Friday, April 19, 2019

Dynamics 365 Business Central vs. Dynamics GP: Customer Navigation

By Steve Endow

I've been working with Dynamics GP for 15 years, and as a result, I know it so well that I can navigate the application without even thinking.  I know the menus, navigation, windows, fields, and dialog boxes so well that I can tab and click through the data entry process as easily as I can touch type.  I know exactly where to find settings and options and transactions and specific fields.  It's like second nature to me.

On the other hand, I am completely new to Dynamics 365 Business Central. I've been playing with it since it was Project Madeira and then Business Essentials, and now, finally, Business Central. But I have not spent much time working with it yet.

When I launch Business Central, everything feels foreign.  The UI is web based, and the navigation is designed completely differently than Dynamics GP.  I currently feel a bit lost when working with the application.  Fundamentally, Business Central has similar functionality as Dynamics GP, but it's a completely different user experience.

As an alternative to going through all of the Business Central online courses, I am interested in using my knowledge of Dynamics GP as a reference point to compare the features and functionality of Business Central to Dynamics GP.  How is Business Central navigation different from GP?  How are the record types different?  How are the fields and options different?  What can BC do that GP cannot, and vice versa?

Using this approach also makes it easier for me to review Business Central in bite-sized chunks.  One record or window at a time.

This is the start of that journey.

NOTE: Obviously I am not yet an expert in Dynamics 365 Business Central.  If I have missed any important points or have shared any incorrect information about Business Central, please let me know. I welcome any feedback or suggestions.  You can post a comment at the bottom of this post, or email me at steveendow (at) gmail.

I was originally going to compare all aspects of Customer records in this post, but I found that I had a pretty long post just covering the navigation alone.  So I'm covering only initial customer navigation and searching in this post, and will create a separate post to compare the customer record and fields between Business Central and Dynamics GP.

Dynamics GP

In the Dynamics GP desktop client, I can think of at least 6 completely different ways, off the top of my head, to navigate to the "Customer Maintenance" window.  One might say that this is good or bad, depending on your perspective.  While GP consultants may be fine navigating to windows using different methods, I find that when I'm on a support call with a customer, the different navigation methods often just confuse them.  They know their one way of opening the Customer Maintenance window, and if you try and point out another method, they often get confused.

I've highlighted a just few of those navigation options here.

You want navigation options? We've got ya covered.

In addition to these highlighted options, there are Shortcuts on the Home navigation pane, "Navigation Lists" (which I personally never use), SmartLists, and also a few less direct navigation methods.  Navigation Lists and SmartLists would allow a user to start with a list of customers, which they could filter if desired, and then click on one of those existing records to edit the customer.

Note that a few navigation options are always available to the user in Dynamics GP, regardless of the window you are currently using or where you are at in the application.  The Cards menu at the top is normally always visible, and if you are on the Home page, you can have a shortcut directly to the Customer Maintenance window.

Once you use your preferred navigation method, you are greeted with the rather compact and no-frills Customer Maintenance window.  Standard GP navigation takes you to an empty Customer window first, and then you can lookup a customer to edit, or enter a new customer.

Compact and utilitarian

To retrieve and edit a customer record, you can click on the magnifying glass button on the Customer ID field to open a customer "lookup" window.

A rather non-modern search window

The Dynamics GP lookup windows aren't very good by modern standards.  If you aren't sure exactly which customer ID or customer name you are trying to find, or need to perform a partial value search, it can often be tedious to locate the record you want.  You can click on the binocular button to open a Search window, but that window is tedious to use.  This is one of the reasons why products like Rockton SmartFill are so popular with Dynamics GP, as they dramatically improve the record lookup experience.

Most Dynamics GP users are so used to the GP lookup windows that they don't realize how bad they really are, and how much better the lookup and search experience can be in modern software.  I've developed several custom search windows for Dynamics GP using .NET, and customers are amazed at how much easier and faster they are to use.

Business Central

In Business Central, the navigation will in part depend on which Role Center you have selected.  For this review, I have selected the "Sales Order Processor" Role Center for my user.  There are probably several additional navigation methods, but I was able to easily find 3 methods that were very convenient.

