Business Central Online: why should we choose an entirely cloud-based ERP system in 2022? PART I

I had already written an article in 2018 and one in 2019 on Business Central Cloud, now I am writing one to understand the status of the product at 2022 and why it is necessary to adopt it. The New Year is just around the corner!

Business Central Releases Battle Cards, 2019

https://robertostefanettinavblog.com/2019/09/10/msdyn365bc-on-premise-vs-cloud-saas-battle-cards/

Why organizations will choose Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central – and what users still need, 2018

https://msdynamicsworld.com/story/reasons-buy-or-move-business-central-2018

Why should we choose an entirely cloud-based ERP System in 2022?
…FOR A LOT OF REASONS!

What is Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central Online?

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central Online is an ERP application designed and created for small-sized and medium-sized businesses.

It is a cloud-based technology application delivered as Software as a Service (Saas) through the Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) certified partners. It’s a complete business management solution to manage, integrate, and speed up all activities, all in a single platform.

Growing businesses often outgrow their basic accounting software or proprietary Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems that cannot handle increased transactions and business growth and they lack integration with other systems and have several limitations in reporting.

Business Central tries to meet these business needs by providing an integrated system ready for use. Currently, the product exists in two versions On-Premise and Online.

Business Central is simple to use

Business Central is simple to use, quick to deploy, and easy to set up. Simplicity drives innovations in product design, development, implementation, and usability. There are numerous ready-to-use tools that can be used right away: for example the “OnBoarding” feature which offers immediate suggestions on how to use the system to customers and the complete “Cronus” demonstration environment ready and localized for country to be activated.

Through the Customer Onboarding functions, it is now possible to start configuring a company. Some guided “wizards” allow the compilation of what is needed to start the product.

Business Central includes usage and didactic suggestions on fields and actions on some of the most important pages relating to the various business processes (ex: Customer Pages, Vendors, Posted Invoices); these suggestions can help users to make better and guided use of the system (learning by doing approach for users).

Business Central modularity

Business Central is made up of functional modules that are perfectly integrated with each other. The concept of modularity is the basis of the product; each module has its own task and peculiarities.

With Business Central, you can connect financial data, sales, projects, services and operations, supply chain, sell smarter, improve customer service, analyze data, and integrate with CRM, Office, and other Microsoft tools. The product is composed of a series of integrated modules that allow perfect data integration, immediate availability of information, ease of use, integration with other Microsoft Cloud applications and services.

Business Central is an integrated ecosystem

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is a modern, scalable, and flexible set of business applications that interact with each other. Business Central is part of this application group.

The various Microsoft Dynamics applications work very well even if implemented separately (each has its own task). Most of the advantages are obtained when they are used integrated, providing ease of management of business processes.

The native integration between the applications allows to consider the Dynamics 365 suite as a real integrated ecosystem.

The elements of the Microsoft Integrated Ecosystem are as follows:

  • Office 365 Suite, the Office 365 application suite consisting of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, Sharepoint & OneDrive.

https://robertostefanettinavblog.com/2021/09/10/business-central-onedrive-cloudstorage-integration/

https://robertostefanettinavblog.com/2021/01/20/business-central-enhanced-emails/

  • Microsoft Power Platform, the application suite consisting of Microsoft Power BI, Power APPS, Power Automate and Power Virtual Agent, all integrated tools that work together.
  • Dynamics 365 Business Central, the Microsoft ERP system.
  • Cortana Intelligence, Cortana Intelligence Suite is a fully managed Big Data and Advanced Analytics suite to transform data into intelligent actions. It’s a collection of technologies, all part of the Microsoft Azure cloud offering.
  • Azure Services (IoT, Machine Learning, Data AI), a series of Azure-based cloud services related to IoT, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence
  • CDS & Dataverse, Common data services-Dataverse integration

https://robertostefanettinavblog.com/2020/11/20/business-central-virtual-entities-and-cds/

  • Microsoft Teams, Business Central  and Microsoft Teams integration

Business Central in Teams

Power Platform – a group of products integrated with Business Central

Microsoft Power Platform is a group of products and technology to support and create comprehensive solutions, design visualization of data, automate business processes and create agents for communication.

  • Power BI: analyze data from different data sources
  • Power Apps: build powerful mobile apps for internal use by the organization
  • Power Automate: design automated workflows to reduce manual tasks
  • Power Virtual Agents: develop flexible chatbots that can communicate with external customers
Business Central Roadmap to 2022

Now let’s see the product Roadmap up to 2022, there are different investment areas, let’s see some of them in the following figure:

Business Central clients: Web Client and Universal App

Business Central can be used through a browser-based Web Client, or through the app that can be used on all mobile devices; the clients look like this:

Business Central localizations

Currently, there are many country-specific product localizations. In each localization, functionalities and languages are managed, and each year, new ones are added. Many localizations are managed directly by Microsoft, others are managed and implemented by partners.

