Dynamics NAV Upgrade and Options Going Forward

A natural path for Dynamics NAV on-premises users is to move to Dynamics 365 Business Central in the cloud. However, every company is different and should take the time to understand and plan their next steps with their Dynamics solution.

The focus of this blog and recorded webinar will be similar to conversations I often have with clients about upgrading Dynamics NAV, benefits of Dynamics 365 Business Central in the cloud, and what options are available going forward. I’ve been working with Dynamics NAV, formally Navision, for a long time, even prior to Microsoft acquiring it so I’ve seen the product evolution and been there every step along the way up to it’s current form of Dynamics 365 Business Central.

This blog has the following sections:

Dynamics NAV and Dynamics 365 Business Central Solution Background

This section will discuss at a high-level the differences between Dynamics NAV and Dynamics 365 Business Central in terms of:

  • Code
  • Modifications
  • Independent Software Vendors (ISV’s) and Add-ons
  • Updates and Upgrades

Dynamics NAV

Code

Dynamics NAV has Client Application Language (C/AL Code), which was the code it was developed in. The neat thing about this code is that modifications could be made to the system, faster than anyone else in the market. Dynamics NAV was known in the market for being extremely flexible, easy to modify, and tailored to your exact business need.

Modifications

Dynamics NAV is considered a general-purpose ERP software that does 80% of what any business does such as general ledger, accounting needs, fixed assets, inventory, distribution manufacturing, etc. Then there is 20% of business specific needs that it may not perform out of the box, but businesses would fill those needs by modifying business processes, modifying the software, or utilizing add-ons.

However, just because you can modify doesn’t mean that you should. Over time, it was found that the customizations created some degree of software bloat and made it more costly and timely to upgrade, because some of the modifications made to the base code of NAV would conflict with versions of NAV that Microsoft was releasing.

ISV’s and Add-ons

There are many ISV add-ons that were created to fill a business need that Dynamics NAV did not. Sometimes the add-ons wouldn’t stay in step with the new versions or could have conflicts.

Updates and Upgrades

A cumulative update is anything that Microsoft releases once a month, which could include service packs, enhancements, fixes, patches, security updates, etc. all packaged up into one. These updates take time and money to implement and not all businesses would do these updates every month. The longer you wait to upgrade, the more you accumulate technical debt. Technical debt could mean inefficiencies with software, not compatible with other technology, increasing risks, issues with security and server software, and other compatibility or interoperability.

Dynamics NAV 2018 was the last official version of NAV before the code was migrated to become Dynamics 365 Business Central. Dynamics NAV users are familiar with the 10-year lifecycle, which meant five years on mainstream support and five years on extended support. Mainstream support is when Microsoft is actively creating cumulative updates, service packs, patches, enhancements, updates to account regulation, new functionality, etc. Extended support goes on for five years after the mainstream support date ends. There are security patches released during extended support, but nothing brand new is released during that time.

Dynamics 365 Business Central

Dynamics 365 Business Central represents a paradigm shift. As you know the Cloud and software as a service (SaaS) has become the predominant model and the most useful model for several reasons.

Code and Modifications

Dynamics 365 Business Central is essentially the next version of Dynamics NAV – it’s the same functionality and base used, they just translated it into a new code base. The C/AL code became AL code in Dynamics 365 Business Central and with the change to AL code comes Events. Events are used where customizations were typically made. Events are programmed to allow for customized behaviour to when they occur. Users no longer can modify base code like you could in Dynamics NAV and what this means is you keep the base database pristine, and upgrades are easy in the future because there’s no code conflicts from modified base code. For more information about Events, please see Microsoft’s documentation ‘Events in AL’.

ISV’s and Add-ons

A lot of ISV’s had to rewrite their add-ons as extensions to fit the Business Central paradigm and work with Microsoft’s AppSource, which is like an App Store. There is a strong certification process to qualify and get into AppSource, which ensures that these extensions will self-install and follow in lockstep with Microsoft’s release schedule.

Updates and Upgrades

With Dynamics 365 Business Central in the cloud, you never have to perform another upgrade. You’ll have continuous enhancements, so every month Microsoft is automatically applying those cumulative updates and every six months you’re getting a whole new version of the software in two releases, Wave 1 in April, and Wave 2 in October. Microsoft publishes what is released in the release waves which is helpful so you can search to see all the new features and see any other areas that may be touched by that release. Please note that this functionality is not available for Business Central on-premises.

