5 Tips to Save Costs Upgrading Microsoft Dynamics NAV to Business Central

By Rob Jolliffe | December 2, 2020
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Why now is the perfect time for you to upgrade Microsoft Dynamics NAV to Dynamics Business Central

Technically you aren't forced to upgrade your Microsoft Dynamics NAV to Dynamics Business Central system now. I have seen customers who run their ERP systems into the ground - like an old car that never gets repaired until it finally breaks down. This seems like a good way to save money in the short term. There is an assumption underlying this that I think could be a huge mistake.

The adage "Pay me now or pay me later"
comes to mind. The adage should be
"Pay me less now, or pay me way more later"
but we always forget that.

I can see the attraction of the "run it into the ground" approach, but in reality, it is pretty dangerous. An ERP isn't like a car. You can't go buy a new one and drive it off the lot, fully working and ready to go. I've seen customers who have reached a point where something has crashed their ERP system and it isn't really possible to get things back up and running properly. They limp long for months or even a year to get things stable.

The cost of the upgrade at that point is a tiny part of the real costs. The intangible loss of efficiency and productivity is multiple times the cost of the upgrade. This is not a good IT strategy and it runs the risk that your Microsoft Dynamics NAV system crashes with an outrageously expensive panic upgrade to get things back up and running.

Today Represents the lowest cost to upgrade from Microsoft Dynamics NAV that might ever exist

Right now (at least until the end of Summer 2021) it is possible to upgrade Microsoft Dynamics NAV to Dynamics Business Central and almost entirely mitigate all the risks related to retraining, change management and other stresses that go with ERP upgrades. Let me show you why in this article. You can lock in this upgrade any time before the deadline, and actually DO the upgrade within 12 months. So technically companies have until 2022 to sort this out.

In addition, this upgrade will set you up for FAR REDUCED upgrade costs in the future. At a minimum half the cost - but for some customers we see upgrades of $30,000 or $40,000 lowering to $3000 or $4000 in the future. This is related to Tip 3.

Tip 1: Reduce retraining risks upgrading Dynamics NAV to Business Central 14

Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013R2 Role Center
Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013R 2 Role Center

This is The Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013R2 Role Center. If you are on much older versions (such as Dynamics NAV 2009 or Navision 5.0) then this may be different from what you see. But if you are on any version released between 2012 and 2018 this is about what you would see.

Now for those of you who are concerned about change management, user training, user acclimatization to Business Central, this is what you are up against.

Microsoft Dynamics NAV client connected to Dynamics 365 Business Central
Microsoft Dynamics Business Central 14 running in the Dynamics NAV Client

This is The Microsoft Dynamics NAV client connected to Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central - version 14.7 to be exact. This was a version of Business Central released in the late fall of 2019. It's just about 1 year old.

Obviously, training users to use this version of Business Central will have a very low cost and a low change management investment.

Tip 2: Spread the costs of migrating to Dynamics Business Central modern client

Dynamics Business Central 14 is the last version with the Role Tailored Client. Since all Microsoft Dynamics NAV versions up to and including 2018 exclusively involve customers using the Role Tailored Client, upgrades did not require anyone to acclimatize a significant new interface.

Upgrading to BC 15 or higher, you would no longer have this benefit.

Upgrading to Business Central 14 gets you access to the Modern Client. This interface runs in a browser, and although it looks a bit different, is essentially the same information presented in a slightly different look and feel. By having a version where both the old and new interfaces are supported, your business can complete the most technically complex part of the upgrade (see Tip 3) and spread out change management efforts. You can keep your migration and upgrade costs down, or spread them over time to make them less stressful.

Users can be moved over gradually - and those who struggle can take their time. (NOTE: This only works for on-premise deployments - but see Tip 4).

Microsoft Dynamics Business Central Modern Client, significantly different from Microsoft Dynamics NAV

Tip 3: Convert your Microsoft Dynamics NAV C/AL Code to Dynamics Business Central AL code in Dynamics Business Central 14 for future savings.

