Microsoft Dynamics GP, NAV or AX – What’s the Difference?

NAV exceeds 100k

Over 100,000 NAV sites

The Microsoft ‘Dynamics’ family of accounting or ERP products encompasses NAV, GP, AX and CRM (and SL, though we don’t hear much about that one). Not surprisingly, the business marketplace is a bit confused by this. We often get calls to help with ‘Dynamics’ at a possible new support customer which prompts us to ask, err which one?

Microsoft has been active in the accounting or ERP market space since 2001 when they bought American software provider Great Plains. At the time, I was selling Great Plains (now GP) in the UK and had visited Fargo in North Dakota twice for GP’s annual ‘Stampede to Fargo’ event. On the second visit, I was even on stage, with my then employer, as we received an award for ISV of the Year (UK). As a Scots company, our kilts went down well with the audience and we were chuffed to have slipped our skean dhus (google it) past the US Customs.

By the time Microsoft had bought Navision, I was back consulting on and selling that product. A two year aberration you might say but it was useful to understand where the alternate products were coming from. As a consequence of buying Navision (NAV), Microsoft also inherited Axapta (now AX) as Navision had taken over their Danish rival a couple of years before.

For a period, Microsoft declared that with ‘Project Green’, they would amalgamate all of the ERP products into one, single ‘Dynamics’ solution. This was a laudable but ultimately laughable premise. The products were so dissimilar that this was a non-starter from day one. Since they all remain available today, how do we differentiate them?

Well, we can leave aside Dynamics CRM as it obviously has its own focus. Some have argued that this has been to the detriment of the Dynamics ERP solutions which incorporate CRM functionality, limiting any further development there, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Great Plains, or GP, began in the US and had great traction there. It was the most obvious first choice purchase for Microsoft. Today, there are around 47,000 sites but these are mainly in North America. My experience of selling the product was that European subsidiaries would be told to buy it, an easy sell, or the excellent FRx reporting product which came with it was what won the deal. (Sadly, FRx is now in a state of ‘phased discontinuation’ by Microsoft.) Developing in the product was cumbersome and it relied heavily on 3rd party add-ons. Most of these came out of the US and, at one time, multi-currency was an alien concept to these developers! Things have changed, obviously, but that’s the legacy of GP which means that it has never been able to assume any leadership in the European marketplace.

Axapta, now AX, had a similar development history to Navision. Both came out of Denmark and both majored on providing great accounting functionality, full multi-country and multi-currency capability. However, the crucial differentiator was an in-built development capability. Thus, if the product didn’t deliver specific functionality ‘out of the box’, it could be developed for the customer. At the time, this was revolutionary. Get 90% of what you wanted as standard, and develop the rest to ensure a 100% fit. Second time users in particular were delighted. They had suffered from the ‘it doesn’t do that, you’ll have to work around it’ mantra of standard accounting software for years. Now they could have a system that delivered what they wanted, in full.

Where AX differed was in the method of delivering this functionality. AX focussed on ‘upgradeability’ i.e. their development environment should mean that each new release of the software could be implemented with minimal fuss and all of those development changes could be ‘dropped back in again’. At least, that was the theory. Once again, a laudable sentiment but not entirely practical in the real world.

It is probably more relevant to focus on where AX now differs from NAV in the recent and current marketplace – scalability. With little more than 19,000 sites worldwide, one might think the product hadn’t been much of a success. But that figure disguises the fact that many of these are big, in fact very big, sites and are replacing or beating the likes of SAP (the proper big one!) and Oracle in competitive bids.

Costing the most and taking the longest to implement, AX is for the company willing to spend. It’s not quite ‘If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it’ but you get the idea. Many sites take years to roll out fully and some never get past phase 1. We won a large deal against an AX supplier simply because of site visits. While our customers were happy to comment on the continued ongoing development of their NAV solutions i.e. they would ask for changes and could happily identify the cost-benefits of making the changes, our competitor’s customers were commenting that once past phase 1, many of their ideas for additional development were stalled because the costs didn’t justify the benefits.

While size and scalability differentiate AX from NAV, we have NAV sites with 100’s of users accessing the data via web or ‘lite’ users and these users can be geographically scattered across the globe. And there are numerous examples of very large, very distributed NAV sites. However, we wouldn’t dream of competing with AX when 1000’s of users require access and that large-scale capability required by multinationals is a fertile ground for the AX reseller. Meantime, NAV continues to lead the pack, easily providing solutions to businesses with users from less than 10 to over 500. The wide appeal of NAV is easily seen by its reach – over 102,000 businesses use NAV and there is a NAV site in pretty much every country on the planet. I’m assuming North Korea doesn’t have a site but who knows?

