16.01.2020

Business Central Migration – 7 Learnings

Business Central Migration Learnings

One year ago, IBO undertook the commitment to move from its current on-premise ERP to Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central. IBO was looking for an ERP that was scalable, adaptable and had little or no maintenance costs, essentially software as a service. Although we had no experience or training in Dynamics NAV or Business Central, we were able to migrate from our legacy ERP within 6 months. We had a few hic-ups on the way. If you are thinking of starting out with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, we like to share with you 7 of our learnings:

1.   Extract all your data

Our legacy ERP contained years of data, much of which could be considered obsolete. In the early stages of the migration we attempted to filter out some of the historical data that was no longer used in daily business. This action caused a few issues. Firstly, extracting data became a lot more complex then we anticipated due to the relationships between the data. Secondly, it appears some users were still accessing what was considered legacy data.

Learnings: Attempting to constrain data while migrating caused an unnecessary loss of time and complexity. Just migrate everything. If your keen on cleaning up, do so in the ERP.

2. Do not add new functionality

This is an obvious one. Once you start to add new functionality it becomes increasing more complex to determine if problems arise due to lack of system knowledge, problems in the migrated data or your own newly added functionality. You might feel the urge. Resist! Just migrate your ERP, add the bells and whistles later. 

Learnings: It might feel like the ideal time, but adding new functionality is just going to add unnecessary complexity and slow down the migration process. The longer the migration, the harder it becomes.

3. Validating the data challenge

So, all the data has been migrated to the new ERP. You might think you got it right, but only the power users will know for sure. Mapping data from the legacy ERP to Business Central required a bit it of trial and error. Our legacy ERP did not come with a data model manual, it was sometimes challenging to be sure we had extracted the correct information and mapped to the right fields. But our users would know for sure, wouldn’t they? Yes, but they did not know how to use Business Central. The challenge of learning the new ERP distracted from the validation of the data. We ended up with a few pieces of misplaced data which needed correction post-migration. Fortunately, Microsoft added a few tools to make this process less painful then it could have been.

Learnings: Do not put too much burden on your employees to validate the data. The burden for learning a new ERP can be quite overwhelming. If you do so, you need to add more time for “adjusting” to the new system.

4. Sandbox and Production are not equal

Business Central has a super feature that allows you to create three sandbox environments as either new instances or a copy of your production system. This is great for development, testing and training. We used the sandbox environment to test our data migration and perform various configuration scenarios. But there is a catch. The sandbox gives you godlike powers. Anything goes. On the day of migration this caught us out badly. It turned out that not all tables in the production allow direct access and we were not able to directly import some data. We eventually found a solution, but it was close to blocking the whole migration.

Learnings: In the production version of Business Central you do not have direct access to certain tables. Best check that you can insert data to all targeted tables for your migration.

5. Pay attention to your reports

Reports (sales invoices, purchase quotes, labels etc.) were far more time consuming then we first anticipated. We had over 80 reports to migrate. Assuming that we could build a report in ½ day (this is optimistic) then it would take 2 months for those reports alone. It took a lot longer then that. Business Central supports two types of reporting templates. The legacy Report Builder (RDLC) or Microsoft Word. We were given advice to build our reports using RDLC. This was a mistake and cost us a lot of time. RDLC is clunky and partially difficult to manage in Business Central. If you’re an expert in RDLC then your have no issues, but for beginners like us it turned in a frustrating experience. Once we switched to Word our productivity increased 10-fold. The only disadvantage is that some complex reporting features need to be managed in code rather than the reporting template. We also had to make a few compromises. But we got the job done and are happy with the results.

Learnings: Start building your reports as early as possible. They are going to take much longer than you expect.

6. Customization

If you have an existing ERP it is very likely that customization has been performed to match your business processes. Microsoft took a new approach in Business Central for customization as source code is no longer modifiable but instead the code is “extended”. This is done to support future upgrades and prevent breakages due to custom changes. It works but lacks the flexibility of say an ERP like Dynamics Nav. This means some compromises need to be made. In addition, we found that we needed to maintain our extensions when Business Central is updated. The extension concept still has teething problems, although is improving with each update.

Learnings: It is early days for AL, we suggest keeping custom changes as simple as possible, else you may burn more hours then you anticipate both in development and maintenance.

7. Limitations in the Cloud

Business Central runs in the cloud (although there an on-premise option) accessible via the browser. Beware there are some limitations:

  • You do not have direct access to the database. This limits some actions you can perform during the migration process. Also, you cannot directly “fix” data manually.
  • You do not have a restorable backup (although a recent feature was added to dump the database). If you destroy the data in your ERP it is going to be difficult to recover. 
  • If your internet connection goes down, you’re just staring at a blank screen. Yes, it happened to us.

Learnings: Make a dump of your production database once a week. If you mess up the data, you can at least restore to SQL Server in Azure and export and import the data. Otherwise your toast. Get a 2nd internet provider.

Conclusion

We are satisfied moving to Business Central, it was the right decision. If your thinking to upgrade your ERP, Business Central is well worth a look.

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