The following screenshot shows an example of existing localizations:

In countries where Microsoft does not produce a localization, partners can create it independently by publishing both localization and translation-only apps on AppSource. These apps are created based on the international version of the product (W1- Worldwide).

The Modern Microsoft Cloud Model – a suite of applications and services

The Microsoft Cloud Model is based on a suite of applications and services: Azure, Azure IOT, Azure Virtual Machine, Azure SQL, Azure Functions, Docker Helper, Power Apps, Office 365 Suite, Sharepoint, Power BI, Teams, Automate and Dynamics Applications (Business Central is one of them).

In practice (in the case of Business Central), the user only sees the application and the administration console, but underneath all these hidden systems that simplify management run, everything is ready, just activate the subscription to be able to start immediately to use the system (Ready-to-use System).

Business Central: a modern ERP solution with the power of the Cloud based on APPs

The online version of Business Central offers greater mobility and availability in the cloud. The product offers an end-to-end solution with a lot of benefits for customers and companies.

The advantages provided by the Cloud are many, below a short list of the most evident benefits that you have using the Cloud platform:

  • Work completely in the cloud in a simple and intuitive environment (fully managed in the cloud and hosted in the Microsoft Public Cloud)
  • Administer your tenant in the Cloud by creating production environments, sandboxes, copies of production environments on Sandbox and vice-versa
  • Back up your data and export it so you can use it locally
  • Share data quickly and easily with key people across the company
  • Connect via Microsoft AppSource with third-party applications to manage your business (published extensions APP)
  • Help protect information from unauthorized access with advanced security systems.
  • https://robertostefanettinavblog.com/2021/09/25/security-in-dynamics-365-and-in-business-central-online/
  • Manage integrations with other Microsoft cloud products and services
  • Have greater scalability on the system
  • Use the mobility app (Standard APP for Business Central)
  • Update your installed APPs
An ERP system completely based on APPs

Business Central is completely based on the APPs (each part of the system is an APP). This philosophy allows several advantages, the main one is that it is possible to update it automatically as the customizations do not affect the standard structure of the product (which instead is still possible to do in the On-premise version). This is highly appreciated by customers because they always have an up-to-date system.

In addition to the system APPs, Microsoft’s philosophy is that the partners produce APPs and make them available in the AppSource portal. In this way, the possibilities are endless. Just look for the right APPs to enrich the standard system with what the customer needs.

https://robertostefanettinavblog.com/2020/12/08/business-central-cloud-how-to-update-installed-apps/

https://robertostefanettinavblog.com/2021/05/08/update-apps-installed-from-appsource-in-business-central-online-with-powershell/

Differences between the On-premise and the Cloud SaaS releases

Business Central On-premise and Online versions have the same application base, the big difference is the type of deployment: On-premise versus SaaS Cloud.

We will now see what the main differences between the two different worlds are.

The On-premise Release The Online Release (SaaS Cloud)
  • There are initial costs
  • There are no initial costs
  • Hardware infrastructure is needed; hardware needs to be upgraded sooner or later.
  • There is no hardware (infrastructure charged to Microsoft)
  • The On-premise version must be updated manually, at the expense of the partner / customer
  • I pay for what I use, I can turn off and reactivate users as needed
  • Server maintenance by Internal IT or partner
  • The product is always updated to the latest version, Microsoft takes care of it
  • Scalability and Performance
  • Maintenance is done by Microsoft through Telemetry, Backup, Security, Load Balancing
  • Admin Center for manage Environments
  • A lot of Ready-to use APPs published on AppSource
Why Choose Business Central Online – is the right solution?

Let’s see a series of immediate benefits that can be obtained by switching to the Cloud system.

  • It is the right solution, because:

It is an international product (one of those with more localizations available or already planned)

It allows maximum levels of integration between business processes and with other company software. It is easy and intuitive, simple to use, it is localized and complies with the regulations, it can be customized via e-extensions (APPs).

To date, it is the best performing ERP for small and medium-sized enterprises created by the largest software producer in the world; it provides continuous updates on the structure, functionality and security.

  • All inclusive and Ready-to use System

The fee for the service includes everything, including the continuous updating of the product by Microsoft; I pay if users use it and can choose when I don’t want to use it by suspending some of them.

Through the APPs I can always keep the system updated, the APPs are always updated and managed by the partners following strict requirements.

