Monday, July 2, 2018

Move Forward, Every Day. And Bring Chocolate Cake.

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By Steve Endow

Change Is Hard

It's trite, I know.  But it doesn't make it less true.

I think it's worthwhile to pause and take a moment to consider how difficult change can be.  Actually acknowledge it.

Change can be uncomfortable, scary, and stressful.  Change can be costly and arduous and tiring.  Change can be inherently destructive.

It often feels much easier to ignore it, delay it, or pretend it isn't happening.  But you can't always avoid change.  Sometimes you have time to prepare for change, and sometimes you have no advance notice.

In the ERP world, consultants see the symptoms of change regularly when customers implement a new ERP system.

"My old system did X, why can't the new system do X?"

"I just don't have time to learn this new system. I have too much work to do!"

"I liked the old system better."

Turnabout is Fair Play

But occasionally, it seems that those pesky consultants get a taste of change.

Microsoft has changed quite a bit since it acquired Great Plains Software.  Great Plains was rebranded as Dynamics GP, and the GP team at Microsoft put a lot of work into the product, adding new features and expanding its capabilities.

But over the last several years, Microsoft has invested heavily in its 'cloud computing' strategy, with Azure and Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings.  As part of the cloud strategy, Microsoft has also invested heavily in ERP software as a service, hosted in Azure.

Dynamics AX has become Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations, and Dynamics NAV has now, finally, become Dynamics 365 Business Central.  Dynamics GP is notably not on the Microsoft Azure ERP SaaS menu.  It's our turn to change.

Ahh, Memories

I've worked with Dynamics GP since 2004.  After you work with a product for fourteen years, you get to know it very well.  You know it so well that you develop an intuition around the product.  It's comfortable.  It's familiar.  It's stable.  You have access to all of the resources and tools you need to work with it.  You know how to solve problems.  You know how to help people.  And you know how to make a living working with it.

But, it's now 2018, and change is upon us.

And change is hard.  (Did I mentioned that already?)

Despite all of my knowledge of Dynamics GP, learning Dynamics 365 Business Central feels like starting from scratch.  Yes, it's "just" a different flavor of ERP software, but so many things are different.  The licensing, the login, the user interface, the terminology, the architecture, the data model, the reporting, the security, the customization, and the development tools.  It's all new, and feels very foreign.

Even after working with Dynamics GP for 14 years, I'm still constantly learning new things about GP, so I am now wondering:  How long it is going to take me to become minimally competent with Dynamics 365 Business Central?  And then how long to become proficient?  And how long to become an 'expert'?

Months?  A year?  Multiple years?  A decade?

How many hours need to be invested to reach those milestones?  Certainly more than a few hundred for minimally competent.  A thousand or more for proficiency?  Several thousand to approach expert?

But I can't just drop everything that I'm doing and study Dynamics 365 Business Central full time.  I still need to "work", make money, and continue to support my Dynamics GP customers.

And then there's my Microsoft MVP status, which requires that I continue to constantly learn, blog, speak at conferences, and participate in community events.  And even the MVP program recently underwent a significant change, with a dramatic reduction in renewals for 2018 for reasons that are not yet understood outside of Microsoft.  So that's another significant change that I'm having to navigate.

So now what?

So now that we've acknowledged that change is hard, what do we do?

Go get a giant piece of chocolate cake and binge watch Netflix in denial?  (actually, that sounds very appealing, and tasty, even without the side dish of denial)

Complain that "it isn't fair"?

Have anxiety attacks about how we're going to pull off reinventing ourselves and our careers and our income? (Can this be avoided?  Anyone know?  I'm open to suggestions.)

These are probably not great strategies (except for the chocolate cake, I'm pretty sure that's a solid plan).

The world is moving forward and it isn't stopping for me.

Moving Forward

Once the chocolate cake is consumed and it has fortified and steeled you for the journey ahead, it's time to move forward.

Think about what you need to do to move forward.  Act to move forward.

Sign up for a Dynamics 365 reseller account with an MSP.  Sign up for a training class.

Review the dozens of online courses available on the Microsoft Dynamics Learning Portal.

Buy an actual paper book and break out the highlighters.

Register for a new conference.

Find a new user group.  Lurk on new forums.  Follow new people on Twitter.  Sign up for new newsletters.

Start making commitments that move you forward.  See opportunities instead of burdens.  Start moving in a new direction instead of fighting to stand still.

