Identical twins are different too
When Microsoft released the public preview of project “Madeira” I was proud, happy and enthousiastic. But I was also dissapointed. Microsofts messaging was strong in the fact that it was not NAV.
How can that be? This is my baby online! This is what we have worked for all these years. I remember meeting after meeting at MDCC in Vedbaek talking about Design Patterns, Simplicity, Dynamics C5, Word Reporting, SQL Azure, Hooks, Events and Extensions. All the great things that lead in the last few years to where we are today.
It actually led to quite a quarell between me and Mark Perisic via Twitter, email and Yammer and I understand it now. Project “Madeira” is not NAV. They are identical twins but behave different, they have different characters and may grow up to be different persons but will always have identical DNA. A beautifull comparisson made by Marko in the last meeting.
Let me share you my thougts and how I wrote them down in a 12 hour flight with inspiration from politics. Here we go.
Returning back home from an NAV2016 technical training on the Philippines with Microsoft, I was reading the “Volkskrant”, a Dutch newspaper, which had an article about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Just in case you don’t know (hey under which rock do you live), both of these guys are trying to become the next president of the US but are trying to run for opposite parties. Unlike a lot of European countries the US has basically only two; Republican and Democrats and typically they disagree.
Scandinavia beats the USA
In this article however the journalist described a similarity. Both tend to think that the US is degrading into a third world country. A comparison is brought up between the USA and Scandinavian countries. The differences could not have been bigger. From the education system to healthcare and maternity leave. Scandinavian countries “take care” of things people in the USA have to arrange themselves.
So, let’s not go into politics here but take a little trip into memory lane with Microsoft Dynamics NAV. After all, NAV is a Danish software package acquired by Microsoft, a US company. Teams from different countries with different cultures joining hands.
Microsoft Aqyuires Navision (and Axapta)
This joining hands never really went that well however. First of all, you should know the reason why Microsoft bought Navision in the first place. In the US Microsoft had acquired Great Plains, a very successful ERP package spread globally into an English speaking community. To strengthen the position in Europe where most people don’t speak English as their native language Microsoft also acquired Navision.
By acquiring a position with ERP software Microsoft was trying to sell their traditional “stack” being first and foremost Windows, Office and SQL Server. Now on the other hand this was also a time when software companies had a lot of money to spend. This all happened before the “crisis” you must know. Money could flow endlessly.
This money started flowing into a project called project “green” (I think “Madeira” is sexier) and the idea was to merge the ERP products into one big application preferably targeting the upper size of the market.
After (careful) consideration Microsoft decided that Axapta was the baby they wanted to send to the best school. I don’t know about Great Plains but Navision back then was having issues moving to the next level of professionalism, both in its partner channel and software architecture. Axapta already made some bold moves in that direction.
Those years where terrifying for NAV partners and consultants and for me the rumors where the reasoning to start traveling around to learn what was going on with the product I placed my bet on a decade earlier. We are talking 2006/2007 here.
Let’s go back to the comparison that is my inspiration for writing this article. USA vs. Scandinavia. Bernie and Donald my think everything is better over here but that is not true. As a true global citizen having spent I guess more than a year of my life in the USA I also know there are great things we can and should be jealous about. One of them is the fact that despite all differences the US is one country where community service is very important. In Europe we are so selfish compared to them.
So what do you do as US partners if you feel there is a problem? Right, you start a community. Directions USA was born with as primary reason the survival of the Dynamics NAV product. We felt Microsoft was killing our baby on behalf of the other kids, or at least skipping some moments when a baby has to be taken care of in order to grow up.
When I first attended it was NAV partners vs. Microsoft. Buy where they upset (the partners that is). You should know that being a NAV partner in the US was a whole lot harder than in Europe where GP was no internal competition (apart from the UK). NAV had a hard time running on SQL Server, integrating with office, and modernizing the architecture.
A US community was born for a Scandinavian product. This was a first step towards project “Madeira”.
Now it is time to throw in a “hear say” story that I don’t have confirmed. The engineers in Denmark were working on moving Dynamics NAV from a two tier architecture to a three tier stack and to managed code while preserving all existing ERP-IP both from Microsoft and their partners. A very bold project that had a hard time succeeding. Most partners will remember Microsoft releasing version 5.0 without the three tier stack and taking (much) more time to complete.
In that time Satya Nadella was running Dynamics and he was involved in some decisions around the future of NAV before he moved to another position in Microsoft. This was the second step towards project “Madeira”.
The three tier stack was released but with that a global economic crisis came and the ERP-leg of Microsoft did not get as much attention as it used to. For a couple of years, the guys in Denmark just continued the great work and the architecture matured. Meanwhile Microsoft was in the process of re-architecting AX towards a full competitor in the cloud.
The economic crisis continued while a new disruptive change happened. Well, this is not entirely true, it happened 50 years ago, but the internet grew up to be fast enough for hosting scenarios and marketing people decided to call it “cloud”. This is step three towards project “Madeira”.
As it turned out, the underlying architecture of Dynamics NAV was very suitable for the “cloud” and well ahead of its time. Soon releases where following in a fast pace enabling NAV for private cloud (I remember the client in a “sandbox”) and then Azure which was the platform Microsoft had created for internet hosting scenarios. Now Dynamics NAV runs on Azure as a fist class citizen.
Meanwhile Dynamics AX was still focusing on competing with SAP which turned out quite hard. Dynamics GP had some really bad luck with two different platforms for online and on premise rather than one codebase and decided to run on Silverlight. A very valid choice then and if NAV had been sooner with a web client it would also have been Silverlight. HTML5 turned out very soon to be the preferred choice which was what NAV is running on.
Then Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft and made some of the boldest and best decisions when he took over. He started the Mobile First, Cloud First strategy where Windows was no longer the product Microsoft was living off, but Azure Services. Office 365 was introduced and the computer world had not often seen a new product take off that quick. Another step towards project “Madeira”.
Now were are getting close towards where we are today and you will see that Scandinavia and the US can work together.
Project “Madeira” is not Dynamics NAV. Microsoft wanted for a while to have a true cloud based SAAS ERP offering next to its Office 365 and CRM Online products and from a platform architecture perspective NAV was the best product to use. This is why project “Madeira” looks so much like Dynamics NAV.
Why is it not NAV?
So why is it not Dynamics NAV? What makes it extra confusing are the similar codenames and the way the (preview) version of the application works, including the demo data.
As modern as its platform architecture is, so traditional “ERP” is the NAV application. Where Microsoft spend the majority of its resources in the last decade to modernize the platform, little or no effort has been put in the functional part of the application which is still primarily based on the early versions of Navision Financials and Navision Attain. In those days “ERP” meant putting all data together in one big application. This was the traditional thinking in a world without connectivity and web services.
This has now changed and this is where project “Madeira” is different from NAV. Project “Madeira” will have a different functional application which is designed to be extended using (yes, obviously) extensions.
Here also comes the future part of this article, because this is where we are currently today as I am writing this article. Microsoft took the core financial application from Dynamics NAV as the start for Project “Madeira” and added features from Dynamics GP that have proven to be missing in NAV such as workflow, deferrals. They also took some ingredients from a local Danish package called Dynamics C5 which was running on a simplified subset of NAV for a few years. In this project Microsoft learned how to apply simplicity to an ERP application.
So where do we go from here? Is project “Madeira” the new project “green” taking the best of breeds from all ERP products? No. Absolutely not. And to know why we have to go back to the roots of Axapta and Navision and back to the comparison between the US and Scandinavia. But that is another blog…