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3 Ways to Improve Your Microsoft Dynamics NAV User Experience

We've worked with a number of organisations who make use of the Microsoft Dynamics NAV suite as their Enterprise Resource Planner (ERP). As is common with similar off the shelf tools such as SAP and FinancialForce for Salesforce, it can be hard to provide a productive and enjoyable user experience, often requiring a number of unituitive steps on several screens to perform basic tasks such as logging a sick day.

At a recent conference a delegate recalled that they were sat on over £1000 of expense claims because they couldn't face trying to login to their ERP system!

Poor enterprise software user experience has a long documented detrimental impact on organisations, including low user adoption, reduced job satisfaction, and significant productivity hits.

Often these large ERP systems are procured because they provide a comprehensive list of features (payroll: tick, warehouse management: tick, purchasing: tick etc.), without providing sufficient attention to how these features actually work from the end-user perspective, or whether customisation will be needed to bend the way the features work to meet specific nuances in the organisation's workflow.

Further, we often observe that the need for an organisation change program to successfully adopt a wide-reaching ERP system is underestimated or missing entirely. Particularly where these systems dictate very specific ways of working.

There are three primary routes to improve your Microsoft Dynamics NAV experience:

Adapt your processes

Some of the more successful ERP rollouts are realised by giving up all resistance, and modifying the organisation's workflows to match how the ERP expects you to work.

This can often be the most costly initial rollout, as it can involve lots of organisational change, and can sometimes result in processes that are less optimal for the tasks the organisation needs to achieve, but keeping the ERP system in a more standard state does provide some significant advantages when looking to upgrade to newer versions.

Adapt the ERP

Microsoft Dynamics NAV promises that it can be easily customised, which is true to an extent. It's possible to customise fields, reporting screens, and so forth. However, there are limitations to how far this customisation can stretch. It's not possible to provide a fully tailored user experience that matches complex local workflows.

Often customisations result in complex multi-step workflows, fields with unintuitive names and inputs, and usually require highly paid specialist consultants to implement.

There is also another significant downside to performing heavy customisation inside the ERP - that it makes upgrade paths much trickier. Often with each new major release, local customisations will need to be updated or rewritten to work with the latest version of Dynamics NAV.

Build a bespoke experience outside of Dynamics

The final option is to consider the role of the ERP as a data store and rules engine, and to build a bespoke user experience outside of the ERP that interacts with NAV.

Microsoft Dynamics NAV provides an API that allows third party applications to read and write data to and from it. This enables a fully tailored and modern user experience to be delivered to users, which can be designed to closely match their needs, keeping them as productive as possible.

This route also has the advantage that upgrades to the ERP system should have less of an impact on these customisations - providing the API remains stable. Or at the very least, it clearly isolates the areas of the customisation that require upgrade to the interface with the API.

Summary

As with the adoption of any large scale software platform, consideration needs to be taken not just in the specification sheet meeting your purchase criteria, but in how you plan to integrate it with your organisation - particularly in whether you're expecting to widely adapt your way of working to embrace what the software provides out of the box, or whether you're expecting to embark on a program of changing the software to meet nuances in the way your organisation operates.

If you're looking to customise the product to meet your needs, which particularly in cases where it is likely to offer improved productivity or user engagement, can be a worthwhile endeavour, it's important to consider where these customisations take place - whether directly inside the software, or in wrapping an additional layer around the software.

Particularly with Microsoft Dynamics NAV, we've seen the greatest success in building a lightweight bespoke interface that sits outside of the ERP. This allows the business to keep control of its custom business logic in its own application, rather than embedding it directly in the ERP. Consequently, it provides easier upgrade paths to newer versions of Dynamics and NAV, and in the most extreme cases, keeps future options open for migrating to other ERP platforms without disrupting the end user experience.

Additionally, designing and building a tailored user experience around the specific tasks users need to achieve can often deliver a significant uptick in productivity, usability, and user adoption.

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