Salient points that justify the purchase and use of a Cloud system

  • Latest Technologies: Business central always uses the latest technologies made available by Microsoft, intended both as a platform and as applications and services; the system in this way is never old.
  • No Hardware needed: No hardware maintenance required (the hardware is not ours, it is from Microsoft), the infrastructure is never obsolete, Microsoft takes care of updating it to the latest technologies.
  • Upgrades: Updates managed directly by Microsoft, IT companies only have to take care of updating the APP to support the new versions.
  • Security: GDPR supported, OAuth 2.0 authentication supported, maximum cybersecurity systems supported.
  • Performance & Scalability: Redundancy, load-balancing telemetry are supported. Microsoft through monitoring and telemetry tools can perform load balancing to distribute the calculations and optimize the system.
  • Fast Starting: If you are using an On-premise system, you need to install it, configure it in order to use it; using the Cloud version the system is ready, just wait a few minutes and the environment is already available for use by the customer and the partner who must follow the implementation.
  • Integration with full Microsoft stack: The Cloud version is already integrated with the entire stack of Microsoft applications and services, through two-factor authentication with a single login I access all ex systems: Office Suite, Power Apps, Power BI, and Teams.
  • A really “Open System”: The Cloud version offers the possibility to communicate with other systems through the Web Services and OData services; it is sufficient to expose the services and access the applications to communicate with Business Central.

In addition, in this case, through two-factor authentication, the services are exposed as secure and performing APIs.

  • Localizations: As already mentioned, there are numerous localizations of the product (the list can be consulted and always updated), this makes the product versatile and international compared to other products that are only local. The main localizations are managed by Microsoft, others by the partners, the localizations 100% meet the regulatory requirements of the country in which it is installed.
  • User interface similar to other Microsoft products: The user interface must be similar in all Microsoft products and maintain ease of use; also Business Central supports the same philosophy, clear user interface and similar to the Office suite.
Cost analysis for customers migrating to Business Central Online

What if I am already using the On-premise version of Business Central (or older versions of Dynamics NAV) and want to upgrade to the Online release?

Now let’s try to understand the costs that customers who want to switch from the On-premise release of the product to the Online release.

In the case of the Business Central Online release, the monthly or annual subscription fee is the highest expense; it will usually cost more than the ongoing license fee payment for the On-premise solution. In the subscription fee, however, all hosting and server maintenance costs are borne by the provider, there are no hidden costs.

Costs for the Online release Costs for the On-premise release
No personnel costs for server maintenance, no investments to be made in hardware, etc. Unlike the Online version, the On-premise solution has many hidden costs that do not immediately manifest themselves, but that exist and gradually emerge.
The only remaining expenses, identical to those of an on-premise installation, are user training and the time required to set up and operate the solution. Customization and implementation, hardware, IT personnel, maintenance and user training all incur additional costs.
In addition, there is a subscription fee for the maintenance of the extension for custom solutions. In the end, customers end up paying a lot more with an On-premise solution than the Online solution and they don’t have the same benefits of using an entirely Cloud-based service platform.

“Business Central Online” product platform architecture

Business Central Online is based on multitenant technology and is a scalable and flexible system. It relies on Microsoft Azure technology that is always updated. In the end, the end user only uses the product that is created from a set of technologies and services already prearranged and made available of the customer.

Elements used and maintained by Microsoft

Hosted in Microsoft’s public cloud (with Azure platform and integrated SQL Azure technology), it has numerous tools for sending notifications, updates, telemetry and system load balancing. The licensing process takes place online through partners, online support is provided by Microsoft for both partners and customers.

The main elements of the infrastructure are these two:

  • Database Tier: Each customer tenant is a single database (a single Azure SQL database on an Azure SQL Server). There are also some application databases to handle system objects and application objects.
  • Service Tier: Service tier is the Business Central application Server, an (or more) Azure Virtual Machine with Business Central Services and Web Services; the load balancing is activated to distribute workloads and tuning the system.

Telemetry is always active and collects all information from databases and services tiers; the information found in the telemetry is useful to both partners and developers.

Elements used by end users, partners, customers

  • Web Client (usable by Edge, Chrome, Firefox, Safari): It’s the core client of the system that now operates only through the Web client (also applies to the On-premise version as the old Windows client has been permanently removed).

  • Universal App for Mobile (downloadable from Windows Store, Google Play, Apple store): The mobile application allows the use of Business Central in mobile mode, all the functions of the Web Client are now also supported by the mobile version, optimized for the various touch devices; the mobile application does not foresee a disconnected mode, it always works connected as it does for the Web Client).

  • Admin Center (Business Central management and administration portal): Provided directly by Microsoft, there are numerous ready-to-use features available that we will see later. For example, it’s possible to update the system to the latest version (App base and System APP), update the APPs installed by AppSource as well as perform backups, database exports, analyze telemetry, etc.

  • Powershell for Cloud and APIs: Using authentication with OAuth 2.0 on Business Central, it is possible to use powershell to perform some operations relating to the APPs, update them and install them even without going through the Admin Center. It’s possible to use some ready-made scripts provided by Microsoft (ex: BCContainerHelper) also for the Cloud.

