Microsoft launched Dynamics 365 Business Central in late 2018. At first glance, Business Central looks like a brand-new product, but it’s not – Dynamics 365 Business Central is the evolution of Microsoft’s popular ERP solution for SMEs: Dynamics NAV.

Technology moves quickly in a cloud-first world, and it can be tough to keep up with Microsoft’s frequent shuffling of brands, products, and features – particularly when it’s not clear what the real changes are behind a re-brand.

In this article, we’ve outlined what’s stayed the same in Dynamics NAV, where the key changes are as Dynamics NAV becomes Dynamics 365 Business Central, and how that impacts current users of Dynamics NAV.

A re-brand of the familiar core product

First, a bit of reassurance. Companies that depend on Dynamics NAV for critical business functions can be safe in the knowledge that, at its core, Business Central does what Dynamics NAV does.

Dynamics 365 Business Central is still the strong ERP solution that small and medium-sized businesses in a variety of sectors have grown to love. And yes, you can still deploy it on-premise if you prefer to do so.

It is common for tech companies to re-brand a product as it evolves, and that is what happened with Dynamics Business Central. In fact, in the long history of the Navision product, Business Central counts as the 3rd major rebrand since the original’s 1987 release.

Business Central is essentially version 13 of Dynamics NAV – the follow-up to Dynamics NAV 2018 R2, which was version 12.

However, the step from version 12 to 13 is a relatively large leap bringing several changes to the way Dynamics NAV is deployed. So, while the rebrand does not mean the product you rely on is going away, it may mean that you need to think a little differently about your Dynamics NAV deployment once you upgrade to Business Central.

So, what changed?

While we’re talking evolution rather than revolution, it’s worth understanding that a few key aspects of the NAV solution now look or work a bit differently. Deployment options have also changed and, no surprise here, so has licensing.

First, let’s take a look at the key changes in the UI and the functionality as Dynamics NAV switches to Business Central:

  • Modern, web-based UI. The most visible part of the shift to Business Central is the slick new web-based interface. Business Central drops the desktop apps of Dynamics NAV. Via the slick new web interface users enjoy a clearer presentation of more personalised information including better dashboarding and use of graphs. It’s the UI familiar to many existing Dynamics 365 users.
  • AL coding. In the past, customisation of a Dynamics NAV implementation was made integral to the core and written in the C/AL language. It made upgrades a big chore as modifications to core code had to be unpicked. Now, Business Central uses the AL language. Customisation comes in the shape of extensions – not alterations to the platform core. In theory, the upgrade process should be easier.
  • Better integration. When hosted in the cloud, Business Central should offer better integration with other Microsoft solutions – Dynamics 365 CRM, for example. Tools like Microsoft’s Common Data Service have the potential to break down data silos, making it much easier to obtain a single version of the truth. You also get access to advanced analytics via Power BI and access to Azure’s AI prowess.
  • If you’re happy with the way your Dynamics NAV solution is running then, UI aside, not that much is changing. However, it’s worth keeping an eye on the future and getting to grips with the benefits that improved integration with Azure, Common Data Services and Power BI means for your business.

Changes to the way Business Central is deployed

In shifting from Dynamics NAV to Dynamics 365 Business Central you need to be aware of the UI changes and how customisation is now accomplished via extensions. However, even if you’re deploying an unmodified version of Business Central, you should still watch out for a few changes that affect the deployment of your ERP:

  • Cloud hosting. You can now choose to run your entire NAV solution as a SaaS, cloud-first instance that’s hosted in Microsoft Azure. It offers the full functionality you’re used to alongside the flexibility of cloud-hosted solutions. The on-premise option remains if on-premise is your preferred mode of deployment, but you may miss out on close integration with cutting-edge Dynamics and Azure services.
  • Upgrades. Business Central adopts a bi-annual release cadence with two significant upgrades every six months. If your Business Central solution is deployed in the cloud you’ll automatically be upgraded, but you do have the option to delay your upgrade for 90 days. Microsoft also offers a handy notification window during which you can easily set up a sandboxed environment to test the new version.
  • Licensing. SaaS solutions are typically priced on a subscription basis, and that is the case with Business Central if deployed in the cloud. This can signal a major change in budgeting processes compared to perpetual licenses. In another shift, Business Central also moves away from licensing that is based on concurrent users to a new model based on the actual number of employees that use Business Central.
  • You’ll notice the impact of the above changes in the Business Central deployment model as soon as you upgrade from your Dynamics NAV solution – starting with Microsoft’s mapping of concurrent licenses to licenses tied to Named Users.

What’s the next step for your Dynamics NAV solution?

Dynamics NAV is now closed off to new customers – if you’re looking to deploy Microsoft’s ERP solution for SMBs you’ll automatically be redirected to Dynamics 365 Business Central.

For existing Dynamics NAV users, it’s clear that many aspects of NAV have been tweaked or changed in the evolution of Business Central. But, at its core, Business Central is the same product – with the same capable ERP functionality addressed at the same SMB audience.

Nonetheless, in the medium to long term, most users of Dynamics NAV will need to take some action to adopt Business Central. Your version of Dynamics NAV will eventually enter Extended Support and, at some point, no longer receive updates.

Depending on how you currently deploy your NAV solution and, of course, which version of NAV you’re on, you may find that upgrading to Business Central is seamless. Other implementations of NAV will require a bit more work to upgrade. Later in this series, we’ll publish a guide to upgrading from Dynamics NAV to Dynamics Business Central.

There are several obvious business risks to an out-of-support version of NAV. But we suggest that companies make an effort to stay up to date with the shift to Business Central anyway. The newer edition of Dynamics NAV brings significant benefits in terms of practical AI, analytics, and business processes.

Ready to take the leap to Microsoft’s next-gen ERP? Get in touch with Acora to see what you need to do to upgrade – or how your existing business processes can benefit from ERP.


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