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Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft Dynamics’

cultural shiftIn our prior post we noted how a panel of noted manufacturing and technology experts convened by the editors of Industry Week see the winds of change blowing in a manufacturing sector that all too often is unprepared for or resistant to the cultural change necessary to understand just how fundamentally manufacturing itself is changing.

We noted the recent explosion in the importance of data… of robotics and the Internet of Things… and how operational excellence in the coming years will shift to a greater focus on data, collecting it voraciously in order to better connect with customers and suppliers, to predict and reduce the occurrence of plant floor errors and to improve overall innovation.

So what is the cultural shift required, and how will companies manage it?  (For brevity’s sake, see our prior post for a list of esteemed panelists at the Industry Week confab held earlier this month.)

As we noted at the start of our prior post, most companies simply don’t have the “tech culture to stitch it all together.”  The shift is substantial.  Today we often see that consumer technology is “digitally delightful” in the words of the Manufacturing Institute’s Jerry Jasinowski whereas the shop floor operator’s experience or that of the operations manager in a B2B environment is often notably lagging.

Quoting directly now from MSDynamicsWorld’s article on the conference (by editor Dann Maurno):

“It comes down to management commitment,” says Knoben. He views the typical control charts at manufacturing plants as marketing tools, used more to show a customer “we’re cool” versus drive operational excellence.  But with the transformation and automation of data, “It has to change from a marketing tool to an embedded strategy of how to live life, and that requires management commitment over the years.”

Said Pisano, “A leader has to have a feel and appreciation for technology.” Leadership at a manufacturer that is behind in technology must adopt a whole new skill set and mentality.” That leadership will be critical because of the long-term commitment to a new strategy and path. “But the job of leadership is to push against inertial forces”: to experiment with digitalized technology without being completely risk averse (and there will be failures.) “It’s critical in terms of culture as well as strategy.”

Panelists noted that companies more tied to consumers seem to be making the shift, to a much larger extent than manufacturers, which just “haven’t made that shift yet.”

Pierfrancisco Manenti, VP of Research at SCM World points out that more technology can boost productivity.  He goes on to point out: “You have to manage people still. You can’t go a day without reading how ‘devil robotics’ will rob our jobs; I don’t believe the hype.” In fact, he cites statistics that 24% of people believe automation is an opportunity to bring back manufacturing jobs; but they won’t be the same jobs, and they will require a different type of skill set.”

Finally, Microsoft’s Knoben points to China’s doubling of its labor growth and concludes: “We see clearly as this change happens, we are reevaluating automation in much different ways. We’re starting to automate more basic processes that operators could do in the past. Where the tradeoffs and benefits are, are not just in labor but in automation,” he said. Automation can be applied to every point in the value chain, from the vendors’ vendor to the customer’s customers (consider electronic billing and payments and vendor performance analytics).

In the end, one must conclude, it will require that cultural shift in mind-set we opened our discussion with, to ensure that the changes are pushed through from the top down in a world that is fast becoming interconnected, and a manufacturing sector that must – and if history is any guide, will – adapt to it.

 

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crystal ballWe came across an interesting commentary in an article written by the owner of a European Microsoft Dynamics reselling firm that covers Western Europe.  His name is Guus Krabbenborg, and he makes the point at MSDynamicsWorld, a partner forum, that while companies often analyze the many and varied costs and benefits of an ERP (or CRM) system selection, one often overlooked is the cost of the system itself.

Here’s his take: “From a bookkeeping standpoint, the investment’s term of depreciation is 5 years. But ideally we want to work with the new solution for 10 years or more”.

But then he asks the $64,000 question: If a system should last ten years or more, what will the world – and more to the point, the technological landscape – look like in 2026?  What devices will we be working with then?  How far will technology have come?

Think of it this way: Look backwards.  Back in 2006, no one had even heard of tablets.  The term ‘swiping’ didn’t exist in the tech sense.  Google was a relatively unknown company.  The cloud was in its infancy, and the word itself (in the popular context) had not yet been uttered.

So if we’ve come that far in just the past ten years, imagine the next ten!  And with the pace of technological progress actually increasing these days – it’s tough even to hazard a guess.

