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Today we’ll share a few of the features new to the just-released edition of Dynamics NAV 2018 as noted by other prominent bloggers, users and experts.  As NAV keeps evolving its features expand, and following are a few that caused others to say… “Wow.”

With Microsoft’s increasing evolution to cloud-based solutions, even their new product documentation features the web client, a sly tip to its future direction, although the role-tailored client is still well maintained and robust.

User Personalization and the Web Client: Users can now configure the web client individually, treating it like “a desktop or interactive whiteboard” according to one NAV expert.  You can customize almost everything including repositioning the Freeze Panes, Cues and Cue Groups, moving and hiding areas, and using List Parts in Role Centers.

The Business Manager and Accounting Role Center has a new option in the ribbon for Excel Reports. Users may select from a dropdown menu of preconfigured reports ready to print from Excel, including a Balance Sheet, Cash Flow Statement and Trial Balance.

User Tasks can be configured to create ‘reminders’ of work to be done, for yourself or others.

The Image Analyzer extension uses powerful image analytics provided by the Computer Vision API from Microsoft Cognitive Services to detect attributes in images, like a person’s gender or age, or to identify items by attributes like type and color.  (There is currently a limit of 100 such associations per month, but the application possibilities open up a new vista in functionality, especially for instance when identifying attributes of web items and purchases.)

For technical users and developers Microsoft has provided a whole slew of new capabilities.  There are now two possible installation environments: the standard C/SIDE and C/AL, or the new “Modern Development Environment” usable in both NAV 2018 and the cloud based version called Tenerife.

There is a new set of Extensions dubbed version 2.0, with new controls.

You can now change server settings without a server ‘restart.’

The NAV universal app for remote devices has been expanded, and now includes an ability to project your phone to a large screen (a Windows Ten feature), and to interact with your mouse and keyboard via Bluetooth.

Web server components can now run on ASP.NET Core, allowing NAV to “reach new heights in scalability” as blogger Roberto Stefanetti notes.

With annual upgrade release dates, users can expect to see continued expansion of NAV’s features and capabilities and an increasing movement to the web, even as we expect the on-premise version to be supported for years to come.

We occasionally like to share tips from others like the folks at Panorama Consulting that we feel support our own best practices advice when it comes to implementing complex business software systems, like the “5 Tips” they recently shared here.

 

Panorama’s “New Year” tips included these…

  1. Educate yourself on ERP software best practices. As they wisely note: “The most dangerous implementations are led by those that aren’t well educated on the risks, challenges, and best practices associated with an ERP implementation.”  While Panorama uses this one to promote its webinars (and we might do the same by searching on “ERP implementation” at our own blog), the fact is, there is a lot of information out there on best practices.  But just as importantly, many modern software options today embed those best practices within their workflows.  The point is, work with your ERP consultant to determine where your current workflows can be improved and map those efforts to your new software selection choices.
  2. Control the tempo of your initiatives. Having a solid plan in place is more important than the understandable urge just to “get something done,” notes the post’s author.  You need the right resources in place, a realistic timeline, a clearly defined project lead, as well as project controls and benchmarks.  Believe it or not, slow and steady, even if it takes longer, will actually save you money in the long run.
  3. Invest in the people side of your digital strategy. The number one cause of software project failure?  Not technology.  It’s people.  The right people in the right place, with an understanding of how organizational change management is an integral part of the ERP solution.  Training… communications… strategic planning… they are all critical, and they all start with people.
  4. Take industry hype with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of marketing, advertising, shilling and hype out there.  Choose wisely.  Everyone has a bias.  ERP solutions are not a silver bullet, and contrary to what many will tell you, they are not quickly implemented – at least not in any truly meaningful, business-transforming sense.  And if you’re not out to further the cause of your business’ growth and transformation, then why proceed in the first place?  Don’t believe the hype, do your own homework, and most of all, find someone you can trust.  It will be a long relationship.
  5. Don’t be afraid to leverage outside ERP consultants. Here, outfits like Panorama hype their “independence” (they don’t sell solutions), and that makes sense.  But a great many providers (yes, like us) offer more than one solution, and it’s in our business’ best interests to be objective and truthful.  That’s even true of those who sell only a single solution, though their options may be more limited.  Your initial analysis can be done either with, or without, bias.  Both have advantages.  Talk to your consultants and trust your gut.  Find the solution approach and implementation methodology that you believe in your heart will work best for you.

