The (NA)Vision of Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009 - Part 2

Part 1 of this blog series went through the first three generations of the Microsoft Dynamics NAV product, which at the time was called Navision and was owned by the formerly independent namesake company. How has new parent Microsoft treated the product since acquiring it in 2002?

Well, ongoing feedback from customers, partners, and market observers shows that Microsoft Dynamics NAV [evaluate this product] has maintained Navision’s original core values of simplicity (i.e., ease of use and ease of ongoing maintenance) and flexibility/adaptability, as well as a focus on fast implementations to minimize disruptions to customers’ businesses. These core principles have long defined former Navision’s success and have been carried forward at Microsoft from the Navision 3.0 release on.

Life within Microsoft Dynamics

Of course, it was only logical to expect that the new powerhouse owner would try to leverage its renowned technology stack, possibly with an expected spin (or even reality) of potential customer benefits. The first product’s release under Microsoft was in 2004 under the name Microsoft Navision 4.0, since the “Dynamics” moniker came a bit later.

Microsoft Navision 4.0 was centered on the themes of improving the user experience (UX) design and further simplicity and productivity enhancements.  To that end, the release’s look and feel reminded users of Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, whereas any analytical charting result could be presented in Microsoft Excel Viewer.

"Analytics" had long since become an increasingly important aspect of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, and the company then leveraged Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) and Analysis Services to package a set of ready-made analysis tools and graphical views of common key performance indicators (KPIs) by dimension. Further along the lines of delivering deeper integration with the overall Microsoft technology stack was harnessing the Microsoft SQL Server Notification Services to support e-mail business notifications to employees and trading partners.

The product also leveraged an extensible markup language (XML) port so that its modules could interchange data with other applications and external users via the Internet. This capability was especially oriented toward the hub-and-spoke deployment scenario that was mentioned at the end of Part 1.

The 4.0 release also unified and improved two human-to-application portal applications: Navision Commerce Portal (for customer, vendor, and partner access and self-service through a Web browser) and Navision User Portal (to provide personalized browser-based remote access to the solution for employees). For functional enhancements, there were improvements in the realm of financial management such as inter-company postings, partial payments, or an audited reversal of journal posting transactions.

Also delivered were industry templates to reduce the time it takes to configure the different modules for different specialist industries. Among the many industries that were supported in Microsoft Navision 4.0 were furniture and electronics engineering.

Microsoft Dynamics NAV 5.0

In 2006, Microsoft released Microsoft Dynamics NAV 5.0, which continued to leverage the parent company’s technology stack. For instance, users can now export data to Microsoft Office Excel and Word simply by clicking on the respective Excel or Word icons in any Microsoft Dynamics NAV screen.

Furthermore, users can synchronize common tasks in the suite with respective tasks in Microsoft Outlook. Namely, users can schedule meetings, manage contacts, and send e-mail messages in either application, and the data will automatically be updated in both programs. In fact, any field from any table in Microsoft Dynamics NAV can be synchronized with Microsoft Outlook. The only limitations might come from what the company’s information technology (IT) administrators decide to put as restrictions on a given user.

The Record Links feature makes unstructured information from all kinds of sources (e.g., e-mails or Web sites) easily available via links in Microsoft Dynamics NAV to increase productivity. In this product release, users can add links to any Web site or file stored on a document management system such as Microsoft SharePoint. For example, users could create links from an item in Microsoft Dynamics NAV to a product Web site, a video demo of the product, images of the product, or to other documents created in Microsoft Office.

Record links can be created in any Microsoft Dynamics NAV’s screen form, and can also be moving links. This means that when the same information is automatically moved from one area in a NAV application to another, the link will follow. For example, links created in sales quotes are automatically copied to the corresponding sales order when it is created, and to the invoice when it is posted.

Another convenient and time-saving feature comes from integration to Microsoft Windows Live Search Maps (previously Windows Live Maps and Windows Live Local). This nifty capability makes it easy to get a map and driving directions to a customer or business partner’s location directly from Microsoft Dynamics NAV (by simply clicking a button next to the relevant address, e.g., in the customer file or from the shipping manifest).

Continuing the work started in Navision 4.0, the built-in business analytics take advantage of the capabilities of Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) so that users can present meaningful information in a more appealing way. With online analytical processing (OLAP) tools enabled by Microsoft SQL Server, users can draw upon table relations within Microsoft Dynamics NAV 5.0 for a multi-dimensional view of data. These OLAP cubes can then be accessed in a reporting application tool, such as Microsoft Excel or the original Navision’s Business Analytics Advanced Viewer.

The abovementioned Commerce Portal was discontinued, but not necessarily because Microsoft SharePoint became the standard Microsoft Dynamics portal technology. Rather, SharePoint is primarily used internally in the organization using an intranet or extranet. But an e-commerce solution has quite different requirements, especially if you sell in a business-to-consumer (B2C) scenario.

Hence, providing e-commerce solutions for Dynamics NAV is a now a partner game with independent software vendors (ISVs) like DVP or Script Server. Dynamics NAV partners offer all things related to electronic commerce, including managing the volume load (you never know if you have 10 or 100,000 customers hitting your e-commerce storefront at the same time), payment services, etc. Partners have reused the business logic in NAV, so that items, prices, item pictures, etc. are still all maintained in NAV and the orders end up being processed in NAV.

For conducting automatic Internet-based commercial transactions in an application-to-application (A2A) manner, there is still the original Navision Commerce Gateway. It is a business-to-business (B2B) document integration solution based on Microsoft BizTalk Server. Commerce Gateway maps and trades business documents between Microsoft Dynamics NAV and other systems. Microsoft BizTalk Server works with the Microsoft Dynamics NAV application server to automate and speed up transactions like sales order handling.

But in addition to becoming ever more compliant with Microsoft’s technology stack, the 5.0 release featured a number of functional enhancements such as sales and purchase document approval; prepayments; inter-company purchase cost distribution; service order handling; account schedules; inventory costing; job shop control; item tracking; and kitting. Last but not least, to aid partners’ productivity, Dynamics NAV started leveraging the Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step rapid implementation methodology.

Enter Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009

Coming back to the main topic of this blog series, late 2008 saw the sixth major release of the product, dubbed Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009. As for the application’s new functionality (or functional enhancements), this was delivered with NAV 5.0 and deliberately kept out of the NAV 2009 scope (except of course for the RoleTailored UX feature, which some could argue is a functional enhancement).

In addition to the new RoleTailored UX design (via over 20 Personalized Role Centers) and improved business intelligence (BI)/reporting capabilities (which have all been replicated from earlier deliveries of these features within the Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 and Microsoft Dynamics GP 10 products). Dynamics NAV 2009 is additionally compliant with Microsoft .NET Framework Web Services for A2A integration, and exhibits a new “thinner client” technology within a three-tier architecture blueprint.

You can explore the Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009 product on your own (just follow along the guided exercises and demos by simply logging onto the test drive environment here using a Web browser), and without having to install it on your computer. The final part of this blog series will analyze how this product release might have mitigated the many traditional flaws of Microsoft Dynamics NAV (and former Navision) while building upon its traditional (if not proverbial by now) positive traits.

In the meantime, your views and comments are welcome as usual. If you are existing users of Dynamics NAV or its former Navision incarnations, what have been your experiences with these products and what is your take on the product’s future?
comments powered by Disqus