In summary, and in my obviously slightly biased opinion, GP is strong in small to medium ERP among North American businesses and their subsidiaries, although NAV is an established and fierce competitor in that space. NAV leads the small to medium sized charge for Microsoft across the world. However, there comes a tipping point where a multi-national appears. Those businesses that see themselves as naturals for the big Oracle or SAP ERP solutions are now a very fertile marketplace for AX which is both more tailorable and more cost effective. And all have the Microsoft ‘badge’ ensuring continued investment and ongoing support. I hesitate to say ‘guaranteed future-proofing’ but it’s as good as you’re likely to get.

Select an ERP System – Part 5 – Saving Money and How to Pay For It.

Select an ERP System – a free series to guide you. 5 – Saving money and how to pay for it.

This is part 5 of a series of blogs designed to help you choose and implement a new ERP system.

 

In this blog, we look at how you can save money on the system but also warn you why potential suppliers might choose to walk away. Previous blogs covered the selection process, ballpark costs implementation and basic checks and are available at our blog page.

 

Once have chosen your solution, when you buy that solution can have an impact on the price you pay. It’s important at this stage to understand the psychology of the ERP vendor. I don’t mean the reseller here, I mean the company behind the software. Whether you’re SAP, Microsoft or Sage, the name of the game is sites – the more the better!

 

This is because the first year value of the sale pales into insignificance against the ongoing revenues that can be generated from updates e.g. more users being added, updates to the software and, most importantly, annual support revenues. So, the supplier will regularly offer incentives to potential customers to buy the licence but generally never offer a discount on the ongoing support charges. When is this most likely to happen? As you might find in any retail environment, as the end of a quarter, half year or at the company’s year end. So, if nobody offers you a deal, ask!

 

Other reasons for suppliers offering delas might be because you are a charity or because the competition on a particular deal happen to be viewed as someone they particularly want to target.

 

Most ERP resellers can access finance for you and most like to do so, for two reasons. The obvious one is to ensure that lack of money doesn’t stop the project proceeding. The second is that the finance company will check out the customer’s creditworthiness and will quickly advise the reseller if the potential customer has money problems. The reseller can then avoid wasting time on a project doomed to failure.

 

Finally, don’t forget that many local business gateways or enterprise companies can offer support in the form of grants for the training, consulting and/or development costs associated with the project. The main criteria here will be the extent to which staff will be retained or more staff employed; or that the system will allow the business to sell more products outwith its current geographical area. And, speaking to these funders is another excellent way of confirming whether your potential supplier has a history of delivering cost-benefits to its customers.

Select an ERP System – Part 4 – Some Basic Checks

Select an ERP System – a free series to guide you

This is part 4 of a series of blogs designed to help you choose and implement a new ERP system.

In this blog, we look at some of the basic checks you should carry out before engaging with your potential new ERP supplier. Previous blogs covered the selection process, ballpark costs and implementation and are available at our blog page.

It’s important to think of your potential new supplier in terms of the likelihood that they can be a positive business PARTNER. The partnership element is key, as trust on both sides will be hugely important. How comfortable do you feel with them?  Is this a company you feel you can work with for many years to come?

There should be clues early on in your discussions. Do they talk down to you? Use jargon? Or do they demonstrate understanding? Suggest alternative ways of solving your issues? Ask them how many customers have been with them for more than 5 years? 10? 20? And what is the percentage of customers who renew their support annually? The answers to these questions provide a useful insight into the way the supplier looks after their customers.

All of the above assumes you’ve actually visited the supplier’s offices. Don’t be so impressed by the website that you accept an on-site demo and never visit the supplier’s premises or meet with ‘rest of the team’. There are a number of virtual resellers these days who have no real office and a constantly changing team of contractors who may implement and support your system. That can keep their costs down but you have to consider whether that’s the type of supplier you want.

Check out their financial status. This is so easy these days with sites such as Companies House WebCheck and Duedil offering low cost ways of reviewing accounts, credit history, owners, court orders and so forth. There’s no excuse not to have a decent handle on the likely longevity of your potential supplier.

A key consideration is knowing who will implement your system. I alluded to this as an issue with smaller ‘virtual’ companies above but it’s equally important with larger companies. It is not uncommon for organisations to lead the presentation with their best people who, once the order is signed, and never to be seen again. So, that nice chap who really seemed to understand your business and demonstrated superbly how the system would deliver all those valuable benefits is actually based in another part of the country and only comes out for demos. The implementation team, sadly, are all young graduates learning their trade… on your implementation!

