With Limited Public Details, Microsoft Dynamics NAV 7 Capabilities and Questions Abound
While Microsoft has kept its demonstrations and discussions of Microsoft Dynamics NAV 7 at recent conferences carefully under NDA, enough detail has emerged through outside reports to draw some conclusions about where the company actually stands in its push to get the next major release, and the first one to work in Windows Azure, out the door.
Azure support is coming, but not much to show yet
While a Microsoft Dynamics Community blog post earlier this week claimed that a demo at the Directions US event showed NAV 7 in Azure accessed through a browser interface, first-hand reports we've heard described this demo, which was under NDA, as far more limited and consisting mainly of screenshots, not much live software. Microsoft has not yet returned our requests for more information on this.
Microsoft also set a release date of "September/October 2012". While this is still within earlier roadmap estimates like this slide deck posted in September 2011 by Columbus UK, it is well beyond earlier estimates of 2010/2011 and some in the field have questioned whether the late 2012 date represents a delay while Microsoft continues to work on the readiness of NAV 7 for Azure deployment.
What does NAV in Azure mean for the partner channel?
Despite some questions about the cloud, it is clear that both ISVs and VARs in the NAV channel are facing major adjustments. Microsoft is pushing to get a critical mass of ISVs to develop Azure-ready solutions to offer alongside NAV 7 in Azure. And VARs will need to think hard about what how they will survive in a world where Microsoft is taking an evolving role in selling, servicing, and supporting its own ERP software.
Few NAV professionals with value to add are likely to be concerned right now, at least with regard to looking at risks coming from within Microsoft. More likely, both Microsoft and resellers are seeing the external market shifts and competitive challenges as greater issues. Pure SaaS financial management and ERP solutions with mature products have begun attracting some Dynamics partners as a viable option they can bring to the SMB market today. And the new Partner Ready Software initiative, led by some top NAV ISVs, is beginning to look for ways to improve the business of producing high value add-ons for Dynamics NAV that partners can utilize as "volume-deal enabled software".
Browser support from Microsoft is coming, but with questions
Given the limited demonstration of NAV 7 in Azure to conference attendees this week, along with demonstrations and explanation of NAV Portal Framework capabilities at an earlier event, questions still linger about exactly what Microsoft is ready to support in terms of its own native browser interface.
Microsoft ERP product manager Paul White re-iterated late yesterday that full browser access to NAV 7 is going to happen:
NAV 7 will ship with a web browser capability - users (whether they are running NAV on premise or in the cloud) will be able to access the product with nothing more than Internet Explorer 9 on their desktop. This web browser capability, together with the Microsoft SharePoint client we have announced previously, will provide our SMB (small and mid-sized businesses) customers with lots of flexibility about how they choose to deploy the product and provide their employees with an interface that makes sense and adds value in the context of their job roles.
But some have raised questions about the seemingly arbitrary limitations put on the SharePoint 2010 NPF interface. As the SoberSmarties blog noted, Microsoft stressed to the NAVtechdays audience that this capability was intended only for intranet usage when, in fact, it seemed like there were no technical or architectural limitations to govern this. This blogger made some reasonable guesses as to what was really going on:
Microsoft were keen to stress that this was designed to be used by 'lite' and 'occasional' users and as an Intranet and not Extranet Web Portal. However, I do not, for one minute know how they can say that or why they would say that?! Firstly, who doesn't want a thin client version of NAV available? Also, why should it only be Intranet based - actually the demonstration we were shown I believe was connecting via an Extranet, so it must work! I racked my brains about why they might say this. Then the old cynic in me came out. There were, I believe, at least two vendors at TechDays pushing their own web based solutions for rendering NAV Pages in a web browser. They must have paid to have their stands in the Expo area and it would be pretty embarrassing for the organisers to show a solution that would make their fantastic products not really required going forward.
The various vendors already offering their own web browser interfaces for Dynamics NAV 2009 have only indicated low levels of caution thus far in regard to the moves Microsoft is making here with its browser interface. These firms have been fighting hard for market share and partner support for nearly a year at this point, and it will be hard to predict how much more traction they will get in the next one to two years to demonstrate not just browser technology but real added value for partner solutions as Microsoft really begins rolling out NAV 7 for various locales and gets the partner channel ramped up on new sales and upgrades.
We do not have any indication yet of whether Microsoft's own browser interface will be designed for extensibility or how it will be licensed. Both of these factors will be critical in determining how ISVs with their own browser interfaces will react and adapt in the next year.