Considerations for Growing Companies Adopting Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central
In establishing and refining a modern workplace experience, evaluating and implementing the right technologies can enable growing companies to operate more effectively and uncover new potential in the current business landscape. Microsoft Dynamics 365 (D365) is one such platform that streamlines business operations by integrating data, business processes, and logic.
D365 Business Central is the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software within Dynamics 365 that helps small and medium-sized businesses to grow by streamlining business functions and technology, working seamlessly together on a scalable platform. When assessing ERPs, organizations often choose D365 Business Central for its uncomplicated integration platforms with accessible features, rich functionality, and vendor viability. Also, the user interface is similar to Microsoft Office 365 products, which are familiar to most users, so change management tends to be simple and straightforward. This makes it easier for growing organizations to adopt. When a company decides to move to D365 Business Central, it should consider which hosting, licensing, modules, and other tailored approaches best enable its business and growth goals.
Evaluating D365 Business Central hosting options
When a business deploys D365 Business Central, it can choose between three deployment models across on-prem, cloud-based software-as-a-service, or hybrid hosting options. Each of these solutions encompasses specific properties that address a variety of business needs, time frames, and budgets.
1) The on-prem hosting option
On-prem solutions allow businesses to control physical server environments and related security protocols as well as when upgrades or updates occur. With this solution, access and performance are not reliant on the internet, and the company is able to access the environment via SQL, providing a more direct access option to data if needed. Additionally, there are options for perpetual or subscription licensing via named users or named devices. However, an on-prem solution typically comes with higher costs to support server environments, maintenance, and time-based upgrades. If the business remains on an older version of the technology beyond the term of its intended product life, then the company will also incur the risk of losing product support from Microsoft.
2) The SaaS hosting option
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions are often appealing because of its lower starter cost. It does not require a server environment, and the software is upgraded twice a year to ensure the business is always able to use the latest version. By contrast, SaaS relies on reliable internet connectivity, which can cause delays or failure if issues with connection arise. There are also storage costs if the database exceeds 80 GB. Additionally, this solution provides subscription licensing only, which limits use of the application to specific named users or devices.
3) The hybrid hosting option
The hybrid hosting solution is much like having an on-prem license, with private hosting available on a public cloud such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, or similar options. Like a fully on-prem solution, perpetual or subscription pricing options are available via named user or named device licensing, and these hybrid solutions offer complete access to the business data that is found in SQL Server tables and related configurations.
In addition, a hybrid solution will allow a business to control when D365 software upgrades or updates take place. Although the hybrid solution has desirable characteristics, the associated price should be something businesses consider. The solution typically comes with higher costs than a SaaS solution for a server environment and maintenance, and upgrades over time are also more costly. Over time, there is also a risk of losing support if businesses choose to defer upgrades or updates and stay on an older version of the product. Similar to SaaS, a hybrid solution relies on adequate internet access and speed.
Navigating platform licensing needs
A variety of available licensing types control global access, user-specific access, or external support. The license types that control global access to the modules include essentials and premium, although licensing configurations cannot be split between the two. A license for essentials gives access to all modules except manufacturing and service modules; a premium license provides access to all modules.
To control user-specific access, licensing options include:
- Full license: provides users access to all modules, given the global license type and system permissions. This license is for the solution’s common daily user.
- Team license: provides users the ability to complete reporting, approvals, or singular functions such as quote entry, requisition entry, or master data updates. This license is for light users only needing to complete reporting, approvals, or light master data maintenance.
- Device license: enables a remote device, such as a handheld scanner, to connect to the environment. This license is for any connected device to the solution.
Licensing that enables access methods for external parties or other additional features include:
- External auditors can be granted up to three licenses, available for external users to access the environment in a read-only capacity.
- Partners responsible for technology implementation can access the environment with no license, provided the company’s hosting option resides on the SaaS mode
- Customer source access is also provided once licensed in any model noted above, which provides access to the portal for video training, product information, and support.
Addressing business needs with tailored solutions or available modules
Depending on the business need, companies can implement a variety of modules. The needs for using any ERP can vary widely, ranging from satisfying straightforward accounting and reporting needs to a full-scale accounting and operations system that runs all operations and financial activities through a single platform. The implementation team should keep business objectives in mind and determine whether it would be more suitable for the company to implement a core, out-of-the-box, module (such as customer relationship management, or CRM) or a “best-of-breed” solution (such as D365 Sales & Marketing).
Out-of-the-box modules offer solid functionality across the defined areas; however, businesses sometimes require a more robust and detailed solution in a particular area that exceeds the core system functionality. (Modules to consider include financial management, supply chain management, warehouse management, project management/jobs, customer relationship management, human resources management, manufacturing, and service management).
For example, if a business is heavily involved in sales to all states across the country, instead of manually managing the tax tables within the solution, they may opt for a sales tax add-on from a provider such as Avalara or Wolters Kluwer to automate the maintenance and application of sales tax accordingly.
There is also an opportunity to acquire add-ons, which deliver applications that increase the capabilities of standard functionality or introduce new functionality such as integrated shipping with carriers which allows for all shipping labels and paperwork to be generated within the solution versus needing to use carrier solutions like UPS WorldShip or FedEx Shipping Manager.
Add-on technologies are created by trusted partners and validated by Microsoft so that core functionality or future upgrades of D365 are not negatively impacted by any add-on technologies a company employs. Most are embedded into the solution, so the user does not know they are using an add-on application. Add-ons are available from the AppSource portal, Microsoft AppSource Link.
Integrating the platform or creating extensions
D365 Business Central integrates smoothly, allowing relatively easy integration configurations to allow the application to connect to other business critical systems that need to communicate with one another to support streamlined business processes and make sure data is presented to proper team members to support required job functions. The system can connect to third-party application programming interfaces (APIs) to pull or push data accordingly. This can be helpful in the event the third-party system cannot connect to the web service pages published from D365 Business Central, or if the company desires its integration code to be located within D365 Business Central. Middleware solutions can also be used to transfer data between D365 Business Central and third-party systems. If a file-based integration is the only option, then this can be supported using cloud-based storage (such as Azure Storage) or standard or secure file transfer protocol (FTP/sFTP) services.
If the system needs to support a business process that is not standard and that an AppSource application cannot support, the system can also be extended to meet any business requirement. While this is typically not a preferable scenario due to complexity or costs, it is sometimes a necessary choice to get the exact behavior required of a solution and the platform.
For growing organizations, the D365 Business Central solution from Microsoft is a flexible and scalable solution designed to meet myriad company requirements across many industries. The platform can be effectively used as is, out-of-the-box, but it can also be tailored to support complex business requirements as needed. Tailored solutions can be implemented using add-ons or through integration and extension work to ensure the company using the software is fit with the right tools to accelerate the business into the future.