A Voice from the Field: Extending Microsoft Dynamics GP with the Right Tools and Careful Choices

September 19 2011

When mid-sized companies adopt Microsoft Dynamics GP, the need to integrate or expand the solution footprint never seems to be far behind.  The range of tools and techniques for expanding the capabilities and footprint of Dynamics GP makes it possible for partners to offer almost limitless options for solution enhancements.  But at the same time, that variety of tools, platforms, and programming languages can easily become a maze of options if it is not well understood at both a technical and business level.

Like most any Dynamics GP partner organization, our consultants are frequently learning new skills as quickly as new projects kick off.  And as many technical consultants would likely admit - at least privately - there is no substitute for a little deadline pressure to accelerate the learning process when it comes to new technology.

I recently sat down with Sue Matter from the Boyer & Associates staff in Minneapolis to learn about her path over the last two years as a Dynamics GP developer working on a variety of projects that required different technical solutions using Dexterity, SQL Server Reporting Services, .NET, SharePoint, eConnect, VisualStudio, and more.  Most recently she created a .NET-based Requisitions module in SharePoint for one of the largest YMCAs in the country, located in the Twin Cities. 

In building the YMCA solution, which Sue explains below, she not only gave the Y a great way to expand their GP footprint in the organization and streamline their business processes, but she learned a lot about the interaction between technology and business process that is key to smart integrations with Dynamics GP.

Jack Boyer: How do you determine what tools to use for integrating with Dynamics GP?

Sue Matter:  There are many factors, that should be considered, such as the network environment, the purpose of the integration and where will it run or does it need to run from the GP menu.  There are many tools available, such as Dexterity, Menus for Visual Studio Tools, eConnect and Web Services, to name a few, and each has a specific purpose.  Based on the customer requirement, a combination of tools may be needed. 

Jack Boyer:  What are some ways you have taken data from other systems and imported it into GP?

Sue Matter:  We have done several eConnect programs that run on the GP menu using Menus for Visual Studio Tools, to import data into Dynamics GP. We have used Web Services in several implementations to integrate data from other systems into GP. We can also extend the functionality of the eConnect and Web Services products to import data that may not be available out of the box, these tools are a key to importing data from other systems into GP, on a daily, weekly or monthly cycle from a programming perspective.

Jack Boyer: Why did you choose to create the Requisitions program from the YMCA in SharePoint using C# and what are some of its features?

Sue Matter: One of the key benefits to choosing C# over Dexterity was that the Y's needed 300 people to enter requisitions.  If we had chosen to create the program in Dex, then they would have had to buy 300 more Advanced Management users-which was not an option.  Adding light users was an option.

The client also had a need to allow multiple locations (branches) to enter requests and they were already planning to implement SharePoint.  Using C# and Dynamics GP Web services, we were able to integrate the Requisitions application with their SharePoint installation and integrate that with Dynamics GP. We are creating a Purchase Order in GP after the requisitions is created and approved in SharePoint.  We are also validating the amount already allocated to the Budget (Forecaster data) for an account in GP and warning the approver that they are over budget if they approve the current request.

Another large Y in Texas recently visited the Y here in Minneapolis and will implement this YMCA-focused customization so we know that there is value beyond what off-the-shelf requisitions products can deliver to a YMCA and for a better price.

Jack Boyer:  What other business requirements were requested from the YMCA in Minneapolis?

Sue Matter:  They needed the ability to select a "Kit" of items, because multiple locations could need the same items ordered for a specific program (summer basketball program for example). We provided the ability to select a Kit from Dynamics GP and add the entire Kit of items at one time to a requisition.  They also needed the ability to select from different "Ship To" locations, if there was someone that needed to order for multiple locations.  They got the ability to set a default ship to location, but they could change that on a line by line basis.  In the example below, you can see what the entry screen for one line of the requisition looks like and the fields that allow the user to look up information, which are indicated with an hour glass next to the field.

SharePoint Requisition for Microsoft Dynamics GP

The Y here in Minneapolis also need the ability to split the line between multiple GL accounts and assign a dollar amount or percentage of the purchase to each account. We provided that functionality at a line level also.  

Jack Boyer:  What technical components were unique to this project, versus others you have done?

