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dyn365As we move into the year’s final month, many business minds turn to thoughts of replacing old or aging financial / ERP systems.  (What, you thought their minds turned to sugar plum fairies just ‘cause it’s December?)

We’ve long espoused the strengths of the Dynamics NAV product, since even before Microsoft acquired the company around 2004.  (Disclosure: PSSI has been a Dynamics NAV reseller since 2002.)  Feedback industry gurus and editors after the recent annual NAV “Directions” Conference we attended in Phoenix earlier this year indicates where the market is heading these days.  Today, we’ll share a few of those thoughts with our readers…

Microsoft talks often about its cloud initiatives, especially Azure.  With the recent announcement of Dynamics 365, Microsoft’s cloud ERP offering, the seeds of confusion were sown.  As it stands, the simple take is this: the Microsoft ERP roadmap shows two versions of D365 will be offered.

The first is an extension of the product released in summer code-named Madeira – that’s basically a lower-end, financials-only NAV cloud offering with subscription pricing.  This product is called the Business Edition.  It appears positioned, with a very low entry price point, at folks coming off a product like QuickBooks who have grown to require a higher level of functionality.  It seems also targeted at NetSuite, but at a much lower price point.

The other flavor of D365 will be a mashup of Microsoft CRM and the current Dynamics AX product.  That will be called the Enterprise Edition.

But Microsoft also has tacitly recognized that not all customers want cloud.  In fact, according to Ray Wang, a partner at Constellation Research, “more than half of customers prefer the on-prem” solution.

Our own observations among SMB clients (in the $10M to $100M revenue range) is that the overwhelming choice preference is for the on-premise variety, since they’re mostly involved in manufacturing and distribution, where cloud solutions are simply too risky for their day to day shop floor operations to rely upon.

Nonetheless, Wang and others predict Microsoft will continue a heavy push to move clients to cloud solutions.  The answer to the obvious question of “Why?” is simple enough: it’s a lot more profitable to Microsoft.  Customers who lock into cloud solutions are not likely to ask for their data back (wherever it might be) very often, and the monthly recurring revenues are locked in long term.  It’s a sweet deal for the provider.  But as Wang also notes, after about 5 years of subscription pricing, a customer ends up paying more for cloud than they would for on-prem, where the software is largely a one-time payout.

Says Constellation Research’s Wang: “If you own on-premises software, and you are diligent at updating the software for regulatory, tax, and other legal requirements, there’s no real good reason to move to the cloud and pay more over 5 years.  However, if you need the constant innovation in the product, then the cloud may make more sense.”

erp-failureAs we conclude the month of November, it’s a time of year when many companies start thinking hard about their business information systems — well, at least those not deep in the throes of the retail Christmas market.  Late in the year and early in the year following are the times we see the most activity.  In that light, let’s look today at some key project success (or failure!) criteria…

Panorama Consulting, an ERP outfit in Colorado releases an annual survey of companies’ feedback compiled from the results, successes, failures, gripes and kudos of their own ERP implementations, all bundled into a report.  In this year’s report, they confirm what is commonly known on the “sell” side of the industry, but less well known, apparently, on the buyers’ side.

As their 2016 report illustrates, while “data” issues were technically the number one reason cited among respondents (at 15%) for ERP implementation schedule overages (i.e., projects coming in late, by a little or a lot), a better way to look at it we felt – and so did Panorama by the way – is to combine two essential and related factors: Training and Organizational Change Management issues.  When put together, these two factors were responsible for 17% of projects being delayed, often seriously so.

While data issues are indeed real – it’s almost always harder than anyone thinks, and more costly, to transfer data from old to new systems – those situations are eventually manageable, usually through comprise on both sides.  But training and organizational management issues fall squarely on the shoulders of the companies whose systems are being implemented.