First, there is a Customers link at the top of my home page.

Front and center

If I click on Sales on the main top menu, I see there is also a Customers link there.

Sales menu -> Customers

And regardless of where you are within Business Central, there is always the main Search feature. Just click on the magnifying glass in the top right, and then type the window or record you are looking for.  (This is similar to the Dynamics GP Web Client search feature, but relatively few GP customers use the Web Client.)

The always available global Search

After you click on one of these "Customers" links, you are taken to a Customers "Lists page". (I still need to refer to the documentation or training to learn the proper names for the different types of Business Central pages.)

List of customers in a modern, visually appealing layout

The BC Customers page is fundamentally different than the GP Customer Maintenance window, with the primary difference being that it immediately displays a list of customers, rather than presenting you with a blank data entry window (similar to a GP Navigation List).  In this initial view above, BC is displaying the customers as "Tiles", with a small photo on each tile.

Change view from Tiles to List or Tall Tiles

You can change the view to be a more compact "List" view, or a more photo-oriented view called "Tall Tiles".

More efficient and practical List view

I'm going to go out on a limb here and speculate that 99% of users who actually work with Business Central Customer records will prefer to use the List view.

Pretty, but impractical
Conversely, although the "Tall Tile" view looks pretty for demos, with nice stock photos of hypothetical customers, I am guessing that this photo-centric view is useless for most real world Business Central users.

First, how many companies ask their customers to send them photos? Based on my experience in the mid-market ERP world (and my experience being a customer), the photo feature will be forgotten once the demo ends.  But since Dynamics GP doesn't even have the photo feature, maybe I'm just unaware of sales departments that put photos of their customers in the ERP system.

I'm betting this is what 99% (or 100% ?) of customers will look like.


But, on the plus side, the top of the Customer List page has a search field that allows me to find a customer very quickly.  No clicking to open a search window, no messing around with filters.  Just type a name, and the list window updates with the search results.  This is how a search should work.

Very efficient Search field

This is a great design and a big time saver for users who have to regularly lookup customer records.

If I want to enter a new customer in Business Central, I can click on the "+ New" link at the top of the customer list.  After clicking New, I am first presented with a window to Select a Template for the new customer.

Select A Template

This is a different sequence than Dynamics GP.  I believe this is similar to the Dynamics GP Customer Class ID, which can be assigned during the customer data entry process to default multiple customer field values.

Once I select a template, the "Customer Card" window is displayed, and I can finally start entering customer information.

I was unable to find an obvious way to navigate directly to the Customer Card to enter a new customer.  But Erik Hougaard, a NAV / Business Central MVP, explained that if you enter an unknown customer name while creating a sales order transaction, you will be prompted to setup the new customer.

Finally, enter a new customer

Note that the Business Central customer window automatically assigns a customer number based on a "Number Series" that you can define.  This is a useful feature that Dynamics GP lacks--the ability to auto number master records, so many GP customers use ISV solutions or customizations if they want to auto number records.  I'll discuss that feature more in future posts.

And that concludes my first post comparing Dynamics 365 Business Central to Dynamics GP.

In a future post, I'll dig into the Customer record, fields, and options.

Second post in this series:  Dynamics 365 Business Central vs Dynamics GP Home Page

Steve Endow is a Microsoft MVP in Los Angeles.  He works with Dynamics GP, Dynamics 365 Business Central, SQL Server, .NET, Microsoft Flow, and PowerApps.

You can also find him on Twitter and YouTube


  1. Steve, one issue I have is that in go I navigate to the setup screens to work out if GP has certain functionality. (Like is there a tick box for that). I had a full list of all setup options available via the menus. With BC I never know if the is a setup screen - and could spend all day looking for a setup option that does not even exist - but I keep looking because I think I just never found the screen! There needs to be a full menu for mine! My example was 'how to put account restrictions on dimension codes'.

    1. Interesting, thanks for the suggestion. I'll add Setup and Configuration options to my list of things to compare.

      I agree that being able to find configuration options and determine how a system is setup is pretty important, especially for consultants and ISVs.


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