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Conversation & Coffee: David Whitham, Advantage Service Delivery Director on NAV & GP 2018

In December of 2017, Microsoft released 2018 updates for its two powerhouse enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, Dynamics NAV and Dynamics GP. Now that the team at Advantage have had the opportunity to explore the ins and outs of these new updates and are starting projects to upgrade current users, I thought it the perfect time to sit down with Advantage’s Service Delivery Director, David Whitham to get his thoughts on the latest updates from Microsoft and find out what he’s most excited about in regards to NAV and GP 2018.

Camilo (C): Dave, before we get into the details of each update, could you give readers a little refresher on what NAV and GP are and how they differ from each other?

David (D): Both NAV and GP are excellent finance systems and are part of the Microsoft Dynamics family. Each product has the same best of breed backing from Microsoft and both share similar functionality.

So, in a nutshell, both are great accredited finance solutions with wide-ranging functionality. If you want a finance system that allows you to have out of the box easy access, great reporting options, out of the box integrations with other systems via an Integration Manager, a great deal of analytical and project accounting functionality with inventory control and so on – then GP is the solution for you.

If you are wanting a great finance system that allows you to have out of the box easy access via desktop, web or mobile clients, and has a wealth of advanced functionality around other areas of your business, such as warehousing, logistics, assembly, manufacturing and so on; integration with other systems via 3rd party tools such as Smart Connect, or Scribe, or you want some bespoke development – then NAV is the best solution for you.

If you’re a company that’s ‘born in the cloud’ or a company that wants to move entirely to the cloud, or move entirely to a SaaS (software as a service) offering, then NAV or Dynamics 365 Financials are the right options for you as they are better aligned with Azure. If you’re already using GP and want to move to the cloud, that’s fine, GP can still integrate with and be hosted in the cloud via Azure, although it is not being designed moving forward as a native cloud application via SaaS.

The great thing about working with a partner like Advantage is that if you’re not sure which solution or tool to pick, our team are experts in both tools and will be able to come in and analyse your actual needs and recommend the best solution for your business. We sell both, support both, and love both products equally; we have nothing to lose or gain by selling one or the other. Our only objective is to recommend to you the product that will best meet your individual business needs.

C: Why is NAV more apt for those businesses that are ‘born in the cloud’?

D: A company that’s born in the cloud is one that doesn’t require on-premise hardware or software, so their entire business is built around cloud-based delivery of resources and software. To that end, the new iteration of Dynamics 365 for Finance, known as Tenerife (scheduled for release in the U.K. in April of this year) is a fully cloud-based SaaS that’s built entirely on NAV. Microsoft is effectively taking full featured NAV and making it available in the cloud as SaaS with integration across all other applications, i.e. Power BI, CRM, Dynamics 365 for Sales/Booking etc. Because Microsoft isn’t doing this with GP, if you’re a company that’s just starting out and you eventually want to be completely cloud-based, in a SaaS environment – with no need to worry about servers, upgrades or database backups – then Dynamics 365 Tenerife is the right solution for you.

C: As someone who is constantly working on service and project delivery, what are some of the common issues you find most businesses face and how do NAV and GP solve those issues?

D: Most of the issues I see businesses having fall into three buckets: reporting, visibility and control.

When we implement NAV or GP for a customer, the reason they’ve come to us is usually because they are struggling with, or frustrated by, not having a comprehensive view of all their data, i.e. a comprehensive view of all the information flowing through and about their business.

NAV and GP both make a huge difference when it comes to this major cause of frustration. Both have exceptional reporting options, either within the clients themselves or with 3rd party tools that plug into them like Jet Reports or Power Bi; and both allow you to produce meaningful reporting on data that is actually relevant to your decision-making process.

The fact that you can access NAV and GP through a web client, as well as a desktop client means you have visibility of your data anytime and anywhere. Add to this the fact that NAV has a mobile app, and you effectively have no reason at all to not have on-demand reporting from anywhere your smartphone has a signal.

The ability to control your data, processes and people via a system’s functions, such as NAV workflows and approval processes or through a 3rd party app such as E-Request for GP is a huge advantage to firms of all sizes; from enterprise through to SMBs (small to medium-sized businesses). Especially now that the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is around the corner, being able to control who has access to your data, who has permission to see it or interact with it, and being able to quickly retrieve and report against it is no longer a benefit, it’s an absolute necessity. Both NAV and GP go a long way towards allowing your businesses to meet aspects of GDPR compliance straight away.

C: What are some of the regular complaints you hear about NAV or GP that are actually really easy to solve if people had the proper training?

D: Absolutely, we have quite a few new clients that have asked to go on a couple of days of system analysis and business processes review so that we can advise them on how best to utilise and extract the most from their systems. A fair amount of the consultancy work that we do now is based on business processes and how they relate to the technical configurations of NAV or GP.

