Business Central – summary after Directions EMEA & Directions NA 2018

After attending Directions NA in San Diego and Directions EMEA in The Hague, we feel confident about the future of Dynamics 365 Business Central as a new incarnation of Microsoft Dynamics NAV. With this article we would like to share with you key takeaways from both conferences.

Let me start with emphasizing that there is a slight difference in approach in Europe and across the ocean. People in America look as if they had an easier time embracing the change, in truth they seem already well established into this “new world” (and no wonder, as Business Central at that time under a different name was available there already in 2017; now America has around 75% market share of Business Central customers). Europeans on the other hand seem a bit nostalgic about the past times, but there are also partners who are trying to jump on this train early on, getting trained on AL/extensions and new ways of doing things. Needless to say, we are one of them.

Let’s have a look now at major announcements made at the conferences.

Microsoft delivered on their promise from 2017 and made Business Central on-premise available on 1st October 2018. Let me be very blunt about it – this is actually NAV 2019; there are major changes to the interface and partners need to adapt to a new way of modifying the system, but in principle this is Dynamics NAV upgraded for the “digital transformation” times. It looks modern, the interface is really beautiful and it’s still adaptable, which for the yeas has been highlighted as the main advantage of Dynamics NAV.
There will be changes to the licensing model, let me focus on major two:

  • The model has shifted from “concurrent users” to “named users”, so for every installation you will need a bigger number of users, which is offset by a slight drop of price.
  • Only the users are now licensed (not the functionality like with Starter and Extended Pack), so for smaller installations the license will be cheaper to obtain and there is lower barrier to entry. It is aligned nicely with the fact Business Central aims to be post-entry-level accounting/ERP system.

In July this year there were already 16 countries where Business Central was localized. This number is growing at a steady pace with several other releases being announced till the end of this year (both produced by Microsoft and by Partners).

As every year Microsoft shared a number of new functionalities. There was nothing major released (maybe apart from the fact that the whole Business Central was now delivered as an extension) and the whole session was delivered with a pinch of salt – it was definitely not one of these stiff-formal presentations. In my opinion Microsoft adopted the following attitude: “ok, we are not showing anything truly amazing, so at least let’s have fun”. These features were discussed:

  • New search (Alt + Q) – there is a new, smarter search functionality called “Tell me what you want to do”; it works contextually on a given page and can help you identify what tasks can be performed on this page; it can recognize synonyms, so you don’t need to know the exact name of a functionality that you are looking for in the system; it can also perform something called “fuzzy search”, so you might only have a hint how something is pronounced without knowing how to write it down – the search engine will find it anyway!
  • The first time there was an ovation in the audience was when mythical F8 functionality was confirmed for the online client. It allows the user to automatically fill out the active cell with the data in the cell above it.
  • The second time was this: Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V now working for the online client!
  • There is a major change to the interface: there is now no “ribbon” available, an element characteristic for all Office products; instead of that users will have access to a command bar – all functions presented in a line at the top of the screen.

It seems that we are on a very clear path now. Business Central will be delivered in a half-year cadence: there will be two major releases of new functionality every year, one in the Spring and one in the Autumn. Classic interface now only available in Microsoft client for on-premise installations will be gone in 2020; the same fate awaits C/AL which will be completely replaced by a combination of AL, extensions and Visual Studio Code.
Every year there will be new localizations added, more and more ISV solutions will be moved to extensions and before we know that only true “dinosaurs” will refer to Business Central as “former NAV” or even “Navision”.