What is meant by organizational change management?  Basically, attending to the needs of the people in your organization – and how they affect (or will be affected by) the improvement or implementation of your work processes and ERP.  These issues include involving your team (and seeking their input) throughout the ERP implementation process… reworking processes and the people that control them… establishing baselines for your key performance indicators with team buy-in… understanding how you will manage communication issues within the team… and determining your most effective training strategies for all involved.

Then, it’s important to execute on all of it, right down to – most importantly – ensuring adequate training for all your staff.  Because when projects fail, and they do, it usually comes down to the OCM plan, execution and subsequent employee training.

It’s important as well, as Panorama points out in a recent article to “tailor your organizational change strategy to fit your corporate culture and strategy.”  That means doing an internal assessment early in your project to determine what changes are necessary, how (and when, and by whom) they will be implemented and where training will have the most impact.

The bottom line: the most critical thing is to pay attention to is the people side of change.  As the authors conclude, it’s the path for getting to measurable business results, and affects your whole team.

Whether your Thanksgiving tastes run to Charles Schultz or to Norman Rockwell … we send the warmest of Thankgiving wishes to all our friends, families, partners and customers…

thanksgiving-2016_schultz thanksgiving-2016_rockwell

…from all of us at Productivity Strategies & Solutions!

 

And hey… No working today (unless it’s on the meal)!

avalara_primarylogo_tagline_pngOur firm partners occasionally with one of the leading providers of automated sales tax solutions – Avalara.  They’re a team of tax and software industry veterans who’ve created a very cool cloud based solution for managing business’ sales tax and exemption complications.  If your firm sells into many different states or taxing districts, their solution can help you manage the process and more importantly, stay compliant.  States make a lot of money dunning small businesses for not being compliant, and so Avalara has built a very successful niche.

Today, we’ll reprise 7 best practices they recommended in a recent white paper you can also find here.

1. Know where you have nexus.  Nexus means that a business must collect state sales tax if it has a substantial physical presence in a state. Recently, nexus laws have expanded to include distribution, independent agents, remote employees and affiliate networks. Be certain you understand where you are required to collect tax and keep up to date on nexus changes to protect against non-compliance penalties.

2. Keep up with product and service taxability changes.  Most sales of Tangible Personal Property (TPP) are subject to tax. This has begun to shift to include intangibles, with many states now routinely apply sales taxes to certain services. Keep apprised of product and service taxability as rules evolve and adjust your accounting systems and taxing practices accordingly.

3. Use the right tools to get the right rates.  It’s common for businesses to shortcut researching sales tax rates by using ZIP code tools. Unfortunately, taxing jurisdictions don’t always follow ZIP codes. Tax rates can vary even within an individual ZIP code and counties and municipalities can levy sales taxes in addition to state rates. Geospatial mapping (the same technology as Google Maps), is more accurate and can calculate sales tax “down to the rooftop.”

4. Efficiently manage exempt sales.  Not all customers are required to pay sales tax. Depending on the rules in a taxing jurisdiction, certain businesses and individuals may be exempt. If you’re the seller, it is incumbent on you to collect valid exemption certificates, keep them on file and track their expiration and renewal dates.

5. Know where and how to remit sales tax.  Businesses must using correct forms and formats for each jurisdiction and meet filing deadlines. This can get complicated with multiple locations and nexus, exponentially upping the odds of missing a file date, rate change or certificate renewal date and increasing non-compliance and audit risk.

6. Be audit ready.  The most critical action you can take to pass an audit is to collect sales tax properly over time and ensure that you have properly documented every step of the transaction. Audits are much less painful when transaction history, exemption certificates and other relevant information is readily available. If your practices, calculations and records are in good shape, you should be too.