We commonly come across complaints around control of spend on purchasing, for example, and most of these complaints come from the simple fact that the client won’t know, or isn’t aware that the approvals option within the system allows them to control this very easily. Similarly, we often come across clients that are deeply frustrated with reporting functions, and, more often than not, that frustration stems from them not knowing certain types of reports already exist within the system, or if they do know that they exist, they don’t know how to use them properly or that a very simple reporting tool could be added that would solve the problem almost instantly.

For example, if you’re a business that has to send out a thousand statements every single month, with the products as they are out of the box, you’ll have to do each statement one at a time, however, adding a simple tool like Zetadocs can help you automate that process and send all the statements out in one easy go.

Another example could be job queues. Most users, especially those that need to run reports first thing in the morning do these reports manually. There is no need, however, as you can use the system to set a job queue to run specific reports automatically during out-of-office hours. Instead of getting in at the crack of dawn to work on these reports, automation allows users to walk in, coffee cup in hand, and have those reports waiting for them, ready to go.

C: Why do you think people don’t know or aren’t aware of these functions?

D: Honestly, it’s usually because a client hasn’t been taken through the product properly by their previous ERP partner. I don’t want to talk negatively about any other partners out there – there are some tremendously good ones – however, a lot of the time clients are dissatisfied with the product because they’re completely unaware of its capabilities.

This is why having a partner that is big enough to deliver but small enough to care is so crucial. Our clients’ success is our success, we want to share our knowledge and genuinely help businesses transform the way they work.

C: What about NAV & GP 2018, what are some of the key differences between these versions and previous ones that you’re most excited about?

D: Gosh, okay, there are a lot!

Let’s start with NAV. Everything from the user experience, cloud integration and technical improvements are included in this update, and we’ll be getting even more updates in April with the release of “Tenerife”. From a functionality perspective, things that previously had to be developed or required an API feed in order to be used – such as U.K. Postcode Look-up searches or verification of company data via their VAT number through the VAT/VIEW website – have now been brought in as part and parcel of the core functionality.  

The visual representation of required/mandatory general ledger accounts is also incredibly useful in this version of NAV. Several times in the past, clients have not been able to create or perhaps did not even realise that they should create specific accounts for specific NAV transactional functions in order for the product to be able to post every type of transaction without error into the correct type of account.  This was due to there being a great deal of complexity around the initial system setups. With the latest update of NAV, however, the initial complexities are taken away through two key functions: first, there is Assistance Set-up, which is a series of wizards the system runs you through to set up various functions, for example, setting up email functionality; and secondly it offers Visual Representation in posting accounts, which is where the system will explicitly show you areas where you have missed an account in the COA that needs to exist.

With GP, the enhancements are all focused on faster and easier search functions and improved user experience when it comes to workflow functionality and Power Bi.

So, for example, with the extended capabilities of Workflow 4.0, users can copy steps within workflow and send reminder email message directly from a workflow. From a productivity perspective, this is great news for current GP users. Similarly, GP 2018 introduces one-click navigation to SmartList directly from the web clients. Users who have permission to see the list will have the option to be redirected via the web client, whereas those that don’t, won’t even be aware of the option to do so.

C: Do businesses have to graduate from another ERP system to something like NAV or GP or is it best that businesses start with one of these two systems from the get-go?

D: Yes, you should get the right product first go. There’s absolutely no reason for you to not start with GP or NAV if you need a rigorous finance system to run your business. Smaller systems – the ones businesses usually start out with – often come with everything preconfigured; with NAV or GP you can build the structure you want.

So, while smaller systems might be faster to implement and might not require a consultant, if you’re planning on running a successful business that grows and improves, then smaller systems aren’t really a long-term solution.

What usually pushes businesses to these smaller systems is the price point, but with the new subscription pricing system offered by Microsoft, that advantage is near eliminated. I’ll say it again, there’s simply no reason why any businesses should put off implementing the right system first time round.

C: Finally, Dave, now that we’re only a few months away from the enforcement date of the GDPR, what are your thoughts on how a tool NAV or GP can help businesses meet compliance.

D: They’re tremendously helpful. First and foremost, they’re Microsoft products and Microsoft are always up-to-date with any regulatory requirement, often basing their security and compliance regulations on the strictest laws they can find.

Secondly, both GP and NAV run on SQL database, this alone makes it incredibly easy to search and manage data, as well as build reports around data; and most businesses will already have someone on staff who is fairly knowledgeable around SQL Databases. The accessibility and visibility that these products offer businesses are far superior than most of the other ERP products out there and the security models that they employ make it easy to manage who accesses and interacts with your business’ data.

Finally, I think the fact that both are prominent systems and are used by millions of businesses users all over the world means many firms will be out there continuously developing programmes and tools that integrate with them to make them GDPR-proof.

When it comes to the GDPR, you want to make sure you’re using trusted products made by trusted companies that are delivered by trusted partners. In my opinion, that’s what we offer best.

If you’d like to find out more about Dynamics NAV or Dynamics GP or are interested in upgrading to the 2018 versions of these products, talk to Advantage today.

Click here to view our on-demand webinars showcasing the latest versions of NAV and GP 

Words by Camilo Lascano Tribin