Also, be careful what you sign up for. It can be tempting to sign up for a long-term support deal at a tremendous rate, only to find the support is poor and you’re locked in for three years! Why commit until you’ve experienced the support?

You might think that many of the above issues can be squared away by reference visits but again there is scope to get this wrong as well. Check that the reference is someone who the supplier did actually implement the system at, and not just a site they now support. Equally, be alert to the ‘reference site’ that gets used all of the time, perhaps because they benefit from lower or zero support rates. Ask for an extensive list, identify sites similar to your own and approach them for a reference.

How to Select an ERP System – Part 3 – Implementation Costs

In parts 1 and 2 of the series, we looked at the selection process and ballpark costs. In this 3rd part, I’d like to consider implementation issues and, in particular, how the user can contribute to the process and save costs.

There are some basics which are often forgotten.

First, make sure that the project team is representative of the business users. Too often the MD says “This is how we do things here” only to find later in the project that the users at the sharp end have a wholly different way of processing data.

Second, customers tend to be over optimistic about how much time and effort they can put into the project. Take a good look at things like holidays, other projects, is this the busiest time of the year… and so forth.

BUT, remember that you don’t have to wait to the start of your financial year to go live on the system. If anything, that’s a terrible time because there is so much else going on. Pick a quiet (or the quietest) time.

AND, if you have taken more time than you expected to reach that crucial decision on which system to implement, be flexible about you ‘go live’ date. It would seem obvious to all that you have less time but it’s amazing how many businesses are determined to stick to that original date.

Third, it’s YOUR project and not the supplier’s. I have blogged elsewhere about suppliers who hijack the ownership of the project, move the goalposts and end up costing you more. Stay in control and ensure any changes are your changes. This does mean that you need to stay 100% involved and don’t allow the supplier to dictate the project direction.

What will implementation cost?

As a rule of sum, expect to spend the same amount of money on the implementation as you spend on the software. But you can save money in a number of ways.

Don’t be precious about some of the requirements. Always consider the cost-benefit. Is it really that important? Most suppliers will say something can be done but a good supplier will point out the cost and question whether it’s justified.

If you have a lot of staff, consider ‘train the trainer’ as the way forward for training users i.e. a select group of staff are trained, and then pass on that training to the majority. We had one customer recently where a very large number of users were given training by viewing a webinar recording of the training. This also means that new users can be pointed to this as part of their induction.

Take responsibility for data cutover and reconciliation. We provide our customers with spreadsheets formatted with the appropriate columns for customers, suppliers, open invoices and so forth. It’s always a great way to ‘cleanse’ your data as well. Compare deleting an old customer from a row in a spreadsheet with deleting the record in an accounting system. The latter can be time-consuming or even impossible in many systems.

Reconciling financials, customer and supplier balances by checking the trial balance on both systems and comparing aged debtor and creditor reports will save cost and ensure comfort that everything is as it should be.

The Changing Face of Navision through the Ages.

Many people are surprised to hear that Microsoft Dynamics NAV is not far from reaching its 20th birthday here in the UK!

At Turnkey, we have been selling Navision since 1996 when the first ‘proper’ Windows version appeared in the UK. A small team of people in Borehamwood led by Yash Nagpal, and supported by the likes of Sandy Giddings and Hynek Muhlbacher, had believed enough in the product to take on the established UK players from scratch.

Things were a little erratic at the time. VAT didn’t really work properly. You didn’t ask for remittance advices (not needed in Denmark apparently) and all of the training material featured Danish Kroner and was delivered by European trainers. There was a sense that we were all at the start of a rather exciting journey with an incredible new product.

Along the way, Navision (UK) cashed in its chips with the Danish owners in what turned out to be the first stage of the process of the Microsoft acquisition Those of us who were lucky enough to be successfully selling the product at the time benefitted from the incredible generosity of UK MD Yash Nagpal who rewarded his loyal partner base with trips to Thailand (regrettably work commitments prevented me attending so my wife gallantly went along instead) and, perhaps the best of all, a 10 day whirlwind trip around the best that India had to offer. The latter trip included visits to all of the major sites, participation in an elephant  polo match and an overnight cross desert camel ride.

Screenshots of the product through time show how much the product has changed but it’s a credit  to the original development team that the underlying functionality remains much the same. And, of course, the products great strength has always been its inbuilt development toolset. Who knows how many exceptional systems have been built over the years with that fantastic product.