7. Streamline your process.  Outsourcing and automation are efficient, cost-effective alternatives to manual processes. Look for a cloud provider that integrates with your accounting, point-of-sale, ERP or ecommerce system and offers a full suite of transactional tax services—calculation, fi ling and handling of exemption certificates. Of all the best practices outlined above, this last one—outsourcing tax compliance —gives you the best return on investment by pretty much taking care of the rest.

new-navWe noted in our prior post that Dynamics NAV 2017 debuted some new Outlook integration features with its new release of Oct. 24, 2016.  We noted some of MSDynamicsWorld.com’s editor Jason Gumpert’s comments on those features, and today we’ll reprise his comments on the new NAV features that integrate with Excel and Office 365.

The new NAV add-in for Excel utilizes NAV 2017’s new support for something called OData Version 4 in its web services framework, Gumpert notes.

“NAV data can be imported to Excel for smarter, more granular, bi-directional work. In short, that means NAV data can be imported into Excel, edited while maintaining the integrity of non-editable fields (for example, a journal entry balance cannot be updated), and pushed back to NAV with rules intact.”

Development of NAV these days occurs largely in rapid-fire, typically two-week sprints, along the lines of the “agile” methodology in software development.  In other words, frequent and quick new releases of updated features, as in contrast to the old once-a-year paradigms of the past.  In fact, some of these new capabilities previewed at the NAV Directions conference in October in Phoenix were only days old.  Even so, as Gumpert points out, some of the capabilities exhibited included:

  • Understanding pre-set values like enforcing the selection of true or false for a field
  • Improved interaction with the user due to its ability to pull all details of a field or table from NAV because it understands a data type
  • Error handling when trying to publish data back to NAV. If something goes wrong, the issues are highlighted in the rows in Excel, such as an unacceptable field value.

One final new twist: NAV has a new tie-in with one of the newest Office 365 toolbox apps called Bookings.  The app was developed outside of NAV, but it allows a business running NAV to identify services, work schedules and employees, and then allows customers of that business to book appointments for those services and workers. NAV then can synchronize those contacts with ones in NAV CRM and the services with those managed in NAV.

Future version are said to include the ability to then directly invoice those services from NAV based on the work performed.

Clearly, NAV continues to evolve, to the benefits of all its customers base of what is now an amazing 130,000 companies worldwide.  If you are known by the company you keep, then NAV users can indeed consider themselves in good company, with a continually evolving product.

 

 

nav2017-quote-outlookMicrosoft’s latest release of Dynamics NAV, released October 24th features a number of new productivity enhancements in the ways NAV interacts with Outlook and Excel.  MSDynamicsWorld.com’s editor Jason Gumpert recently reviewed a few (note: free subscription required) and we’ll share today what he had to say about them.

For starters, he notes:

NAV’s integration, via an Outlook add-in, adds an extra pane alongside regular email content that will render the relevant NAV page interfaces (based on the NAV web client) in context. So a user can view data related to a contact, order, quote, or vendor in the context of an email from one of those parties and to take the next relevant action with bi-directional accuracy.

The second key interface mechanism is the “Document link” link or mechanism that shows up in Outlook on both emails and meeting invitations when the NAV add-in for Outlook detects the mention of a NAV document in a communication. Clicking on that “Document link” action just above an email brings the NAV content into full view, and the user can work on it (i.e., update the details of a quote) from within Outlook.

When an email from a vendor is received in Outlook, NAV tries to identify any invoice that has been received and store that as an incoming document that can then be processed by the default OCR service (an add-in from Lexmark) and submitted to NAV as an invoice.

Now also, if you utilize NAV’s CRM functionality, emails from your sales contacts can be recognized by Outlook as existing contacts, or added to an account if they are not otherwise recognized.  There are some limits here (for example, it doesn’t track and store email interaction with the contact for others in your organization to see historically), but it’s a nice addition nonetheless.

The new Outlook add-in for NAV has a feature where it will look for patterns of data, for example words like “sales order” followed by a number that follows a sequence in NAV.  If the add-in thinks it may have a match in NAV, it will show that “document link” in Outlook.

