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An early adopter’s insight into Dynamics 365

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

Microsoft launched Dynamics 365 in July 2016, combining its ERP, CRM and other software into one cloud platform. This promised a single, innovative business management platform for small to medium-sized enterprises accessible via the web, Windows, iOS and Android. Six months down the line, Arno Ham, Chief Product Officer at Sana Commerce - one of the first ISVs to work with the platform - tells us what it’s been like.

In the words of Microsoft, Dynamics 365 is a way of unifying CRM and ERP capabilities into applications that work seamlessly together across sales, customer service, field service and many other aspects of the business. It was a necessary step for Microsoft. With its competitors already offering cloud total business solutions it was essential for Microsoft to not only survive but to grow their number of users. Combined with such a strong hosting platform in Azure, the ubiquity of Office and the innovativeness of AppSource, actually makes a really compelling choice for businesses who want everything in one easy package.

We’re a B2B e-commerce solution provider to small to medium sized enterprises. Our customers need to leverage ERP data to improve sales, so having the opportunity to jump on board as an early adopter was a really attractive prospect. We became one of the first third party solutions available on AppSource – unlocking a whole new channel to market.

Dynamics 365 holds great potential for ISVs with platforms that rely on leveraging and using the data within core ERP or CRM systems. The Sana platform uses the ERP’s data and logic directly; it functions and calculates customer orders inside Dynamics 365 so that there’s no confusing duplication of data, process or logic. Our whole thought process at Sana has always been around the web and how to make things easier for businesses and their clients. Knowing that integration was really critical we worked closely with Microsoft to make sure that the integration we already had with their NAV and AX products could be replicated in this new environment. 

Key questions

What’s really exciting for both customers and ISVs in this environment is the speed of access. Now that we’re in AppSource and the integrations are established, customers can literally install Sana immediately within seconds. It’s removed the dependencies on implementation partners and our own team and made the basic user adoption process much faster. That’s what smaller businesses want – the ability to get going with a solution very quickly, stealing a march on the competition and realising new channels to market.

A key question yet to be resolved is the upgrade path for Dynamics GP, Dynamics NAV and Dynamics AX, if customers of these platforms want to switch to Dynamics 365. It’s probably the main question people are asking Microsoft right now. For us an upgrade wouldn’t be a problem, if a customer already has a Sana installation, we can change the connection to Dynamics 365 for operations or move the customer to our cloud platform and connect the shop to Dynamics 365 for financials. As long as the data is copied from their on-premise ERP to the cloud, then everything will work. However we do know that Microsoft is already working on ways of moving simply from on-premise to cloud ERP so watch this space. 

Another exciting development is the integration of Cortana intelligence into business processes. Microsoft has shown how machine learning can predict what a customer is going to buy. For our customers that is hugely compelling. While we’re looking at our own potential AI developments, the possibility of integrating with these services if they are already supplied by a partner such as Microsoft is definitely worth keeping a close eye on.

When it comes to managing upgrades the process has been very smooth so far. Microsoft notifies us several weeks in advance of any new versions coming out, providing ample amounts of time for us to ensure our add-ons are compatible. Once the upgrade is released, the new version of our platform is added to AppSource ready for customers to upgrade. It means that we’re always a couple of steps ahead of new releases. Microsoft also provides a management portal for partners that can be used to manage customer installations of Dynamics 365 for Operations. Partners can use this to move customers to the latest version of Sana when required.

Visions for the future

In the future we envision more customers adopting ERPs such as Dynamics a SaaS platform that can be enhanced easily through extensions in a variety of areas. And with that, upgrades can be guaranteed, so they will always be able to use the latest version. As a result new features will be available to them much faster. And another great thing about this type of environment is that it is much easier to set up - little technical knowledge is required.

One of the things we really like is that both Dynamics 365 and our own solution are both hosted on Azure, removing complexities around integrating systems across different clouds. The connection between Sana and Dynamics 365 is based on real-time web services, and the whole process – exposing web services, security, and authentication means it’s all automated. For each customer we’re able to check where the ERP is hosted geographically – whether North America, Europe, or Asia, or another Azure data centre we can ensure we’re in the same one or as close as possible. 

End users now have the ability to implement our software in conjunction with their own ERP within a matter of minutes making the investment smaller, the time to get there shorter and opening up the opportunities to explore the area of online business in a less stressful way. 

Joining the Dynamics 365 community early has proved to be a really positive experience for us so far. The most significant impact has been businesses being able to get online far quicker and try out our solution before buying it, allowing them to understand exactly what they’re getting and to be confident in their decision. For us it is proving to be a very cost effective and simple channel to market.

Arno Ham, Chief Product Officer, Sana
Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock

Arno Ham
In his current position as Chief Product Officer at Sana, he combines the requirements of customers and partners and Sana’s vision on B2B e-commerce in a comprehensive product strategy and product roadmap. Arno is responsible for guiding the product management, product development and product marketing teams and works with his team every day to make the ERP integration of Sana Commerce better, faster and easier. Arno earned his bachelor’s degree in software engineering at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.