 

Reinventing Finance

If you follow the finance and the realm of money at all these days, then the notion of someone trying to reinvent finance may pique your interest.  That’s exactly the goal of a cryptocurrency exchange called Coinbase.  It’s a 225-person startup located in San Francisco whose vision of the (not-too-distant) future for loans, fund transfers, venture capital and the trading of stocks will be done with electronic currency – instead of banks.

As a recent article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek points out, Coinbase is already popular with individual traders, and is now actively seeking “the legitimacy that comes from persuading big companies to use its platform,” while reassuring regulators that bitcoin isn’t simply “a market for hackers and money launderers.”

They’re off to a good start.  From an apartment-based startup three years ago, today it operates as an exchange for individual investors as well as a more sophisticated platform for traders called the Global Digit Asset Exchange (GDAX).  Today trading volume is driven mostly by hedge funds, but they’re working on luring players like Goldman Sachs to the platform.

Developing ties with banks is a priority for Coinbase, so owners who want to cash out for dollars have an exchange to do so.  It apparently has several banks already in partnership with them, as well as a partnership with Fidelity Investments.  Coinbase thus far has raised over $200 million from investors, and after recently doubling headcount is on track to double it again in advance of going public in 2018.  The company currently holds over $10 billion in assets.

Of greater interest to investors and regulators is the fact that Coinbase – unlike others operating in the bitcoin realm – has never been hacked.  As Ari Paul, chief investment officer of a hedge fund called BlockTower Capital Advisors has said, “They’ve been the largest hacking target in the world for a long time, and they’ve proven they can handle it.”  At the same time, they’ve been building strong relationships with regulators.

GDAX CEO Adam White notes that “This isn’t a couple dozen kids in a garage kind of hacking away.  We recognize we’re protecting people’s money.”  Coinbase stores USB drives and paper backups of 98% of customers’ digital currencies in safe deposit boxes.  Only 2 percent is kept online, covered by insurance against security beaches.

Notes one Coinbase executive, “We’re going to be successful not because the price [of bitcoin] goes from $10,000 to $100,000, [but] because we have millions of customers who trust us.”

As Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong notes, as more institutional money flows into the cryptocurrency space, it will help grow the entire industry.  Notes one hedge fund manager, “Institutions are just chomping at the bit waiting to come in.”

And if Coinbase and their fellow financiers have their way, the future of money will never be the same.

 

According to Elliott Kass of Information Management, U.S. business is expected to spend big on technology in 2018.  Corporate and government tech budgets are set for around $1.5 trillion in the year ahead.  That’s a whopping 9% increase over 2017.

According to the Forrester Research team behind those projections, cloud-based software-as-a-service leads the way, especially for applications that attract and retain new customers, like CRM, e-commerce, mobile apps and services, which together will account for over $500 billion.

Core financial, HR, hardware, telecom and other services will make up the other $1 trillion, logging about 3% annual growth.

Forrester estimates that spending on new projects next year will grow by 7% and CIOs will take advantage of favorable economic conditions to “expand their application portfolio.”  For the past couple of years they note, IT spending has been outstripping nominal GDP growth, with cloud services viewed as new technology that can spur tech buying to exceed those economic growth rates.

CIOs are slated to bring to fruition many of their wish list items in the year ahead, focusing on projects that improve customer satisfaction and the overall customer experience.