There are workflow enhancements as well.  Email notifications in NAV now tie in with document links.  An invoice approval process can now be kicked off with a button-click.  The approver can then send the full invoice and simply approve it from within Outlook.

NAV’s jobs functionality now integrates with the Outlook calendar.  Here’s how Gumpert describes it:

Job planning lines can be managed in Outlook as meeting requests to track the job details like location and assignment, but also the allotted time. The worker assigned that job can then follow up with the actual time spent and submit that back from the meeting request so that NAV can finalize the job’s planning line and use it to create an invoice. The add-in also provides duplicate checking and sends a notification to warn a user creating an invoice against a job if another invoice for that customer is already in work.

The new Outlook integration works with both the desktop and the web client.  While not there yet, the NAV mobile app will likely soon begin supporting such add-ins as well.

Our post on just the Outlook integration took so long here, we’ll have to devote a second post to the new Excel and Office 365 integration points… so stay tuned, and we’ll go there in our next post.

 

pssi_logo_2010This is the conclusion of a two-part post originally published over three years ago, but still very relevant today.  Please start with part one, which you’ll find here.  After finding their project way over the budgeted duration and dollars, our client agrees to a Business Process Analysis.

 

So this time around, they agreed to accept our earlier offer to provide a real analysis.  When they finally fired their previous reseller, they were a quarter million dollars into the project — on a $125,000 quote – a cost overrun that was ten times the cost of the analysis we’d initially proposed.  And by this time they were also about 20 months into their nine month project.  And they still weren’t anywhere near “live.”

Now, here’s the thing: The type of analysis required to design an ERP implementation has to be done somewhere along the way.  Think about it.  You can’t prescribe a solution without knowing the problem.  But doesn’t it make more sense to do the analysis first, before you make any further decisions?  Our client would have been well served by doing so.  By planning on the fly as they did, they ran into countless modifications and change orders (which in themselves were consistently under-quoted as well) that ultimately doubled the expected cost of their system (and remember, they still weren’t “live.”)

By separating the BPA from the rest of the work, you can make two decisions: the first is whether to proceed with the actual ERP implementation.  The second is to determine whether the consulting team you’ve chosen to work with appears up to the task.  And you can make both those decisions by making a commitment to a project that on average should cost only about $10,000 to $15,000.

Unfortunately, a lot of salespeople in the industry continue to tell customers what they want to hear.  Customers don’t know.  Technology confuses or even scares them.  They want to trust and believe their providers.  As such, it is incumbent upon those who provide the products and services to give clients an honest upfront assessment of the scope of their project in both time and money.  After all, you can’t make a $250,000 project into a $100,000 project and expect the same results.

But you can plan, phase and budget accordingly.  You can create a win-win scenario.  And you can ensure that both provider and customer sleep well at night.  Not every night mind you – implementing a new system is always tough and fraught with problems and issues.  But done right, eventually, everyone can walk away a winner.

The lessons of our story are simple and direct.  The business process analysis is the only place to start.  Done right, it requires experienced consultants doing detailed work who can understand the business side of your enterprise, study your workflows, and then make appropriate recommendations.  Not everyone can do it, and as to those who offer it for “free” – well, if the price sounds too good to be true… it probably is.  It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, but it is by definition a paid engagement that sets the groundwork and provides the roadmap for the real ERP implementation work that follows.

The BPA will provide that roadmap, and often, choices too.  It will tell you whether your project and associated wish list will cost $100,000, $1 million, or (likely) somewhere in between.  It will tell you, at least roughly, how long to expect an implementation to take, what phases you might break it into, and what the costs of those phases are estimated to be.

And for the record, for clients who engage us for a BPA, we provide a system estimate thereafter, with no further obligation, free of charge.

And it will tell you all of that before you make a commitment to a project that you weren’t really prepared to make after all.  In the last analysis, it’s the only way to go.  And the best way we’ve found in over 25 years to lower the overall cost of your project.