess those folks exist in every channel) that basic NAV features were missing and the product wasn’t ready. As Marko explained, then followed up on Twitter later, the functions are indeed there, they are hidden in Application Areas (forgive me if I got that name wrong, not a NAV guy) and need to be exposed. Marko asked that any perception of missing features be communicated to his team and they will review and post.
  11. In a very candid session on the BC to D365 Sales Connector, it was explained that the cloud to cloud version would be locked down and not configurable at least for the next 12 months or so. The statement was made it “should be fine for 10% of the scenarios needed.” In all my experience doing integrations, I don’t think I ever had a customer happy with the “default” integration. No matter the vendor. I feel the connector is doomed unless this changes immediately. Hello eOne, or Scribe, or KingswaySoft, etc.
  12. My last impression/thought from a great week of networking, and please don’t take this wrong: where will new Dynamics 365 Business Central partners come from? The NAV channel – while committed, knowledgeable, and passionate – is getting pretty grey. I say this as an old, grey CRM hand in our channel having worked with the product since beta 1 in 2001. Every channel needs fresh blood at the partner level bringing new ideas and energy. We saw a bit of this in the Dynamics CRM/365 channel. As the CRM product matured, and releases became more rapid, we saw a wave of new, younger partners come on board. Some failed fast, as you have to do these days? But many survived and are contributing to the channel every day.

Mark Abes and I had a fantastic week full of knowledge, great partnering, new friends and interacting with a vibrant NAV group trying to meet the next set of challenges head-on. Thank you to the Directions NA board and volunteers for a fantastic event! Thanks to Marko and his team for some excellent knowledge and insight.

If you are a NAV partner wanting to provide the full Dynamics 365 workload experience, give us a call or drop us an email. Partnering is in our DNA.

By Ken Farmer, President and Chief Solution Architect, Dyn365Pros, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement Partner, San Diego, Southern California