What does the future look like for NAV extensions?
Following my blog post last week about previous changes to NAV, I will now look at apps which extend Dynamics 365’s capabilities.
AppSource and extensions
Central to Dynamics 365 is AppSource. AppSource is both a platform and an ecosystem that can help NAV developers share best practice and achieve economies of scale. In the past, end users are heavily reliant on their partners, to develop customisations or find best of breed add-on solutions to meet their specific requirements. AppSource can help business users connect with and consume these applications.
Imagine a typical NAV partner who might have created 100 different customisations for 100 different customers - which is a modest estimate of the number of customisations for a typical partner! An example could be as simple as a "print barcode" button or a postal code look-up tool, or Bing maps integration to display geographical data which are the kind of Apps that have been created many times by many different partners.
Through a marketplace such as AppSource, it becomes possible to connect with and consume Apps from a range of other suppliers. Apps ratings help ensure quality and reduce purchase risk.
NAV extensions, introduced with NAV 2016 enable developers to extend NAV by creating apps which can be shared with other users on AppSource on Dynamics 365. Microsoft recognises three types of Apps:
A typical Embed App would be an add on for a specific industry or vertical e.g. retail, construction etc. A typical Add-On App would include horizontal add-ons such as a web shop or document management software. What's common between Embed Apps and Add-On Apps is that software code and business logic can be executed on the NAV server, meaning that the challenge of the upgrade problem remains.
Connect Apps behave slightly differently. A Connect App still requires a NAV extension, however the purpose of the extension is to connect NAV to a third-party service to execute code or run business logic. Built into NAV 2017 are some examples of how a Connect App can work e.g. to retrieve exchange rate updates from Yahoo rather than importing them manually.
The principle behind Connect Apps isn't new. In 2011, we partnered with Microsoft and innovated by developing integration between NAV 2009 R2 and SharePoint Online called Zetadocs Express. Subsequent to this, we released our first born in the cloud solution, Zetadocs Approvals and recently added Zetadocs Expenses to the Zetadocs for NAV suite. With the maturity of the cloud, and software as a service it's reasonable to assume that the popularity of this kind of application is likely to increase.
Painless upgrades - just like Google search
The main benefit of consuming a third-party service via a Connect App, therefore is that it is managed for you. To illustrate the point, I'd like to draw parallels with a tool that most of us use on a daily basis - your internet search engine. Take Google as an example. Google regularly updates the functionality of its search engine platform. In recent years features like image search, spell checking / fuzzy search, price comparisons or shopping searches have been added to the platform. How much work as users did we have to do in order to implement these new features?
So which method is best?
I'll refer to my opening statement about most customers who chose NAV, did so because of its flexibility and it was customisable, however cloud computing is helping drive economies of scale for business users, therefore the right choice for your business depends on getting the right balance between flexibility and cost.
For the greatest flexibility, therefore customising NAV remains an option, especially if there isn't a suitable add-on, however expect the total cost of ownership to be high. Add-ons have reached a level of maturity and are a more popular method, because ISVs will own the upgrade problem. Add-ons are likely to have lower cost of ownership than managing your own customisations, yet tend to be customisable and retain much of the flexibility of NAV. That said, at the time of writing, many NAV extensions may require modification or at least a manual upgrade when the NAV platform is upgraded. Finally, Connect Apps typically will come with the lowest cost of ownership - typically subscription or even free of charge, but offer the least flexibility. You can expect tight integration with NAV, however any modifications are likely to be offered by configuration of the platform rather than customisation.
Consuming apps via the cloud is commonplace today. Applications we use daily in our web browsers, smartphones and tablets offer painless upgrades, often without us even noticing. NAV Connect Apps can follow suit, meaning that for users of NAV, there is even greater choice available today of how we can extend the ERP application. In line with this, we are embarking on our own journey into AppSource, to provide you with greater choice and support for your business. We'll reveal more about this shortly.