After a needed hiatus, I am very excited about continuing solid coverage on the new development in the accounting/ERP software space: Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central. The hiatus was due to somewhat of an about-face by Microsoft in the fall of 2017 with regard to the direction of the product, and a resulting interruption in the next version launch. Fortunately, I am happy to report, Microsoft just announced the relaunch in the spring of 2018. To the pleasure of all, this delay has impacted very positively the development of the product. The newly released version is the most robust yet. We pick up the story from where we left off last year. (To view my past articles: Introducing Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Financials; Becoming a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider: Our Story; Dynamics 365 for Financials Targets SMB Accounting Market.)
Dynamics 365 is very technically sound and robust on features. It is by far Microsoft’s strongest foray into small and midsize business (SMB) financial products and one with the best chance of success. The goals of this article are to catch up readers on recent developments in the product’s life, outline important announcements by Microsoft, and begin a discussion of the product’s features and functionalities. All of this, from the experience and vantage point of someone who has been very well ingrained in QuickBooks products and the Intuit Reseller Program.
Most recognize that accounting and finance is often viewed as the last part of the business process — the general ledger being where numbers finally end up. In truth, accounting is central to the business, and every activity and transaction has a financial implication. Accounting professionals understand that finance is at the center of the operation and should be poised to capture data and insight from all other activities. This fits directly into the product’s change in branding: beginning with Dynamics 365 for Financials in the fall of 2016, to Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations last year, to the current Dynamics 365 Business Central, a name that encompasses the broad range of the software’s capabilities.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central Core Capabilities
Dynamics 365 Business Central is the hub of business activity and intelligence that provides the organization with end-to-end functionality to support the operational needs of small and growing businesses and the analytical power to turn data into a source of deep insight. The solution incorporates functionality from accounting, sales, purchasing, inventory management, CRM and more, creating a comprehensive view of the business rarely found in even larger enterprise solutions. Below are the core functionalities of Dynamics 365 Business Central:
The above is what can be done in a Dynamics 365 Business Central company. In addition to that, you can open and utilize multiple companies under a single sign-on, without additional per-company software subscription cost. And you can use intercompany documents or journals to post transactions across different company databases. For instance, when posting an intercompany document or journal line in Company A, a corresponding document or journal line is created in the intercompany outbox for posting into Company B, without having to reenter the data.
For sales and purchase documents, the intercompany code on the involved customer or vendor ensures that all orders and invoices generated pertaining to transactions with these companies will produce corresponding documents in the related company, resulting in correct balancing of the accounts.
Integration with Office 365 and Digital Transformation
A key feature of Dynamics 365 Business Central is the tight integration with Microsoft productivity and intelligence applications. Seamlessly capturing interactions through Outlook email, charting performance in real time with Power BI dashboards, taking advantage of predictive supply management with Cortana intelligence, and simplifying data reporting and analysis with direct Excel integration are all areas where Office 365 adds tremendous power and flexibility. Rather than operating as mere add-ons, these products become integral to the solution’s value and enhance its capabilities to a degree that cannot be overstated.
Just as Office 365 takes advantage of the capabilities of the cloud, so does Dynamics 365 Business Central. Available anytime, anywhere, and on any device, businesses no longer need to work around premise-based solutions or find ways to develop remote access for remote and mobile users. Further, users benefit from functionality oriented towards their tasks without being placed directly in the financial solution or application areas that have little or no meaning to the job they perform.
At the same time, the solution brings cohesion to business data, eliminating disparate silos of information and enabling comprehensive and in-depth analysis of all aspects of business activity. Additional data “dimensions” may be added throughout the system to enhance analytical capability, introducing data elements that may not be derived from transactions or activities, but that represent an additional metric for calculation or reporting. This includes dimensions as custom fields, available anywhere in any part of any transaction, header, or detail.
Enabling not just smarter and more flexible working models, Dynamics 365 Business Central establishes a foundation for business digital transformation by bringing comprehensive data collection, real-time analysis, and intelligent action/response automation into a realm accessible by small businesses.
Digital transformation is about changing the foundations of how businesses operate, enabling processes and workflows that are designed to take advantage of digital technologies and support all aspects of the business. This move toward embracing cloud and digital is essential for businesses to not only take advantage of emerging opportunities, but also to remain competitive — and function better in today’s rapidly changing environment.
Greater agility in the business coupled with the need for greater business intelligence is fueling the movement, and those firms that can assist their clients in meeting these demands are more likely to remain competitive. Cloud computing solutions are in high demand because they allow businesses to scale easily and affordably while providing the mobility and remote access workers require. More fundamentally, cloud computing services improve collaboration by users and by applications, enabling seamless integration of functionality and data from various sources.
Dynamics 365 Business Central embodies this concept, tightly integrating not just data but processes and workflows to tie activities and transaction data together and provide a comprehensive view. Some of these capabilities are clearly identified in the setup of the system, which walks users through the integrations that:
- Enable sending email messages directly from sales order or contact management screens;
- Set up the ability to use and launch Business Central from Outlook;
- Establish the ability to automatically notify an approver when a user tries to change values in documents, journal lines, and cards; and
- Trigger the logging of email correspondence in Business Central to memorialize interactions.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central Implementation Thoughts
With most business solutions having ERP functionality, getting started is among the bigger challenges, and often represents significant investment in time and effort. Lots of setup steps and configuration options can cause scope creep and delays in getting systems up and running. Dynamics 365 Business Central is designed to help business get up and running quickly, accelerating time to value and delivering more immediate business benefit. Business Central includes standard configurations for most business processes, but users can change the configuration to suit the needs of their company.
For professionals who set up the solution for multiple clients, or when there are multiple company entities for a single client, Business Central introduces an innovative approach that helps create repeatable implementations. This reduces time spent and enhances productivity by automating and simplifying recurring tasks and setup steps.
Until the Next Installment
This development from Microsoft is an intriguing and promising opportunity for SMB accounting/ERP consulting. In coming articles, I plan to cover the elephant-in-the-room comparison of Dynamics 365 Business Central with QuickBooks, as well as more on features and functionalities. I am happy to share as we grow into this new world, facilitating your path to growth and breadth of knowledge.