Earlier this week I had the pleasure to attend my first Directions conference. It was such a positive experience I had to make time to write up a Directions NA 2019 recap. Though still a little overloaded on all the information I absorbed, I think it was a great conference and confirms for me why I’m feeling so excited about Dynamics 365 Business Central. I know this space has an abundance of experience that I’m just starting to tap into. I’m thankful for those of you whom I met this week and who listened to me in the round tables and other networking opportunities between sessions.  I’m certainly not as experienced as many of you reading this article. But I feel compelled to give a newbie perspective to the Directions ecosystem and a viewpoint from a slightly different kind of Microsoft Partner.

Great Conference

Man, what a great conference! From early on I could tell the event was expertly organized, even with the short notice. In just 7 short months the Directions planning committee knocked it out of the park. Considering this conference flipped the schedule from a Fall cadence to a Spring one, they pulled it off. Sessions were very well planned, and the content was A+. Rarely do I go to a conference anymore and struggle with agenda scheduling, but this year I found myself really torn between competing topics in the same time slot. Amazing guidance came from friend to the community Mike Ehrenberg, GM for Business Central.  Focus on features from the Spring release, and news about the October release pleased the audience.  Sessions like “Add 1 new Dynamics ERP Customer per day” from George Brown really caught my eye as did “Preparing, Launching and Maintaining an App on AppSource” from Alex Vandereycken. I’ve never seen partner led content like this before, and it easily made the trip worth the time and money. In some cases, I had to forego good topics like “licensing and Pricing” Town Hall with Antonio Loscalzo knowing I could get the slide deck afterward or find a repeat recorded somewhere. There was just too much good content. These are great problems to have by the way. Aside from the content, I’m amazed at just how well everything else went. The conference flow was smooth. Meals mixed in with expo time seemed to work well and was bolstered by fulfilling dining options both at mealtimes and for snacking. The location of Red Rock Casino was perfect. Placing it off strip turned out to be a nice reprieve from being in the mix of everything Vegas has while also maintaining a luxury and entertaining offering. Did I mention the food was good? Like, “Are there seconds?” good! Drinks and bowling were perfect and not overdone. Again, great job!

Who’s who

Word on the street was that about 925 people attended with about 200 new folks joining this year. That’s a really telling number, in that there are nearly zero churns (by the numbers) in attendees from year over year. Sometimes other conferences will show slight YoY growth. But when you factor in total attendees vs new growth, you realize a huge chunk of attendees are not returning. I guess that’s not an issue for Directions… or wasn’t this year. I can see why with all the partner-led sessions, you get partners talking with partners in an open and honest way. This to me was the most valuable part of the whole week. I spoke with several GP and SL partners who attended this year for the first time in order to learn about what’s coming their way. And in some ways, those conversations resonated with me more so than some of the traditional NAV partners comments. It may be controversial to say, but I think GP partners could have an easier time adapting to BC, than their NAV counterparts. Many NAV partners I listened to were thinking of BC like just another version of NAV. If you think this is just NAV 2020 and you don’t plan on changing your rules of engagement, I get the sense you might struggle. Again, I’m still learning and observing in this space. Though in some ways I don’t have the blinders that years of running a NAV practice would bring. Our own David Gersten led a session about adding BC to your GP practice in which he dives into this theme in more detail. However, I’ll leave some of those points for him or another post. Regardless if you agree, I certainly witnessed an abundance of trepidation and concern from many traditional NAV partners.  It seems Microsoft is moving some major cheese with the release of BC and it could be that we homogenize or get left behind.

New, but familiar

sa.global grew from the roots of servicing enterprise customers. Focused on the upper mid-market and beyond, we’ve built a strong foundation in larger multifaceted projects.  Our typical engagement usually involves more than one Dynamics product, where customers often require multiple companies or multiple country deployments. In doing so, we have invested in Dynamics CE and F&O at the enterprise level which includes deep experience with Azure and the Power Platform. Attending Directions for the first time I was really encouraged to hear how much of our previous training would carry over. From licensing, to the business model, to technology, our path from AX to D365 has provided a lot of useful experience.

Some similarities that jumped out to me this week include:

  • converting licensing (concurrent to named),
  • transitioning customers from BREP to subscription,
  • positioning a practice for subscription-based revenue and the customer lifetime value model,
  • bundling Office 365 with ERP and CRM deployments as a single solution,
  • deploying customers to the cloud and multitenant ERP best practices,
  • developing nimble extensions to the base product instead of sweeping overlaid modifications,
  • leveraging Azure DevOps for code management,
  • Dynamics LCS (Lifecycle Services) or similar functionality (which is promised for BC),
  • Azure LogicApps and other Microsoft cloud stack functionality,
  • PowerApps, PowerBI and the entire Power Platform

Though I didn’t see many traditional “AX” partners at the conference I would expect that to change. From the quality of the content to the relevance of the overlapping products, I’m guessing this conference will get added to more and more Finance and Operations and Customer Engagement partners over time.  

B C’ing you soon

The vision for the One Commercial Partner as Microsoft has been messaging it really makes sense. It’s clear our value is to focus on customer business needs in a much more obsessive way.  This ties to Microsoft’s ask of partners to market ourselves independently of the product we resell. Traditional models of being an “AX” partner or “CRM” partner won’t cut it anymore. At some point, customer workloads may move among Dynamics products very fluidly preventing a classic partner to offer the complete package to their evolved customer base. No longer can you limit yourself with just one or two specialties. And I’m very encouraged to see how much of the Business Central “solution” we’re already tooled to handle. The Business Central customer of the future will need pieces of their solution solved by Office 365, PowerBI, integrations on Flow or Azure and an accompanying PowerApp for specific IP to be built around their business.  We’re invested in Dynamics 365 at every level, prepared to deliver amazing results, and excited to help our SMB customers even more than ever.