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  • Writer's pictureKen Sebahar

Beyond the BC Bits: Preparing for a Business Central Implementation

This Beyond the BC Bits blog series will focus on the non-technological factors that play a crucial role in determining the overall success of an organization’s Business Central implementation project.  Additional topics to be presented will be topics such as how to work with a Microsoft partner, planning and managing the project, approaches to training and testing, Apps and customization, data migration and deployment, and long-term management of Business Central.  There are many factors within each of these areas that could impact project success, but each article will focus on a few specific factors, where each topic will be presented with a "catchy" title followed by a detailed description of each topic.

In 2007, I published The Executive Guide to Implementing Accounting Software: Over 100 Ways to Ensure the Success of Your Accounting Software Implementation.  That title is certainly much more of a mouthful than Beyond the BC Bits, but what I have found is that even though business software technology world has changed wildly over the past 17 years and some of the concepts presented in The Executive Guide are no longer applicable, the vast majority of the concepts remain just as relevant today as they did nearly two decades ago when Steve Ballmer was on stage telling everyone how important developers are.

In this article, we will focus on the initial preparations that should be considered when initiating a new project to implement Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central within your organization.  These are considerations to be made even prior to reaching out to a Microsoft partner to learn more about why many software evaluators consider Business Central to be the best small and mid-market ERP solution in the marketplace today!

Don't Go It Alone

An ERP implementation, and therefore a Business Central implementation, is one of the most challenging and impactful endeavors that an organization will undertake.  Your organization needs to take ownership of Business Central.  This means that you should not rely to heavily on an outside implementation consultant to manage your implementation.  And while Microsoft does continue to add onboarding tools that make it easier and easier for organizations to implement Business Central, you will require the assistance and guidance of a Business Central partner to successfully complete the implementation project.  Business Central is a comprehensive and fully integration ERP solution and it is not reasonable to assume that your internal team will be able to successfully navigate their way through the hundreds or thousands of decisions that will be made as the system is setup and deployed.  After all, the internal project team members are not professional software implementers and they also have their current responsibilities to manage on a daily basis.

The actual question to be answered is:  What is the level of guidance and assistance that will be needed from a Microsoft Partner to complete this project successfully?  The answer to this question is determined by the unique levels of knowledge, skills, and availability of each of the internal resources that will be assigned to the Business Central implementation project team.

A good analogy to a Business Central implementation would be a project that you may undertake to build a new deck in your backyard at your home.  We each have a unique property of various sizes and dimensions, and we each have different expectations for how we will use this deck.  Additionally, each of us possesses different degrees of design knowledge, construction skills, and time available to complete the project.  These same concepts apply to an ERP implementation – the work could possibly all be done internally, but does that make the most sense?  The overall cost, timeline, and risk will be impacted by how much work is done internally versus done by trained professionals.  It is up to each organization to make decisions regarding the level of assistance that will be required in their own unique set of circumstances.

Based on my experience, a balanced approach is best.  Choose to engage a qualified Business Central partner (who can assist with the complex elements of the implementation) while also striving to handle as many of the implementation tasks as possible using internal resources.  This approach will usually yield the greatest likelihood of a successful implementation.  This is because the more each user has personally invested in the setup and deployment of Business Central, the greater sense of ownership they will feel, which will ultimately lead to a solution that best meets the needs of the organization.

The last thing anyone wants is a poorly constructed deck...

A poorly constructed deck
DIY Deck?

Set and Share the Vision

The first real task is to define the vision for how Business Central will benefit the organization.  This vision should include the ways in which Business Central will improve efficiencies, provide for better communication with other internal users and external parties, provide for better reporting and analysis of company data, or any other benefits.  This is not a list of detailed requirements or features, but rather a high-level vision that will provide users with an answer to the question everyone is thinking you tell them they are about to embark on an ERP implementation project: “Why? Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Person crying as they hear they will be part of an ERP implementation project team
An ERP implementation project?