Dynamics 365 Business Central Benefits

There are many benefits with Dynamics 365 Business Central in the cloud. Some of the benefits include:

  • Continuous update cycle; never fall behind in a version again
    • This helps eliminates some risk.
  • Never purchase another server or server software again – as long as you’re in the cloud version
    • This also eliminates some risk because an older server software is more vulnerable to hackers and ransomware, plus servers can crash and restoring can be painful.
  • Never perform a large costly upgrade again
    • Once you upgrade to Dynamics 365 Business Central in the cloud, this is the last upgrade you have to do and then you’ll be continuously up to date.
  • Never pay annual enhancement plan (maintenance) fees again
    • These fees go away because now you’re subscribing to the software and it’s up to date
  • ISV Extensions in lockstep with Microsoft Dynamics 365.
    • The ISV extensions always have to stay up with the new release of Dynamics 365 Business Central.
  • Microsoft AppSource is an online store to find the app to meet your business needs
    • Although AppSource relates to more than just Business Central, it’s a great place to go search for an add-on. There are free trials, some apps are free, and there are various ways to search and filter for your needs.
  • Available resources to support it
    • The resources, support, and knowledge base for Business Central continue to grow everyday.
  • Anytime anywhere – platform and browser agnostic
    • Dynamics 365 Business Central will work on your cellphone, a tablet, any platform with a browser will work, as long as you have a good internet connection.
  • Microsoft’s unparalleled, gargantuan IT R&D spend
    • Microsoft has continued to reinvest 15% of their revenues, approx. 19.3B annually, into R&D. This doesn’t mean it’s just going into Business Central, it’s going into all Microsoft products, but it’s a good guarantee that they’re going to continue to develop and push their product forward and keep in lockstep with modern technology. For more information on this topic, please see this blog ERP Software Research & Development Spend.
  • Better Together with Microsoft
    • A key benefit is interoperability between Microsoft products and use Business Central with tools that you’re already familiar with. Users can leverage Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate, MS Office (Word, Excel, Teams, etc.).

Encore has helped businesses digitally transform by migrating to the Cloud, empowering them to achieve their goals faster and more connected with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central.

Options Available Going Forward

Dynamics NAV users can upgrade, reimplement, or do something in between such as a hybrid approach. The two extremes, an upgrade and reimplementation, will be the main focus in this article.

Upgrade

A Dynamics NAV upgrade is essentially a lift and shift which means you take everything you’re doing today and bring it all forward. This includes data such as master records (Customers, Items, Vendors, CofA) and historical transactional data, ISV add-ons, extensions, and modifications and customizations.

The neat thing in this scenario is that you’re already familiar with the NAV underpinnings so that didn’t really change, but the user interface may be different for you depending on what version you’re coming from. With the upgrade option, we’ll provide you with training on the new user interface and new features. Then you’ll go through user acceptance testing, GoLive, and a stabilization period.

An upgrade is a very common method; it’s a great way to get on the next version quickly at a lower cost, without really loosing anything, having all your data and customizations, while utilizing the new technology.

Reimplementation

The other extreme is a reimplementation. I like to quote John Lennon by saying “It’ll be just like starting over”, because that’s how I think of a reimplementation.

With a reimplementation, you’re getting into the new version of the software, but you won’t bring over your historical transactional data. Your master records will be brought over such as Customers, Items, Vendors, CoA, Beginning Balances, Summarized GL History.

With no transactional data brought over, you can keep your legacy NAV system running for historical lookup, you can migrate it to a data warehouse, for example Azure Data Lake, or you can decide to leave the NAV system behind and do nothing with it.

An optional part of this process is to perform an analysis and see what your business goals are and understand your business processes and thefunctionality you need. Then we would deploy based on the analysis phase. With the reimplementation option, we’ll provide you with training, then there will be user acceptance testing, GoLive, and a stabilization period.

This option is almost like a new implementation, maybe you’ll keep some elements from before or maybe not, but it’ll be just like starting over. At the end of the day, you’re still on the newest version of Dynamics 365 Business Central, it just depends on your goals and what you’re trying to achieve.

Hybrid Approach

A hybrid approach is like an in between stage of an upgrade and a reimplementation. For example, you only want to bring forward 2 years worth of data and not 7 years. Maybe you want to bring some of your customizations but not all of them. Some of the add-ons may not be needed or you may want to replace them. Similar to the upgrade and reimplementation options, the hybrid approach also contains training, user acceptance testing, GoLive, and a stabilization period.

What if you stay where you are and do nothing?

There is also the scenario of doing nothing and staying where you are in your current state. If you choose not to upgrade or reimplement, just stay where you are, then at the very least you’ll be accumulating technical debt and opening yourself up to different risks. In my opinion, it’s not a matter of if but a matter of when you need to upgrade or get on to a new software. For more information, please see my blog article Dynamics NAV Upgrade Part I: What if I Do Nothing?.

Option Comparisons

There are a few differences between an upgrade and reimplementation. In an upgrade, you’re retaining everything just as before but in the new paradigm, which is the cloud app and platform. Taking everything you’re able to do today in Dynamics NAV and shifting it to the new software as a service version. An upgrade is usually faster and less expensive than a reimplementation, not always, but usually.