So it’s not at all a stretch to say that when looking at an ERP system, you might actually be selecting more of an ERP concept today than a solution.  ERP solutions are developing at what Krabbenborg deems “a furious pace.”  Vendors that fall behind in this fast paced market are quickly lost in the market.  And of course, that means their clients are too.

He concludes with some cautionary advice when you’re looking at the publisher of your next ERP system, which we’ll quote here:

“Companies that are considering new ERP or CRM solutions would do well to test their vendors’ degree of future-proofing rigorously. Do the vendors on your shortlist have any chance at all of surviving this rat race until 2026? Are they (sufficiently) profitable these days, for example? Do they have sufficient international scale? What is the size of their R&D budget? How innovative are they? And is a formal product roadmap available for the solution on offer?”

Words well worth considering, we think.

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NAV 2016 LOGOThere are a number of solid reasons why clients should, and do, upgrade their ERP software on a regular basis – some obvious, some less so.  Today we’ll look at a few of those for the benefit of those users on the fence.

One key reason of course is simply keeping up with surrounding technology.  Put another way, the longer a company forestalls its upgrade, not only is it more costly when it does, but without such upgrades, companies run the risk of missing out on important new features with real ROI.

Then there’s the risk of being on an unsupported version (usually described as more than two versions old).  On top of this, over time, as background technologies like operating systems, productivity tools (like Microsoft Office), hardware, or the web undergo changes, it’s less likely that your software will interact optimally (or at all) with them.

In the end, there must be a business driver to upgrade.  Whether that amounts to avoiding the pitfalls noted above, or taking advantage of the newer features of the upgrade, a company must think through the pros and cons of staying put or moving forward.

A Lithuanian company that specializes in Dynamics NAV upgrades was recently profiled by MSDynamicsWorld.com, and noted for example that Dynamics NAV 2016 was “a huge release with a large number of improvements to the platform and on the application side… the new Workflow functionality on the application-side, and the eventing functionality that powers it, are the biggest improvements. They change the strategy of both NAV user behavior and future development direction.”

Editor Dann Maurano also notes in a recent article at MSDynamicsWorld.com that “Since Microsoft is releasing more tools to automate and make the upgrade process easier, the price of upgrading is getting lower over time.”

Simplanova notes some of the costs of running an unsupported (i.e., more than two versions back) version of Dynamics:

“Customers who are running an unsupported version would eventually start experiencing problems with integration with newer systems, so your work will get less efficient each year inevitably. Unsupported versions are harder to maintain due to inability to use new platform advancements such as automated testing and .NET interoperability. Users are not able to benefit from productivity improvements in Microsoft Office, Office 365, Microsoft CRM integration, and NAV clients for multiple platforms.”

Finally, the article touches on the importance of a little ‘booster shot’ of training after an upgrade, noting that end users typically require about a day or so to get used to the new versions, and “about two days of on-site assistance.  Training on using new features of Dynamics NAV would need additional time. Each major release adds new important features, thus annual training is important to get the most of a new version of Dynamics NAV.”

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dynamics erpAs a Microsoft Dynamics NAV reseller of many years specializing almost exclusively in companies that engage in manufacturing and distribution, we frequently find ourselves describing what Dynamics is and, right after that, why there are four different “versions.”  While those “versions” are the result of separate Microsoft acquisitions of different, unrelated firms over the years, over time Microsoft has folded its offerings under the single umbrella named “Dynamics” and offered four entirely different ERP products.

Today’s post comes from a site called OnWindows, which, according to its website: “provides news and industry thought leadership on Microsoft and partner technology in the enterprise.”  We thought they did a pretty good job of describing the products and their target markets – and give confirmation to why we chose one of the only two Dynamics products (AX and NAV) focused on manufacturing firms.  Here’s what they had to say in a post you can find here.

Microsoft Dynamics AX

  • Company size: emerging and mid-sized
  • Target industries: wholesale distribution, manufacturing, public sector, non-profit, retail, professional services, software, transportation
  • Target market: company revenue of US$50 million-US$2 billion
  • Strengths: industry-specific solution templates for distribution, retail, professional services, manufacturing, lean and public sector; enterprise functionality – share data across companies, e-banking, supports a shared services model; agile business enabling technology; integration tools support legacy and newest technology; integrated document control; automates procedures; enterprise reporting and analysis.

