Blog by Carsten Pedersen, Nick Rouse and Ryan Budge
Product maturity, scalability, cyber security, functional sophistication and improved application development toolsets across the Dynamics 365 Business Central solution were key themes from this year’s Directions Asia event, staged in Bangkok and attended by over 550 people.
After a four-year attendance hiatus due to Covid, three solution experts from the DXC Technology team attended the conference to learn about the latest functional improvements to Business Central and reconnect with other partners including senior Microsoft professionals.
Directions Asia is an annual event that brings together Microsoft Dynamics 365 partners—including independent software vendors (ISVs) and Microsoft’s most valuable professional (MVPs) —to discuss industry trends, share best practices and network with one another. The conference included keynotes, speeches, breakout sessions and hands-on workshops led by industry experts and Microsoft executives.
DXC prioritises the event as it helps partners grow their business, develop skills and knowledge, and remain up-to-date in the Dynamics 365 eco-system. Topics covered include business strategy, technical implementation and product roadmap updates.
Key highlights to emerge were as follows:
Improved product scalability: Microsoft’s efforts to increase the scalability of Business Central are paying off. The product now caters to bigger businesses with higher user numbers and transaction volumes. Research from Microsoft suggests that it is growing the number of Business Central customers with 100 plus users, by 105 per cent year on year. There are now more than 200,000 customers using Business Central globally and around 35,000 customers on the public cloud version. In addition, Microsoft has removed technical barriers that had previously made it complex to scale the product and continues to remove complexities that prevent larger and more complicated implementations.
New features fast-tracked: Microsoft releases new features in two release waves each year but is now staging product ‘hackathons’ with its developers to bring new, exciting ideas into the product roadmap faster. As well as adding product enhancements through its traditional research and development approach and customer feedback mechanisms, the hackathon enables it to test blue sky thinking and import innovative features into the product in a timelier fashion.
An example is the improved reporting power now available in Business Central. Microsoft has developed features that allow users to format data more flexibly using Word, Excel or the browser environment.
Accessing that data is also being made more manageable. Where traditionally, users had to log in to Businss Central, find the record and export it for downstream use, Microsoft has enabled access to data through its traditional Microsoft 365 productivity tools, such as Teams, Outlook or Excel. As a result, data is no longer hidden but made available in the solutions business users spend most of their time in, negating the need to fetch it from within the ERP system.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and Microsoft’s unique take on it, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Copilot, has been added to applications and will continue to be extended. It will have a positive impact on customers, particularly those in the e-commerce space, where its content-generative capabilities will accelerate the ability to take new products to market. Copilot is being incorporated across the Dynamics 365 application range. It is a ‘watch this space’ scenario to see how it will change the way businesses develop applications, interact with products and access information specific to their daily tasks.
Modernised development tools: From a technical standpoint Business Central has come a long way in a short time. Improved source code management and better software development tools are now part of the fabric of the solution. Running Container-based development environments and using Docker in the Business Central development process has liberated the way the software is created. No longer is development tied to on-premise technical environments but sits in the cloud, offering more development flexibility. This will result in more advanced functionality added to the Dynamics 365 technology suite, not only by Microsoft but by ISVs creating applications that customers can buy from the app store, allowing them to extend their solution in the direction most pertinent to their business objectives.
Improved back-end tools and better telemetry also featured in discussions. For example, better database locking allows customers to upgrade faster and more successfully, while the expansion of telemetry is providing system integrators with vital information about how their customers’ systems are running, enabling them to identify improvements and optimise system settings so users gain more benefit from their day-to-day interactions with the solution.
Other Dynamics 365 headlines that are worth mentioning include:
• Microsoft continues to invest in cyber-security, business continuity and disaster recovery. For example, it has enabled a roll-back window that enables customers to create system back-ups minute-by-minute, stretching back 28 days.
• It continues to ensure that Microsoft Business Applications meet local compliance regulations, such as ISO 27001 or GDPR, by monitoring and extending the solution where necessary to support compliance across all geographies.
• Further to that point, where it makes sense, country-specific features are being incorporated into the core product, recognising that often a product feature that is a legal requirement in one country is a sensible feature for the product globally.
• Attach licences for Business Central users who also need access to CRM functionality or vice versa are now available for less making it cost effective to have users using both Business Central and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales or Customer Service.
• An interesting presentation was held regarding RFID technology. There is a move from major US retailers, such as Walmart and Target, to have all their suppliers’ products tagged with radio frequency identification. Such a move will likely cause a radical shake-up of inventory management processes. The presenter developed functionality that leveraged RFID technology to reduce stocktake times from weeks to hours.
DXC was represented at the conference by Carsten Pedersen, Senior Executive – Microsoft Dynamics and Velocity; Nick Rouse, Product Manager and Senior Solution Architect; and Ryan Budge, Technical Delivery Manager / Solution Architect.