Invest in your future.


If you're an ERP consultant, you almost certainly know how to learn.  The learning is non-stop, and there is always something to learn.  It's a prerequisite for being a good consultant.

So just start learning something new, a little bit at a time at first.  Instead of researching that odd Dynamics GP quirk out of curiosity, redirect that learning into Dynamics 365 Business Central.

While researching a Dynamics GP ISV solution, also research similar ISV solutions for Business Central.

It will be slow going at first, and even though it may seem like an insurmountable pile of knowledge to consume, just start the learning process.  Start at the beginning.

Set aside an hour a day to work on an online course.  Or better yet, reserve Fridays for learning.  It won't be easy to do, but with practice, it can become a habit.

Set aside some quiet time.  Open the book.  Start reading.

Be Curious

Learning doesn't have to be arduous.  It doesn't have to be unpleasant.  It doesn't have to be hard work.

Learning can be fun.  You know those times when you figure out the solution to some puzzling Dynamics GP issue or have an exciting epiphany?  Do the same with your new learning.

Ask a few simple questions and try to find the answers.

Do some sleuthing to figure out how to perform a familiar Dynamics GP process in Dynamics 365.

Notice the differences.  See the pros and cons.  See the benefits and limitations.  The strengths and weaknesses.

Take the years of experience implementing ERP systems for mid-market customers and use that as a filter to find new value that you can offer.  Anticipate the concerns and challenges your new customers are going to face.  Think about if, and how, your Dynamics GP customers could eventually transition to this new world that you are exploring.

You'll hear many say that it isn't possible--that Dynamics GP customers with several ISV solutions simply can't migrate to the cloud.  Accept that as a challenge.

Prepare a Reserve

What if it takes 12 months of part time learning to become proficient?  What if it takes 3 years to start to become an "expert"?  What if you have to spend extra money to take a few classes and attend a few new conferences?

What if you have to allocate a day a week to learning instead of producing revenue?

What if your software sales decline during that time?  What if your consulting revenue decreases significantly?

How long will it take to bring in new customers?  How long will it take to build a new practice while maintaining existing GP customers?

That process will likely be stressful enough, so it is probably prudent to have financial reserves to weather it.  Anticipate it.  Prepare for it.  Don't be surprised by it.

New Frontiers

It's a new frontier for Dynamics GP partners and consultants.  Some partners started the transition to work with other non-Microsoft products several years ago.  Other partners have been building Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations practices for the last few years.  And some partners invested in the product formerly known as Dynamics 365 Business Edition and are now adapting to the new Business Central offering.  Many will be late to transition.  All of us will be learning and adapting.

Independent of accruing product knowledge and competence, the revenue model has also changed.  All the training and learning in the world won't make up for the change from perpetual license sales and generous margins to the new subscription licensing model and reduced partner margins.  The steady stream of annual enhancement is now replaced with the smaller revenue stream from customer subscriptions.

Will this lead to more emphasis on consulting hours and service revenues?  Will this new revenue regime put pressure on partners and force consolidation?

Will the accessibility of Dynamics 365 commoditize mid-market ERP software as well as ERP partners and consultants?  Or will customers attempting to purchase Dynamics 365 directly from an MSP encounter difficulties and realize the value that knowledgeable consultants can offer?

Will the walled garden of SaaS ERP, with restricted access to the back end data and processes produce frustrations for former on-prem customers?  Will that in turn produce new opportunities for products, services, and clever workarounds to meet the needs of customers?  (Hint: Yes)

I Don't Know

How will I fare?  Where will I be in 1 year?  3 years? 5 years?

How will the mid-market accept Dynamics 365 Business Central?

Will Dynamics GP customers transition to Business Central?  Or will they seek other options?  How will Business Central compete against other mid-market options, particularly in the US?  Will competitive pricing be enough to entice customers to transition?

I don't know.

But it seems like Microsoft is investing in Dynamics 365.  It seems like they finally have a semi-coherent, albeit currently incomplete, strategy with Dynamics 365 Business Central.

Regardless, Microsoft is moving forward.  Every day.

For the time being, I'm willing to move forward and continue to follow them.

And I'll definitely be bringing chocolate cake.

Steve Endow is a Microsoft MVP in Los Angeles.  He is the owner of Precipio Services, which provides Dynamics GP integrations, customizations, and automation solutions.

You can also find him on Google+ and Twitter

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