Microsoft Dynamics GP

  • Company size: small to large and everything in between
  • Target industries: healthcare, distribution, education, government agencies, non-profit, retail, consumer packaged goods
  • Target market: US$5 million-US$1 billion
  • Strengths: integrates with Microsoft Dynamics CRM; business alerts, routines, wizards and help; easy to customize; field service suite; collections management; extensive third-party offerings; integrated fixed asset module; integrated HR and payroll; integration with office.

Microsoft Dynamics NAV

  • Company size: small to mid-sized
  • Target industries: consumer packaged goods, wholesale distribution, manufacturing, retail, professional services, high tech, oil and gas
  • Target market: US$10 million-US$500 million
  • Strengths: highly flexible and customizable; strong multi-company and consolidation support for unlimited companies in one database; localized in multi-country and multi-language; strong financial and cash management; supply chain management; three-tier architecture; job costing; Microsoft Office integration; basic HR.

Microsoft Dynamics SL

  • Company size: small to mid-sized
  • Target industries: contracting and government contracting, professional services, oil and gas, field services, construction, distribution
  • Target market: US$10 million-US$500 million
  • Strengths: strong multi-company support; easily customizable; time and expense for employees; professional services functionality; architectural, engineering and construction functionality; web-enabled project management functions; web services; integrated payroll module; government contract compliance capabilities; standard Microsoft Dynamics CRM integration.

 

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NAV IMAGEFor users of Microsoft Dynamics NAV, Microsoft has announced a few details regarding the next release of NAV.  The product currently code-named ‘Sicily’ will be officially released as Dynamics NAV 2013 R2, and general availability is planned during the 4th quarter of this year.  This meets the NAV team’s goal of providing one annual new release.

R2 will feature an updated user interface (including one said to better match Windows 8’s styling).  The updated look and feel will, it is said, make it easier to create charts and reports with a streamlined drilldown.  It also promises more ‘hosting platform support’ and better compatibility with Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud based productivity application suite.

These, plus improved cash management functionality, are among the key items for 2013 (R2) listed on Microsoft’s earlier NAV roadmap for future release development.  From early indications, expect to see yet further integration with Office, especially increased interoperability with Microsoft Excel.  Increasingly, as resellers, we are hearing more about Microsoft’s goal of enhancing the NAV user experience beyond just NAV, and well into the realm of other productivity (and operating system, and web) tools.

Much more information will be released at the NAV “Directions” conference coming in October.  Our firm is sending three team members to this annual dealer event, and we’ll be sure to share more with readers as we learn about the new features.

Even as 2013 R2 is set to rollout in the fall, Microsoft’s NAV development team is working on areas for 2014 development, including Windows Azure (cloud) hosting, RapidStart services, SharePoint, Office 365, and other industry-focused features and operational practice enhancements.

Just as Microsoft’s recent corporate overhaul and directional changes have placed a new emphasis there on “Services and Devices” and “One Microsoft” users can expect continued consolidation of products from within the Microsoft family.

When our team returns from the Directions conference (to be held this year in Nashville, TN) we’ll report on the latest new developments.

 

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Our final post on the family of Microsoft Dynamics products concludes with Dynamics NAV, formerly Navision.  As noted earlier, NAV became part of the Microsoft family with Microsoft’s acquisition of the firm and its sister company, Damgaard (creators of AX) in 2002.

In our previous post we extolled the virtues of AX – its power, flexibility and modifiability – but decried its high cost of implementation, and the fact that it’s really aimed at larger companies.  As a reseller, our market space is the small to midsize business (defined in our case as roughly ten to 100 or so employees).  Thus, we think of NAV as the more affordable alternative: a lot like AX in terms of power and modifiability and architecture, but a product that can be implemented at a fraction of AX’s cost.

After evaluating many software products about ten years ago, while seeking a newer and more modern product to augment our offerings back then, we were, frankly, blown away by the functionality and “killer demos” we saw people do with NAV.  And after losing a couple sales that we’d spent months nurturing to this new product called Navision, we decided to look into it.

Ten years after taking on the line, we’ve no regrets.  Now granted, most of what we’ve noted above might constitute a certain bias on our part.  In truth, NAV is not the only ERP product our company supports (we actually sell four different products, most geared towards our core audience of manufacturers and distributors).  But that bias, if there is one, was borne of study and analysis and experience in ERP systems that logically led us to conclude that in NAV, we’d found a great product at a manageable price.