Here are a few of the screens which illustrate the development so well:

Navision circa 1996 – not quite the look and feel of Windows-

NAVISION 1996

The Windows-like version was originally called Navision ‘Financials’ but then had a brief period, for no apparent reason, as Navision ‘Attain’ -

Attain2

The influence of Microsoft was apparent in this first new-style release post their acquisition. The Outlook style interface -

NAV5

And finally, we moved to the ‘Role Tailored Client’ which originally saw the light of day in NAV2009 but has been finessed into NAV2013 -

NAV2013RTC2

Sadly, Yash is no longer with us but many who knew him were pleased to hear that he was indulging in one of his passions, golf, at the time of his passing. I’d imagine he would be proud to see how far the product has come from its humble beginnings in Borehamwood all those years ago.

How to Select an ERP System – Part 2- Ballpark Costs

Continue our series which started with ERP Selection Part 1 – the Selection Process

Ballpark Costs 

Once the suppliers have been provided with the essential information, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a ballpark figure for the cost of the proposed solution. This is a win-win in that neither side wants to waste the other’s time going through lengthy demos and detailed scoping exercises when the likely cost of the system is so far away from what the business is likely to spend.

Costs should normally be split between the upfront capital cost and the on-going annual support cost. But, remember that support will usually also be chargeable in the first year. If the system is being hosted, it should still be straightforward enough to do some number crunching to create a cost over, say, 4 years for comparison.

Costs would cover –

Software licences – remember that you might save some money by differentiating full and occasional discrete users; by delaying the rollout of users until needed; or delaying some extra cost modules that won’t be required until later in the project;

Services –these cover Installation, project management, development or customisation, changing document layouts e.g. invoices and purchase orders, integration e.g. to your bank, data cutover of customers, open invoices etc., training and assistance on the ‘go live’ day.

These will be guide costs and guide days. Remember that you shouldn’t complain if fewer days are spent than were budgeted in one area e.g. training if more days were spent elsewhere on the project. Suppliers are being asked at an early stage to provide a ballpark only. Generally, barring a major change to the requirements provided to assist with the cost, the overall figure should be within 10% or so of the final quote.

Another area to seek guidance on is infrastructure. If you need to replace or upgrade any of your equipment such as PCs, laptops, servers and communications, that can be quite a significant sum. Make sure what you have can support the proposed new system or establish a cost to upgrade.

You should also have an indicative annual support charge for software (and infrastructure, if required) and understand fully what is covered. Be wary of signing an extended support deal, e.g. three year, just because some advantageous terms are offered. You will not have experienced the support yet, so committing to a long term deal could prove foolish. Many such contracts are difficult to break.

How to Select an ERP System – Part 1 – The Selection Process

The number one rule is Identify What Makes Your Business Different. There are so many high quality ERP systems out there that do pretty much the same thing. You buy something, you add a margin, and you sell it. You want to record the purchase, manage the stock, record the sale and show the profit in your accounts. Your choice is not what software, just where to find the best combination of price and reputable supplier.

However, it will all go horribly wrong if you haven’t pointed out the differences about your operation. Perhaps you need to sell the item but record serial numbers, or monitor expiry dates, or immediately create a service record and remind the customer that maintenance work is essential within 12 months, or…or…or. If you haven’t listed what you think are your uniques, you can end up in trouble. That’s why it’s often the second time user who gets it most right, having found the glaring functionality holes in their first software selection. So write down your ‘uniques’.

Second, never assume. It’s so common for businesses to upgrade their system and find that things they relied on in the first system, and assumed would be there in the ‘upgraded’ system, are not! This even occurs when upgrading with the same supplier to a new release of that supplier’s software. So write down what you like about your current system and would be reluctant to give up (and anything you hate and are happy to lose).

Third, there are presumably a number of reasons for upgrading. You have a list of things you feel are missing and will be an essential part of your shiny new system. So write down the new functions you’re seeking.

Fourth, prioritise. Some of your requirements may be available bit at extra cost. If potential suppliers know what’s most important, they can point out the additional cost of some of your less important requirements. That way, you can apply some simple cost-benefit analysis and decide whether the extra cost is justified.

Finally, analyse your users. You should split your users into those who need full and unfettered access to all parts of the software – the accountants, the order processing team, the production manager etc. – and those who have a simple functional requirement – entering PO’s for approval, updating project costs, booking stock in and out. It is increasingly common for software suppliers to offer two flavours of user – full and ‘light’ or ‘limited’. The latter can be bought at a fraction of the cost of the former and offer serious cost savings.

 

Next time – Ballpark costs.