Although mostly used on the On-premise version (for example to create dockerized environments), it can also be used with the Online version (for example to update the APPs through APIs calls)

OAuth 2.0 is an authorization framework which allows an application or a user to access a system (in the case of Business Central both the portal and web services) using an access token. From next year, the authentication for Business Central will be based on this framework, the same goes for the other applications of the Office suite.

https://robertostefanettinavblog.com/2021/02/23/business-central-oauth2-authentication/

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics365/business-central/dev-itpro/webservices/authenticate-web-services-using-oauth

Powershell it is mainly used for Business Central On-premise but can also be used for the Online release; numerous APIs and ready-made scripts can be used for systemic activities and APPs updating and more features will be added in the future; also in Powershell it is possible to use OAuth 2.0 framework.

https://robertostefanettinavblog.com/2021/05/08/update-apps-installed-from-appsource-in-business-central-online-with-powershell/

  • The “Modern Development Environment“: Through VSCode (Visual Studio Code) + Microsoft AL Language, it is possible to create customizations (extensions or APPs). The user can create simple customizations; the partner can create complexes and publish the APPs in Microsoft’s AppSource; currently there are several APPs already published useful for extending the functionality of the standard product.

The Business Central Online “Ready-to-use” Demo Environment

Whether as a reseller or as an end user of Business Central, you can set up a demo environment with which to fully test the product.

The demo environment is complete in all its features, it expires after 30 days if it is not purchased in time; however, it is possible to reactivate it if you decide to purchase it.

There is a company demo (Cronus) localized for each country, in this way it is also possible to test the product on a company’s foreign branches.

The initial Business Central demo environment comes with two companies:

  • The CRONUS demo company
  • An empty company with the name ”My Company” but it might have a different display name

How-to activate Demo Environments

The activation of the demo environments is almost immediate to allow interested prospects to test the product.

Business Central Online General FAQs

Now let’s try to answer some general questions about Business Central Online (FAQs); these questions are usually posted in the forums or come up during some product calls\ presentations.

  • Is Business Central Online available in my country/region?

Business Central is now available in a limited number of countries, but new countries are added quarterly thanks to localizations of Microsoft or localizations in charge of partners (the localizations could be even more than one, for example for Country Zones and certain countries). So if a localization is missing, you can ask any partner if they are already doing it or intend to implement it and when.

  • How can I get started with Business Central Online?

It is now possible to register on the Microsoft portal of Dynamics 365 to obtain a free evaluation version of Business Central; even if the trial is timed, it is possible to extend the evaluation period.

  • Choosing a partner and implementing Business Central Online

After the product evaluation, you can choose a Business Central partner to help you implement your project. Microsoft’s philosophy is this: Microsoft follows the product, the partner follows the customer.

Microsoft creates and maintains the product by providing a series of Onboarding features to help the prospect in their choice and the customer in starting with the new system; the partner follows the customer, implements the product, creates and sells the APPs, follows the customer in the project, in practice the partner performs valuable activities on the customer.

  • Are there any differences between the On-premise version of Business Central and the Online version?

Although as already mentioned, the APP base of the product is the same and therefore also the functional modules, there are some differences.

Business Central Online is for meant for use in the Cloud (and created with “Cloud First” thinking, then “On-premise”); some features related to integrations with Excel, Outlook, Power BI etc. are not supported or are different.

What are the Cloud services offered \ included in the Business Central Online platform? Is the system redundant and secure?
  • Administration console: Admin Center is the administration console: from there it is possible to monitor the status of the Business Central tenant, plan the system update to the latest version, it is also possible to update the installed APPs and use some APIs exposed by the platform.
  • Backup and Database Export: Backups are managed directly by Microsoft, kept for thirty days and redundant. Through the Admin Center, it is now possible to restore a backup (both on Production and on Sandbox). It is also possible to export the databases in a SQL Azure “.BPAC” export format to be able to restore them locally (up to 10 exports per month).
  • https://robertostefanettinavblog.com/2019/11/07/business-central-saas-exporting-database-backup-and-restore-it-on-your-sql-server/
  • Load Balancing: The system takes care of dividing the workload in order to always have a fast, performing and stable system. Hidden underneath runs an Azure-based hardware infrastructure that is always updated by Microsoft.
  • Security: Security is important, Microsoft applies all the latest security systems to ensure customers that Business Central is operational at more than 99%; two-factor authentication is the same used for all other Microsoft applications (Office, Power BI etc.)
  • https://robertostefanettinavblog.com/2021/09/25/security-in-dynamics-365-and-in-business-central-online/
  • Can I unsubscribe from Business Central Online?
Product de-activation (unsubscribing)

If you no longer want to use the product, you can cancel the activated subscription; in this case, it depends on the type of subscription made, the data can be deleted or kept for future reactivation (recommended by Microsoft and its partners).

NEXT STEP…

…see you soon for the second part (PART II) of the article.

Stay tuned!

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