A reimplementation is a fresh start, especially if the business has changed and no longer do it “the way the ancients did it”. Sometimes I run into scenarios with customers where NAV is working, but they weren’t the ones who implemented it and are unsure why things are the way they are. There are all kinds of scenarios and reasons to start over, from bad or corrupt data, strange processes, being a different business today than last year, or the business splitting from the parent or sister company. With a reimplementation, there could be additional cost due to the analysis, solutioning, and deploying the newly elicited requirements.

Reasons to Upgrade vs. Reimplement

There are a few reasons and consideration factors as to why you’d upgrade versus reimplement. This isn’t to say that any one way is better than the other, it depends on what the right fit is for your business scenario.

Upgrade

In an upgrade scenario, you would retain all history and customizations, which may be important to your business. With an upgrade, your business can take advantage of the new technology faster than a reimplementation. Once your business is in the new software, you can consider what you want to do new or different, which means you don’t get delayed trying to rework and change your processes before getting into the new software. You can take the time to look at what’s new and make those business process decisions after the upgrade is complete.

As I’ve previously stated, an upgrade is more of a mechanical lift and shift and there is no real analysis or change in business process which results in less business disruption. With an upgrade, we do all the work in the background, move your data, and then the first time you touch it is to test out the new system.

Something to consider is that you may encounter additional cost if your legacy NAV is really old or is heavily modified. A really old version or many customizations can create a lot of work, so in this case there may be a reason to start over and reimplement.

One other thing to think about is which ISV add-ons your business is using with Dynamics NAV. Some add-ons might not have a path forward to Business Central or perhaps there isn’t the same business need to fill in Business Central.

Reimplementation

In a reimplementation scenario, it may be less expensive if your business has changed dramatically, or your legacy Dynamics NAV has to make too many jumps to get to Business Central. The jumps from one version to the next happen in the background and are invisible to the customer but could be costly.

A reimplementation may be a good option if you don’t require any or all past modifications and customizations. This is an opportunity to start fresh and make new decisions if the legacy database (data, modifications, old business processes) was not good and if it doesn’t make sense for the way your business operates today.

One other consideration factor is that a reimplementation may represent more business disruption due to additional analysis, with key stakeholders and decision makers, and solutions steps.

For another blog article discussing a comparison of an upgrade versus a reimplementation, please see my blog article Dynamics NAV Upgrade Part 2: Upgrade vs. Reimplementation.

How to Choose a Path Forward

I often go through the decision-making criteria below in my consultations with existing customers or prospects who are on Dynamics NAV and wanting to move to Dynamics 365 Business Central. There are many factors to discuss and think about when deciding what the path forward will be and to help decide between an upgrade, reimplementation, or hybrid approach.

Decision-Making Criteria

  • Business needs, goals, and requirements
  • Business change since the original implementation
  • Cloud versus On-Premises
  • Satisfaction or dissatisfaction with legacy NAV and business fit versus wanting something a little different
  • Risk tolerance
  • Data governance
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Security – protection against hackers and ransomware
  • Budget and cost
  • Timing
  • Change management – tolerance and willingness

Next Steps and How Encore Can Help

The next steps that I recommend is to schedule a call with your account manager at Encore to perform discovery, which is a high-level analysis around data, functionality, ISV add-ons, business goals, and timeline to make these changes. For your data we will want to understand how much data is there, is it useful data, and what can be brought forward or left behind. For functionality we will want to understand the existing state vs. future state, and then understand which ISV add-ons you’re using, what you need going forward, and if any are business critical.

I do these calls a few times a week, normally a 1-hour call, then we may ask for additional information afterwards, and then provide budgetary upgrade and reimplementation estimates. Then we will discuss options going forward and help determine what might make the most sense based on your business’ specific situation.

Webinar Recording

For further explanations about upgrading Dynamics NAV and learning more about Dynamics 365 Business Central, please see the recorded webinar below:

Topics discussed during this video include:

  • Solution Background – Dynamics NAV and Dynamics 365 Business Central – 2:35
  • Dynamics 365 Business Central Benefits – 16:10
  • Options Available Going Forward – 30:05
    • Upgrade – 30:25
    • Reimplementation – 31:50
    • Hybrid Approach – 33:50
  • Key Differences Between Upgrade and Reimplementation – 35:00
  • Reasons to Upgrade vs. Reimplement – 37:45
  • Decision-Making Criteria – 44:05
  • Next Steps and How Encore Can Help – 47:40
  • What if you do nothing? – 53:25
  • Q&A – 56:20

If you have any questions about upgrading Dynamics NAV, please contact us.

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