When Microsoft introduced Dynamics 365 Business Central as its successor to Microsoft Dynamics NAV in the fall of 2017, there were many discussions about free updates for the online version. Has this actually happened? Yes, depending on your specific deployment and setup. We’ll detail each circumstance below to see if this is the case for you (Note: This article is not written from a technical perspective and is intended for customers without an IT background).
After two years of selling Business Central and being one of the first ISV partners to publish a Business Central app on Microsoft’s AppSource site, we decided to review our experience so far for our readers. When we first saw Business Central in 2017, Microsoft had only published a subset of both the available Dynamics NAV modules and specific functionality. For example, Inventory could only be used in one location when Business Central was originally published and Service Management was not available at all.
Not only has virtually all of the functionality difference between Dynamics NAV and Business Central been eliminated, in some cases Business Central has implemented improvements not originally found in Dynamics NAV. Microsoft has also added nearly all of the keyboard shortcuts found in Dynamics NAV to Business Central (download a printable of these shortcuts here). This is especially true with the new fuzzy logic search and personalization capability found in Business Central. Customers can choose among multi-tenant online, on premise, and hosted deployment options in Business Central – unlike Dynamics NAV, which didn’t have a true multi-tenant option. With the new design comes the option for simplified updates as opposed to long, complex, and expensive upgrades.
So, can Business Central actually offer you free updates, at least for the online version? The answer is a qualified YES in some deployments and circumstances.
Online SaaS (Software as a Service) option with no customizations or third party apps – YES
In this situation Microsoft will automatically update the online database twice per year in April and October. The database will update without any need for user intervention. The only possible cost is if the software changes in some way that requires additional training for a new user interface or capability. The cost to update will generally be zero or very minimal.
Online SaaS (Software as a Service) option with customizations – POTENTIALLY
In its twice yearly updates, Microsoft reserves the option to introduce system changes that might break customizations. This will not be true of every update or customization and they do provide notification ahead of time to indicate whether any customizations in the database are likely to break. This gives the partner and customer sufficient time to deal with any necessary changes. The cost to implement these changes will generally be a minimal amount compared to the cost of the original customization. Therefore, there could be a small cost twice per year for partners to check the planned update log to see if there are problems, if any, and fix them. Overall, this cost and the disruption to a customer will be much lower than going through a major upgrade to Dynamics NAV every few years. In summary, if you step onto the customization path, you can expect a small cost on some updates.
Online SaaS (Software as a Service) option with third party apps – YES
Apps on AppSource published by third parties (or Microsoft) must be maintained for all major versions. If a new version is available, Microsoft will un-apply the old version and automatically apply the new version of the app when the update is processed. The app developer is responsible for making all necessary changes. An example would be our equipment rental app, which we are responsible for updating and supporting. Customers with customizations will still have the same potential challenges identified in the previous section.
On premise or hosted options – NO
Customers with on premise or hosted options are not going to participate in the semi-annual automatic updates from Microsoft by default but can choose to update their database when it is convenient for them. Because of the coordination here and the possibility of having to deal with the effect of several skipped updates, it is very likely partner assistance will be required. As with Dynamics NAV, if the customer has the internal expertise they can provide the necessary services. In this scenario it is more likely some form of training will be required. Again, this option has a much lower cost than upgrading a Dynamics NAV database, especially if the customer has skipped major versions such as when Inventory or Job Cost received major updates in Dynamics NAV.
Special note on databases with newer Dynamics NAV databases (2017 and 2018) with both legacy and new customizations or apps
There is a major problem with Dynamics NAV databases when there are both legacy customizations or add-on products using the old c/side development toolkit and newer customizations using Visual Studio AL code extensions or third party Business Central apps. Having both in the database requires a specific process for applying the customizations, add-ons, and apps. In addition, code extensions in Dynamics NAV 2017 and NAV 2018 have different capability and are not necessarily backwards compatible with Business Central code versions. The same applies to extensions developed for Business Central, which may or may not be compatible with the newer Dynamics NAV versions.
For more information on any of these topics, including the ability to mix legacy c/side with code extensions in a Dynamics NAV 2017 or 2018 database, please contact us.
*Did you see our exclusive report on the practical improvements and enhancements to Dynamics 365 Business Central announced at the recent Directions EMEA conference? Read all about Microsoft’s commitment to Business Central here.