With security always a concern, the Forrester Research lead, Andrew Bartels, took the chance recently to emphasize the importance of security and backups, noting that with cloud applications come growing concerns about safety and security.  Bartels recommends balancing cloud adoption with “alternatives” since the cloud offerings can be compromised.  As Bartels notes: “Businesses should back up their data, whether it resides on its own systems or the systems of a cloud service provider, and maintain ‘a reserve of on-premised systems’ that would allow it to continue to operate, if its cloud service provider becomes inaccessible.”

Says Bartels: “Any firm that puts all its tech eggs in one cloud vendor’s basket is asking for trouble.”

The full text of the Information Management article can be found here.

 

 

Did you know that all six of the first programmers of America’s first computer, ENIAC, were women?

Did you know that the proportion of women earning degrees in computer science peaked in 1984 at 37%, and has since declined to half that percentage?

Or this (according to an article by Christopher Mims in the Dec. 11th edition of The Wall Street Journal): “Memos from UK government archives reveal that in 1959, an unnamed British female computer programmer was given an assignment to train two men.  The memos said the woman had ‘a good brain and a special flair’ for working with computers.  Nevertheless, a year later the men became her managers.  Since she was a different class of government worker, she had no chance of ever rising to their pay grade.”

These facts from Mims’ article would probably come as little surprise to many women today.  The sad truth is, with such a low rate of female computing grads, it’s no surprise that at companies as large as Google and Facebook, only about one engineer in five is female.  (Over our own thirty year history as an ERP services firm, our level of female tech support specialists has hovered around 50%, varying from year to year, but lower on the pure ‘programmer’ side.)

But according the Journal, a growing number of women and other minorities are working on the issue.  U.K. history shows that simply educating more women and other minorities to be engineers won’t solve the problem.  At its genesis, computer programming was initially thought of as menial labor and it “was feminized, a kind of ‘women’s work’ that wasn’t considered crucial.”  The U.K. government considered these workers to be of the low-paid “Machine Operator Class.”  Later, women were pushed out of the field during the postwar era by the then-common belief that women should be denied entry into higher-paid professions because they would leave once married.  Instead, the government set out to develop a class of “career-minded and management-bound young men.”

Turns out, the males were often less qualified, and left the field, viewing it as ‘unmanly.’

In fact, a shortage of programmers actually forced the U.K. government “to consolidate its computers in a handful of centers with the remaining coders.  It also meant the government demanded gigantic mainframes and ignored more distributed systems of midsize and mini computers which would give rise to the personal computer, according to Univ. of Wisconsin Professor Marie Hicks, in her book “Programmed Inequality.”

As a result, the U.K. computing industry imploded down to a single firm by 1968 – and the dream of personal computers was probably delayed by a couple of decades.

One of the women pushed out, Dame Stephanie Shirley, built a tech firm in the 1960s made up almost entirely of women with family-friendly benefits like working from home.  (It was eventually sold to a rival in 2007 for $1 billion.)  Shirley said when she founded the firm, she was seeking not wealth but “a workplace where I was not hemmed in by prejudice or by… preconceptions about what I could or could not do.”

As to progress today: Stephenie Palmeri, a  partner at Venture Capital firm Uncork Capital says raising the ratio of women in tech requires having more women in positions of power, both as investors and as executives.

Adds Dr. Hicks, “Without external influence, you can’t expect a system that prizes ‘culture fit’ to change.”  You can’t expect to rise in a meritocracy that does not reward everyone equally.

Today the challenge is all the greater: companies are racing to build artificial intelligence systems to propel smarter hiring, and the need to eliminate bias has never been greater.  AI learns from pre-existing notions of what constitutes a ‘good employee’ much like the personality tests given by many firms in the past.  We can scarcely afford to build in biases that inherently limit the opportunity for a level playing field at all.

 

Happy New Year!

Wherever your travels or life may take you in the year ahead, may they bring you closer to the places you wish to be and the people you want to share them with.

Everyone at PSSI wishes you much joy and prosperity for 2018.

Happy New Year everyone!