So, what’s to like about NAV?  Based on our experience:

  • A high degree of customizability, sometimes without modifications, and…
  • When modifications are required, they can be affordably ported forward during a future upgrade.
  • A solid, three-tiered platform that separates database, security and business logic into separate entities with all the associated benefits, like transaction rollback in a power outage, and solid database functionality and reliability.
  • Strong inventory, G/L and manufacturing capabilities, with wide flexibility
  • The best drill down capability (for ad hoc analysis) around
  • A clean design (UI), coupled with a gnawing sense when working with the system that one is only scratching the surface (and it’s true).
  • A good range of available, tested, third party add-on applications
  • Complete and deep financial accounting capability

Now, to be sure, NAV’s not perfect.  Far from it.  But as a platform, as a solid ERP and accounting offering, and for the price, it’s unbeatable, in our humble opinion.

Like all systems, NAV has its idiosyncrasies (checks and forms come to mind)… it lacks an integrated payroll (use a service, it’s cheaper and they own the space these days)… and it takes a little while for a new user accustomed to old software to adjust to the new paradigm.  But since its acquisition ten years ago by Microsoft, the product has only gotten better.

Pricing is the same as we portrayed in our GP column, based on the choice of BE or AM levels of functionality, and running about $3,000 per user for the higher level functionality, more or less.  But unlike its closest complement in the Dynamics line – AX – implementation costs are an order of magnitude lower.  It’s not cheap, mind you, but an upper five-figure to low-six-figure basic implementation price tag brings it in a lot lower than AX.  And you’ll end up with a product that will satisfy your needs, and keep up with them, for years to come.

And that concludes our five-part high-level overview of this thing called Microsoft Dynamics.  Please feel free to add your comments!

 

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In this 4th of a 5 part series, we identify yet another member of the family of ERP products collectively called “Microsoft Dynamics.”  The previous 3 posts covered Dynamics in general here, then Dynamics SL here, and Dynamics GP here.

Dynamics AX became a part of the Microsoft family via its acquisition of Navision which had just earlier merged with Damgaard, creators of Axapta (now AX).  Both products were developed and headquartered in Denmark, and a merger seemed reasonable in 2000, when both products were gaining wide accolades for their power, functionality, advanced platforms, global view, modifiability and, simply put, their ability to “wow” prospective customers.

Axapta has always been praised for its power and deep set of features.  It boasts a full suite of accounting functionality, and far beyond, with strong capabilities in supply chain and manufacturing environments.  In industry surveys, Axapta (now AX) has rated higher in functionality than any other ERP product, including SAP and JD Edwards. 

That being said, with that power comes a level of depth and complexity that causes deployments to be measured not in weeks, but in months or years.  The costs to do so, as can be imagined, reflect this.  When we first looked at the product over ten years ago from a reseller’s perspective, we passed because a typical system would start, at the low end, at maybe half a million dollars.  While prices have declined since then, the same is not true of installation complexity, and the consulting, training and services costs associated with AX are still very high today.

AX is a highly customizable product, and therein lies much of its appeal.  For larger companies with complex needs and the budget and timeline to match, it’s as good an ERP product as you will find.  Just don’t expect to be up and running either cheaply or quickly – despite what sales promises may hint at.

AX is a global product, featuring multiple languages, multi-currency support, and wide area capabilities.  The product is written in a language derivative of C++, a very modern development environment, and uses Microsoft SQL as its database repository.  Like Navision (now NAV), the AX development team is headquartered still in Copenhagen.

AX is really built for the larger company, or at least the upper end of the SMB marketplace.  It can be tailored to support the exact needs of businesses ranging from pure service providers to full-fledged manufacturers.  And it integrates very well with a wide range of Microsoft products, as is to be expected.

As a truly global, customizable product, AX is a solid, well-regarded and established ERP offering.  But it’s not for the faint of heart, and to this day, implementations in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, all services considered, are common.  While the software pricing itself is temptingly modest, the implementation is daunting, and priced accordingly.  If you want the best, and can afford it, look no further.  Just go in with open eyes – and checkbook.

 

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