The step of upgrading the code from one Microsoft Dynamics NAV version to another is very costly and always has been. This cost is reduced so much it's almost eliminated upgrading Microsoft Dynamics Business Central custom code from one version to another. The reason is Extensions and the Dynamics Business Central AL programming language.

How customized is your Microsoft Dynamics NAV implementation?

Most customers I talk to think they are very, very customized. The reality is that I find most Microsoft Dynamics NAV customers as having "moderate” levels of customization. These customers have a lot of small customizations like custom user fields and customized reports. The reality these are really easy to work with on an upgrade. It is very rare that we find customizations that are really complicated or radical.

Moving Microsoft Dynamics NAV C/AL
Code to Dynamics Business Central AL
might actually be easier than
upgrading from C/AL to C/AL!

Since the Dynamics Business Central AL language was introduced, a number of tools have been created by enterprising programmers to make it really easy to move these "small" customizations from Microsoft Dynamics NAV C/AL into Dynamics Business Central AL (also called Extensions). At Sabre, we've created tools to quickly move the data from C/AL to AL (something that was a big problem when AL was introduced).

We've even used it to migrate add-on programs from C/AL to Extensions that an add-on vendor (often called an ISV) said couldn't be done.

Having the Microsoft Dynamics NAV C/AL Language available in Business Central 14 can really reduce costs.

There are definitely a few things that can’t easily be done in AL – and C/AL might be required to make those customizations work. Luckily, in Dynamics Business Central 14 you can have a hybrid environment using both AL and C/AL.  For this reason, it makes the best stepping stone for Microsoft Dynamics NAV customers. There might come a time when you need to

Aside: Is it more to move code from Microsoft Dynamics NAV C/AL to Dynamics Business Central AL?

Some partners are quoting quite a bit more for upgrades that move a NAV customer's customizations from C/AL code to AL. I don't think this should be the case most of the time. If you have reasonably standard Microsoft Dynamics NAV customizations, the tools in the market to transition code are now so good that we believe it might be slightly less work to upgrade C/AL to AL. It's not a huge difference, but Dynamics Business Central AL has some nice features that make programming easier.

AL also has a huge advantage in testing: you can turn it off.

If your users are encountering an issue with Business Central 14 after upgrading, they can turn off an extension briefly. This lets them test the system without custom code. If they still have the problem, it’s most likely data or a user error. It's why we don’t think partners should add much (or any) more time to the project to convert from C/AL to AL. What added time there is can be offset by easier testing.

Tip 4: Your Converted Microsoft Dynamics NAV system can be Migrated to Dynamics Business Central Cloud at a very low cost!

Microsoft Dynamics Business Central 14 is the "lowest" version of Business Central that supports a data migration to the cloud. We have done this a few times now, and so long as you have converted all code to Dynamics Business Central AL Extensions, the migration is extremely easy.

It seems to take about 1 hour per Gigabyte of database. It continues to synchronize changes to the Dynamics Business Central cloud environment even while you keep using your On-Premise Business Central. I recorded a YouTube video on how to transfer on-premise data to the cloud in the summer of 2020, and there is some good information about data migration on Microsoft Docs.

Tip 5: Do your own testing of your Microsoft Dynamics NAV to Dynamics Business Central Upgrade!

I debate this with my colleagues in the Dynamics Community fairly often. When you upgrade your custom code, given that Microsoft might have made a few changes to the system and the programmer might have missed a badly documented piece of customization, it can be really tricky to test your system.

My peers think that their staff, who are trained Microsoft consultants and programmers, therefore should do the testing of the new system. This testing comes in two steps:

  1. You need to check and see if all the customizations have moved over, which can be tedious and sometimes involves opening each page or report one at a time and comparing them "side by side" (this is obviously easier to do if the old and new pages are extremely similar - such as Role Tailored client to Role Tailored client).
  2. You need to run through the "jobs" of end users, and validate that no errors or issues occur when trying to do their day to day.

