Directions North America, which took place this year at the beginning of October in San Diego, took the form of a typical Microsoft Dynamics conference. However, in years previous, Directions was simply a Dynamics NAV partner convention. Now, with the next generation of NAV coming in the shape of Dynamics 365 Business Central, the conference is targeted at both NAV and Business Central audiences.
The general session once again saw a leap in attendance, just as it had seen a leap in attendance the year before. The clear impetus for these increased audience numbers was the inception of Dynamics 365 two years ago. An event which once exclusively hosted Dynamics NAV partners is quickly becoming an all-hands partner event.
Day one started with a bang with the introduction of “Intelligent Edge” in the first keynote of the day. Intelligent Edge was released with the GP 2018 R2 update this past October along with other on-premise Dynamics products. These on-premise solutions will now connect to an instance of our Intelligent Cloud through Business Central. When the connection is made, Microsoft will securely replicate your on-premise data to the Intelligent Cloud. This demonstration was the first of many examples throughout the week of Microsoft’s vision for the future.
Breakout sessions provided a lot of insight from both Microsoft employees and third-party service vendors alike. One large topic of focus this year was AppSource, Business Central’s marketplace for tools. Several third-party services have not been added to AppSource yet but are promising to get there soon. Currently, a lot of them still only function as customizations within on-premise NAV. Other services, like BI360 CPM (from Solver) and Jet Reports (now Jet Global), are live on AppSource.
One session I considered a must-attend event was “Dynamics GP turned Dynamics 365” where it was clear the majority of people in the room were GP partners with no 365 or NAV exposure. As with many of the breakout sessions I attended, the popular theme of integration made its way into this presentation. The Microsoft employee leading the presentation did a demo of the clever integration tool between GP and Business Central. Master records such as Vendors were transferred with ease. However, this was not as neatly done for General Ledger historical data. The tool takes your historical GP segments and transforms them into new dimensions. For example, if you have a natural segment in GP and two other segments, the tool will not be able to segregate those segments and assign them to a dimension. It will pull in the entire fully qualified account segments and new dimensions can be added, but it is a fairly messy process. To this point, it is better to review your chart of accounts and master list data and do a manual migration as of now, as you may want to clean and improve data at that point anyway.
The “What’s new in Business Central application” was highlighted by the fact that you can copy and paste any row list to another row list or in or out of Excel. The new feature that I’m personally the most excited about is the capability to copy account schedules. Copying account schedules has been a crusade of mine ever since we were one of the very small number of partners granted early access to project Madeira, which was the code name for Dynamics 365. Account schedules are essentially your report building tool. If you want to have two different custom reports and tweak one of them, this process is now much easier.
Aside from the abundant educational presentations, I also learned a lot from the Dynamics community at large during networking hours and about the many lingering concerns among partners about having to unlearn a certain number of things to get up to speed with Business Central. However, while some partners are nervous about learning the new ins and outs of Business Central, it will substantially benefit small-to-medium sized business owners as AppSource apps will be much easier to implement.
In review, Directions was a substantially helpful conference to attend as a partner. Dynamics partners and the potential user groups of this product are very excited for the future.