Microsoft Business Central Has Changed the Rules for Cloud Manufacturing ERP

By Rob Jolliffe | July 13, 2021
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Most people don't get too excited about cloud ERP, after all it is a dull subject for most. That said, Microsoft Dynamics Business Central is a new kid on the block, and they are making a lot of noise in this space. Business Central is part of the same platform where people go to get Outlook, Word, Excel etc. It's part of Microsoft 365, and Microsoft Business Central manufacturing ERP is gaining a lot of fans.

A big reason why Business Central is becoming so popular has to do with how it is licensed. Business Central is among the first cloud based ERP systems that fully supports manufacturing processes, and is truly month-to-month subscription based. The dirty secret in the cloud ERP world is that most of the big systems are cloud and they are subscription - but they are year to year licenses. When you go looking into the bigger players, you are often laying out tens of thousands of dollars to get started. This is better than when ERP systems had a six figure price tag just to get going. With this new pricing model, for the Small and Medium company Microsoft Business Central manufacturing is far better.

Get Started Fast and Cheap

You can get started with Business Central, as a manufacturing company needing ERP, for as little as $128 Canadian a month. That's it. One user, $128 month to month. Put in your credit card and start today. Starting with Microsoft Business Central manufacturing is as easy as that.

That doesn't include training, which we'll talk about below, but it does include the software running in the cloud, server-less and super easy.

With the urgent problems many businesses experienced during the pandemic (mostly related to working from home, remote workforces etc.), many businesses are re-evaluating their ERP systems. COVID 19 exposed problems with the configuration, implementation and the technology of manufacturing ERP. This has lead to an explosion of Business Central interest.

Learning Business Central | The Classic Implementation

Business Central is actually Microsoft Dynamics NAV. That's why Microsoft Business Central manufacturing is so powerful because it leverages all of what NAV could do. If you look in the Help/About screen of Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2018 you will find the version is 11.0. If you look at the Help/About screen of the first version of Business Central you would find version 12.0. That is no coincidence. Business Central is actually Microsoft Dynamics NAV. They are the same product, just sold in different ways and with a new web interface.

As cloud manufacturing ERP engagements roll out, users need Business Central manufacturing training. You will find that the vast majority of resellers are still implementing it like they did Dynamics NAV. The approach they take to implementing and training Business Central has really not changed that much, despite major changes to the product.

This classic implementation tends to be very heavy on "discovery" - which is the process of the partner learning about your business. If you are a manufacturing company, this means you are going to be teaching them manufacturing 101. The partner is going to use this consulting time, along with their strong abilities to custom program. In the end, most customers end up with a lot of consulting hours, a lot of programming hours, and a bit of training.

That can make these classic implementations tend to be harder to get government funding for, as they are heavy on consulting and programming - which is not always covered by funding.

Learning Business Central | The Quick and Dirty Way

Stealing a page from Netsuite, which was one of the earliest cloud ERP systems, many Business Central partners are offering "Quick Start" training programs. These are meant to get you up and running with the system fast and cheap. These fixed fee implementations are entirely cookie cutter. The partners who sell these training packages will spend a brief period of time learning about your business (if any at all) and guide you through a standard training program intended for anyone in any industry.

For those businesses where accounting processes are the most important, this can work great. They are definitely the step up from Quickbooks.

For the typical manufacturing company, these training programs leave a lot to be desired.

The partner is not really all that interested in training best practices or industry specific techniques. You may learn the basics of how Microsoft Business Central manufacturing capabilities can be used, but you're not guided as to how best to use them for your business. Cloud manufacturing ERP can be complicated to implement because manufacturing companies are complicated.

This approach can be easier to get government funding for, but end up leaving the company with a lot of extra costs and training over and above the original package.

Learning Business Central | A Fixed Fee Business Focused Way

Some partners (such as Cambridge, Ontario based Sabre Limited) have started to train customers not just to use Microsoft Business Central manufacturing features; but also to implement industry best practices. This can be done by partners that specialize in specific industry verticals.

There has been research done into this by a number of sources. An ERP partner with a specific industry background has been shown to have a higher success rate implementing systems. In fact, it has been well established that partners inexperienced in an industry dramatically increases the failure rate of ERP implementations.

If you blend this high skill partner with a structured fixed fee implementation methodology, you get a very easily funded training program for ERP. For instance, Sabre Limited designed its training programs to act more like a college course than the typical ERP implementation. At the same time, the focus on change management and best practices means more quality time training staff.

The deeper focus on manufacturing leads to greater chances of success, and the well defined program makes it easier to fund. Definitely a win/win for everyone.

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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