The main reason this is done is that if you drop the testing on the customer's lap - they don't know how to test. The second reason might be that the consultants need work, and at a typical industry rate of $200 per hour, they can make a lot of money.

Most customers have never tested software upgrades because nobody has taken the time to explain it to them!

I think this is a mistake. I think that if an end-user is prepared in advance and the expectations are made clear, and that a systematic approach to testing is explained, they can handle it just fine.

If we look at the 2 steps above we can see why. Who better than the end user who works with a page every day to spot the mistakes or missing items. Give the end users a list of which pages or reports need to be checked, and let them go. They need to be prepared with a brief review. They should be trained to just to do a superficial pass over these, so they will do it quickly and efficiently and not get into the weeds.

Once the end-users have done step 1, then once again they will know best how they do their jobs. Prepare them to understand that it is likely they will encounter some issues. That is the whole point of the testing. If they know in advance that a number of issues might occur, then when they show up they won't freak out. Tell them to separate the process into steps - and test each step separately. Use previously done work to start each step. Don't create a new sales order from scratch and try and ship it. Ship one that was already there. Don't run a quote to cash test process until you test each individual step.

Finally, the 3rd step of testing - which is to run the end to end process - comes last. The end users will be more confident in the system by this time because they've seen the issues addressed and fixed as they went.

Conclusion

It is my hope that these cost saving efforts can really help you with your Microsoft Dynamics NAV upgrade to Dynamics Business Central. I also hope that this article helps you make the decision to move forward.

By the summer of 2021, you need to at least decide you will make the transition to Business Central and use version 14. You then have about 12 months from the point you make the conversion happen. From today - that means you have almost two years.

It generally takes about 1 month of technical time for Sabre to upgrade a typical Microsoft Dynamics NAV customer to Business Central. Add another month for administrative tasks like getting copies of databases and getting your team logged into a test upgrade.

As a customer, I recommend a minimum of 1 month of testing time. I personally would not set the go-live upfront. I'd let the first month of testing pass first and then set a go-live. Whether that testing is going fantastic or it is finding some issues - you will know better after a month when a logical go-live would be.

As I have outlined, I think using the BC 14 path cuts upgrade risks and costs. Testing is much easier with BC 14 because of the Role Tailored Client. The ability to “side by side” view the two versions in the Role Tailored Client is extremely helpful even if you move to the Modern Client right away.

With Dynamics Business Central AL extensions, future upgrades become easy and much, much cheaper. Moving to the cloud is almost trivial if you have created the extensions and eliminated all the Microsoft Dynamics NAV C/AL code.

There might be occasional programming that is hard to move to AL. You can leave a small amount of customization as Microsoft Dynamics NAV C/AL code and give you and Microsoft time to figure out how to upgrade in the future. Microsoft is regularly improving the AL language and adding features. Likely you will find an add-on or new feature that addresses the issue, including the AL language catching up to your needs.

Moving to BC 14 now is the best possible first step in that journey.

Need some help?

Have more questions about upgrading Microsoft Dynamics NAV to Dynamics Business Central? If you want to know about Business Central and its capabilities, you can visit Microsoft's Business Central site. If you would like a fixed fee quotation for a Microsoft Dynamics NAV upgrade, please give us a call at: (519) 585-7524 x.45 or contact our team, we're excited to talk with you soon!

Rob Jolliffe

Robert has been an ERP consultant in the Manufacturing space for over 25 years, starting immediately after graduating University of Toronto Engineering. In addition to a deep knowledge of Manufacturing (including teaching MRP at the Supply Chain program at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada) Robert holds a Microsoft Systems Engineer designation and is much less of an expert in Networking and IT infrastructure than he thinks, but is still pretty good. He also has applied his engineering skills to learning programming, and is warned frequently by the professional developers who work for him that he is pretty good, but don't write any code for customers without letting them check it.

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