Sue Matter:  We have several places where we are viewing or selecting GP data, on the fly, from the live GP system.  Within SharePoint, this was the most seamless integration we have done to GP, outside of the Business Portal. We chose to use the Telerik Grid component, due to its added functionality and portability of code from web-based to a desktop application.  The Telerik product provides drilldown ability and nesting of grids along with added formatting options that are not in the stock Net grid components.  For the security setup, we are selecting users from Active Directory for the Approver and User setup. They needed the security for the application to include all Active Directory users, not just Dynamics GP users.

Jack Boyer:  What development work have you done in Dexterity and how did you learn the tool?

Sue Matter:  Most of my Dexterity work has been modifying or upgrading existing applications to GP10 and GP 2010.  Most of the applications were created by different developers.  This has allowed me to learn the many different ways to process information, as each developer approached their coding in a different way.  This is not unlike other languages, where there may be several ways to accomplish the same task.  It has given me a broader perspective on what is possible with Dexterity and when I have created my own screens, it was easier to determine how to code the screen, so it was most efficient at processing the information.

This screen is one that was created by another Boyer & Associates developer that I recently modified.  The screen below displays data from a Dynamics GP custom table.  Data is imported from a SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) package.  The data is pulled from a PSA program called "QuickArrow".  The program creates the invoices and allows the Avalara webservice to calculate the sales tax.  The change I made added a field to allow the user to change the ship-to address so that if QuickArrow did not pass over the proper ship-to location, the Dynamics GP user could correct the ship to address.  This allowed the Avalara Web Service to compute the right sales tax due to having the correct ship-to address.

Microsoft Dynamics GP Dexterterity Order Maintenance Customization

Jack Boyer:What other tools have you used that cross more than one Dynamics product line?

Sue Matter:  I have worked with many SQL tools, including SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services), SSIS (SQL Server Integration Services) and SSAS (SQS Server Analysis Services).  We have done data integrations using SSIS packages and Dynamics GP.  I have done several Analysis Services projects, for BI reporting out of Dynamics GP and SL. We use SSRS for most new installations as the reporting tool when there is an option among various GP reporting tools.   We only use GP Report Writer when the modification is simple.  In those instances clients can often make the report changes themselves.

...

So hopefully this post helps you see the range of tools available to you as GP users and GP consultants.  Sue's experience was a positive one because YMCA Twin Cities is a great organization to work with and because they were able to quickly articulate why they could not use any of the off-the-shelf offerings that would have increased their license fees by too much and still not conquered the kitting needs.  

In contrast, the other client already had the users and the licenses they needed and only required a tiny bit more functionality so Dexterity was a better fit for them to extend Dynamics GP.

FREE Membership Required to View Full Content:

Become a MemberLogin
Joining MSDynamicsWorld.com gives you free, unlimited access to news, analysis, white papers, case studies, product brochures, and more, and it’s all FREE. You’ll also have the option to receive periodic email newsletters with the latest relevant articles and content updates. Learn more about us here
About Jack Boyer

Jack founded Boyer & Associates in 1994 with a vision to create a firm that could attract and keep the area’s best ERP consultants, developers, and business development people.

Follow Jack Boyer on Google+

Jack’s career began doing application and sales support for Solomon Software- the firm that created Dynamics SL. Jack was promoted to regional manager when the firm moved him from Philadelphia to Chicago in 1988.

Jack believes that finding the right software is only a piece of the challenge in implementing software. Without the right people to implement it, you only have half a solution. You need the right business analyst to flush out a company’s requirements and you need the right consultants to make the software align with those needs.

Jack has an honors degree in accounting from Penn State (1984) and passed the CPA exam while at Boyer & Associates.

More about Jack Boyer

Comments

Jon Clemens's picture

Thanks for this post. It is good information for partners, customers, and partners to be aware of, when considering how to extend their GP solutions. We woudl have a similar point of view and experience with these tools at Cargas Systems (www.cargas.com), in addition to experience with various approaches to CRM customization. It's good to hear from other's experience and perspective on these options.

JackBoyer's picture

Jon, Thanks for the positive comments. We are excited to be working with a firm that does only Microsoft CRM. PowerObjects should have more than 200 people at their PowerConnect Dynamics CRM event here in Minneapolis on October 5th. This arrangement helps us focus on ERP and provides a source of referrals for both of us. www.boyerassoc.com/blog