The Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central management solution for small and mid-sized organizations continues to expand after its launch, becoming available in new locations. Microsoft is investing a lot, and the product has improved significantly in the transition from Project Madeira (the first one) to Finance & Operations Business Edition to its current form. The product now contains all the existing features in Dynamics NAV 2018, with the remaining constraint (acceptable, in my view) that customers must rely on the Web Client or on the Universal App rather than the NAV Windows client.
As a cloud-first product, Business Central will be seeing frequent updates from Microsoft, a notable difference from the typical NAV solution ownership experience of the past. Business Central’s emphasis on newness comes with many strengths, but also drawbacks. I will offer a comparison of the strengths and limitations of Business Central, compared with Dynamics NAV 2018. I’ll also examine the differences between the on-premises systems and those in the public cloud.
With Business Central, even the documentation has changed. There is a lot of documentation available compared to the past (and in multiple languages). For partners there are courses and videos available. A forum dedicated to the product has already been activated.
Cloud first and automatic upgrades
Yes, the product has now become cloud by design. This means that Microsoft will update the cloud systems first, then the on-premises ones later. Using an ERP in the cloud means always being up to date with the latest version of the product.
The new development environment
The new development environment, born first for Business Central, then used for NAV 2018, is innovative, allowing you to develop extensions (and to certify them – or not). It is useful for customizing the product in a much less invasive way than in the past.
The new environment is composed of VS Code and the Microsoft AL language and allows development of extensions in a professional way, updated to the market standard.
This new environment is a significant change from the past.
Microsoft cloud services and the Virtual Cloud Desk
Microsoft commercial cloud services are constantly evolving. Many already integrate natively or have connectors available for Business Central. Others will connect soon, and we can now say that the cloud world offers a complete package of solutions (which I refer to as the Business Cloud Package).
Through native integrations with Office 365, Outlook, Dynamics 365/CRM, Flow, and Power BI, just to name a few, it is almost possible to have a real virtual desk on the cloud. In fact, “Virtual Cloud Desk” is a suggestion for a new role in BC. In practice you never leave the cloud because all the necessary information is there, including the ERP.
Business Central is hosted by Microsoft on Azure in public cloud. The environment is composed of:
- Multi-tenant database
- Architecture based on events
- Extensions model for development
- App Source to distribute apps
With this model it is possible to manage the philosophy: Create, repeat, scale. That is the basis of the extension development model.
Sandboxes and Docker
We can’t have separate development environments, only those purchased by the tenant. However, with sandbox and Docker containers, it is possible to have test environments both to test the product and extensions. In this way, only tested apps are installed in the production environment, with less risk of compromising the solution in use.
The demo environments can also be created in the instances of customers. Microsoft reserves the right to clean and delete these environments as needed.
I’m not a commercial, I do not want to talk about costs, but what I can say is that you will certainly save in the end. Some reasons: you pay if you use it, the system is self-updating, it is always online if necessary, and it is always under backup. If you need some more reasons: it also has a modern development environment, is scalable, can be used without installing anything, and is easy to use.
The monthly subscription license includes application, hosting, and maintenance.
Business Central today is in “Microsoft Public Cloud”
For now Business Central is only available in the public cloud. Business Central on-premises or in a private cloud will become available in October 2018. Using the public cloud brings benefits and limitations.
With the license you are entitled to use the product and the updates, as already mentioned, and integration with other products is guaranteed.
The system is closed (but secure). You can’t access SQL Server and databases. Only the environment-specific tenant that you have purchased exists. You can’t create development environments, only sandboxes in the same tenant for the purpose of testing the data. Therefore, the modality of the approach is very different from the on-premises world.
It is not possible to back up the database because, as mentioned, we do not access SQL Server. The system does not go down but it is possible to restore data if necessary. The backup is managed by Microsoft, with no way to schedule an auto-backup. Therefore, a backup cannot be launched by the end user, but if necessary, it is possible to open an issue to Microsoft and they can provide a restore.
You can use RapidStart Services Packages to export data, but that isn’t a real backup system (you can’t restore your database after a crash failure) like an on-premises system. Rather, this tool allows you can export for example the “setup data” for master tables, and secondary tables (a copy of setup).
Web Client limitations
Business Central is a good offering, but more work is needed in my opinion. The client is very nice, more convenient, and with more features than the previous ones, but it is missing some features used by NAV customers through the Windows Client. Examples include Advanced Filters, and Filtered Views. However, it is usable and in line with expectations.
In the next releases, these missing features will surely be added, making it almost the same as the old Windows Client; and other innovative features are sure to be added as well.