Monday, April 22, 2019

Dynamics 365 Business Central vs. Dynamics GP: The Home Page

By Steve Endow

First post in this series:  Dynamics 365 Business Central vs. Dynamics GP: Customer Navigation

This post continues my Dynamics 365 Business Central vs. Dynamics GP series, and compares the "Home Pages" of both applications.  If I would have thought of it at the time, I would have made this the first post in the series, but discussing the Home Page didn't occur to me until after my first post.

After I wrote my post about Customer Navigation, I kept wondering why Dynamics 365 Business Central looks and feels so different than Dynamics GP.  After I wrote the post, I realized that the Customer Navigation in Business Central is pretty simple and pretty obvious.  So why do I feel so disoriented when I login to Business Central?

After actually staring at the Business Central Home Page for a while, I realized that the Home Page probably has something to do with my disorientation.  The Dynamics 365 Business Central Home Page is a very different experience for a long time Dynamics GP user.  As someone who has seen the Dynamics GP application daily for the last 15 years, the Business Central Home Page is actually visually disorienting for me.  When it appears, I literally don't know where to look or what to do.

In this post, I compare the Dynamics GP Home Page to the Business Central Home Page and share my opinions as a brand new Business Central user.

NOTE: As I explained in my prior post, 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.

The "Home Page" seems to have become an important design element of ERP applications.  As soon as a user logs into the application, they are presented with information and resources on the Home Page that, in theory, allow them to get right to work, analyze Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), check their personal metrics, and be alerted to tasks that need their attention.

Let's compare the Home Pages of Dynamics 365 Business Central and Dynamics GP.

Dynamics GP

As a consultant who does not actually use Dynamics GP on a daily basis as an end user, I have a difficult time objectively assessing the value of the Home Page.  In theory I think it can offer value, but based on what I've observed over the years with my Dynamics GP customers, I speculate that the value varies dramatically by user, by role, and also based on how the Home Page was covered during user training.  Some customers embrace the Home Page and live there every day.  Other users ignore it completely.

Given how I personally work with Dynamics GP and the consulting and development work that I do, this is my preferred Home Page in Dynamics GP: Completely blank.


I have several reasons for turning off all of the Home Page features in GP, but a key reason is that I just don't use it.  I don't need Reminders in the test company on my development server.  I don't run standard reports in the test database.  And I have to use so many different windows in GP that I would have at least 50 shortcuts in the QuickLinks list, making it not quick at all. I like it blank with zero visual distractions.  So I'm not the typical end user, and that may help to explain why I find the Business Central Home Page a bit disorienting.

But let me pretend to be a real user who works in Dynamics GP.  Let's take a look at an out of the box default GP Home Page.  The GP Home Page defaults some items based on the user's Industry and Role.  This is a sample default Home Page for an "Accounting Manager" role.

Accounting Manager Home Page

In this image, the Home Page is comprised of two columns, with two squares:  To Do, Connect, Quick Links, and My Reports.  The number of columns and the panes or "gadgets" in each column are configurable.

Basic content and layout options

The To Do block can display Reminders, Tasks, and Workflow tasks and notifications.

To Do: Reminders and Tasks

In Reminders, you can add new pre-defined Reminders, as well as custom reminders based on SmartList favorites.  The Reminders feature looks like it could be really valuable--it lets the user monitor almost any records in GP based on just about any criteria.  Nice.

Reminders are essentially KPIs with drill-down to SmartLists

The Tasks are a little more generic, functioning like a To Do list, where you can add an item with a Due Date. assign tasks to yourself or other users, and include a URL with a task. Even though it's pretty simple, I can appreciate the potential value, and can definitely see where a company could really utilize the feature to remember tasks, share tasks, and assign tasks.  Neat.

Simple task with due date, status, recurrence, and user assignment

Basic Task List

As for the Connect pane..., well, I guess it is useful to updating users on news or articles, but after you see the same message a few times, it just becomes something to ignore.  I believe I read that it is possible...

...and after a quick search, I see that fellow MVP Mariano Gomez wrote an article on how to modify the web page that is displayed in the Connect gadget:

So if a company decides to hijack the Connect pane to display something useful, I could see that being valuable.

And then there are the Quick Links and My Reports panes, which allow a user to add shortcuts to GP windows and GP reports.

Add a Quick Link to a GP window, List, web page, or external program

The Quick Links looks pretty useful, allowing a user to add shortcuts to frequently used GP windows, web pages, and even launch an application or file.

So, I think that is enough to give you a feel for how the Dynamics GP Home Page can be configured and the value it can offer a user.  Overall, it's pretty configurable, and has several pretty pragmatic, useful features.  And even when configured with four 'gadgets' or panes, I still find it fairly visually digestible and the pane design makes it seem more organized and not visually overwhelming.