Once the vision is defined, share this vision with everyone who will be impacted.  In addition to explaining the “Why”, the communication of this vision by the executive team will establish clearly that this project has the support of the top levels of management and is a priority for the entire organization.

Set a Budget

After creating the project vision, the next step is to define a maximum budget for completing the Business Central implementation project.  This budget does not need to be very detailed or well-defined at this point, but a maximum project budget should be defined in order to be used as a reference when talking with Business Central partners about the types of services you expect to need throughout the project.

Quite frankly, it is often difficult to estimate the total budget that will be needed to successfully compete a Business Central implementation.  This is because each organization is unique and has specific functional requirements, internal user skills, and team member availability throughout the project.  Each of these factors will determine the level of services that will need to be provided by your Microsoft Partner.

It is relatively easy to define the software budget as the Business Central per user subscription fee is pretty straightforward.  It is possible that additional Business Central Apps may be be required for your organization, but these may not be known until you get farther into the implementation.  It is not important to budget these additional Apps at this stage, but instead simply keep in mind that additional App subscriptions may be required.

Defining the budget for the professional services that will be required by a Business Central partner can be very difficult, for all of the reasons discussed above.   Microsoft continues to add onboarding tools to Business Central including Setup Checklists, Teaching Tips, “Assisted Setup” wizards, and data migration tools.  Each of these tools allows organizations to complete a greater number of implementation tasks internally, eliminating the need to rely on a Microsoft Partner.  But there are topics where a Microsoft Partner will add tremendous value in providing guidance in how to setup and manage transactions efficiently within Business Central.  For these reasons, attempting to to build a well-defined budget in advance of starting the project has become more and more difficult. 

My suggested approach is to plan on the services budget being flexible so that decisions can be made during the project on which tasks will be completed internally and which will be handled by the Business Central partner.

Crawl, Walk, Run

Stick figures crawling, then walking, then running

It is very likely that Business Central will provide your organization with a significant number of new features and functionality beyond what your current system can provide.  This may include improved email integration, integrated CRM, improved workflows, or Power BI based data analytics.  But the implementation of a new ERP solution is a significant project that includes a lot of change.  Therefore, a good approach is to break the implementation project into phases where some functionality is deployed after the initial deployment. 

Think of this strategy as a “Crawl, Walk, Run” approach.  Business Central contains a comprehensive set of integrated capabilities including CRM, Sales management, inventory, purchasing, manufacturing, warehouse management, and the entire financial management suite.  In many cases, this built-in integration makes it difficult to split the implementation into phases where some modules are deployed in phase 1 but others in phase 2.  Instead, consider the “Crawl” phase to include all of the most basic functionality that needs to be available at go-live to complete the required tasks.  The “Walk” phase can begin immediately after the initial go-live and should include those features that did not exist in the prior system but will positively impact the users daily use of Business Central, like approval workflows, enhanced email capabilities, or use of an App that will enhance an existing feature in Business Central.  The “Run” phase is leveraging the most advanced set of functionality that allows the organization to do things that were not even possible prior to the deployment of Business Central, like integrated AI features, Power BI based dashboards, or OCR-based document automation.

Plan to crawl, then walk, and then run.

Be Flexible

A flexible stick figure

Be open to new ways to accomplish the same goal.  If your plan is to replace your current system with a new system that mirrors the functionality in your current system, then be prepared to invest substantially in customizations prior to deploying Business Central.  The better approach is to understand and accept that Business Central may work differently that the current system and focus on ensuring that the end result is the same despite the differences in how the transaction is processed in Business Central. 

Users are very dynamic, and despite the initial frustrations of learning a new process, they will quickly learn the new procedure in Business Central and will appreciate the ways in which it improves the overall process. 

This approach is more of a mindset that should be established at the start of the project in order to maximize use of the standard software features, which will almost always result in a lower project cost and faster project timeline.

While there are many other things you can do to prepare for a Business Central implementation project, if you have done these things, you are well on your way to the top!


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