It isn't fancy or flashy by 2019 standards.  It doesn't have graphs and charts and fancy animated graphics.  But for a user who needs to get work done, I'd say it's probably very functional.

Dynamics 365 Business Central

(For reference, here is a page that describes the different elements of the Business Central "Role Center" or Home Page)

Note: I'm guessing that long time NAV users and developers understand much more of the background and context of the Role Center Home Page and the apparent limitations I describe below.  If there are out-of-the-box features that allow a Business Central end user to modify or customize the Home Page without code, please let me know.

In contrast, this is what I see when I login to a demo environment for Dynamics 365 Business Central.  And I think this goes a long way towards explaining why I feel disoriented when I login.

This is the default Home Page for the Accountant Role Center.

Keep scrolling...

If I zoom out in my browser to make the content smaller and then set my browser to be full screen, I can get 3 columns of content. It's wider, but not better.

What am I supposed to pay attention to? All 29 elements?

I completely understand that this is a demo home page in a demo environment.  And when doing a demo of Business Central, you obviously want to show all of the neat information that can be added to the dashboard-like home page.  But is it still a "Home Page" if it is 3 full pages long?  It seems like a lot of content.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I find this home page visually overwhelming.  I see at least 29 different elements on the page, all vying for my attention.  It's way too much information for me.  Maybe a long time user can learn to ignore most of the visual noise, much like I've trained myself to ignore the Dynamics GP home page.  But being new to Business Central, this default home page is UX overload.

I absolutely recognize that the user interface is very modern and flashy and cool looking , but in my opinion, the number of elements on the page needs to be dialed waaaay back to avoid overwhelming a user, particularly a new user.  Fortunately, the home page is highly configurable, but my concern is that if this is the default home page for a new user, it will likely remain unchanged for many users.  So I strongly recommend training all users to modify their Business Central home page immediately after logging in the first time.

Let me walk through the sections of the home page and point out a few elements that bother me.

At the top of the page is the "Navigation" area.  There is a "Navigation menu" a 'quick links' like area ("Navigation bar") at the top.  This looks good--intuitive, functional, and convenient.  The Navigation bar links appear to be based on the user's Role Center assignment, and it looks like those cannot be customized, unfortunately.

Standard menu at top: I approve

Below the menus, there is the "Headline" area that I think is a problematic element for a Home Page.  Why does it bother me?  Because it is YELLING at the user with a VERY LARGE FONT and it changes EVERY 8 SECONDS.  And the data is "from last month" and "from the last three months".  If it isn't immediate data, why does it need to be so large and flash between the messages every 8 seconds?  As far as I can tell, there is nothing actionable about this information.  I'm no UX expert, but it doesn't seem like it would be useful to an "Accountant" user.


And you may have seen this one after logging in:


Perhaps this catches eyes during a demo, but this type of large Headline adds zero value and should be turned off for a real user.  It's a huge visual distraction.

If I am working in Business Central for 8 hours a day, the Headline will have flipped through its messages 3,600 times.  In a single day.  That concept might be fine for a "management dashboard" that someone glances at occasionally, but it seems like a very distracting UI element for a real world end user.  Remove the "Headline" element from your Business Central home page, pronto.

Next to the Headline is a list of Actions, defaulting based on the user's Role Center assignment. Compact, functional, practical.  Similar to the Dynamics GP Quick Links section, except that from what I can tell, it cannot be customized like the GP Quick Links (at least not through the Personalize tool at this time, as far as I can tell). It would be really nice if the Actions could be customized in the future.

Simple. Functional.

Below the Headline and Actions, there is an Activities section, which is a "Wide data cues" page element.

Large, simple, actionable, based on user concerns

I really like the Activities area.  "Hey, this is the stuff you need to pay attention to today!".  The red line under Overdue Purchase Documents tells me I need to pay attention, as we know that Red = Bad, which provides a great visual cue for the user.  And I think the larger font is justified here--this is the section that should be getting the user's attention.

I speculate that the Activities area might be the main place where important tasks and metrics should be located for a typical system user.  I suspect anything below the Activities area might be window dressing for a regular user.

Next, we have the square things.  Lots of squares.  These are "Data cues" elements.

Too many metrics

Again, this is presumably setup for demo purposes, but 14 high contrast solid squares with numbers in them seems overwhelming visually.  My eyes and brain can't digest this much information at a glance.  I would have to slow down, read the label on each group, and then read the label on each square in order to assess if I needed to take action on any of the squares. But unfortunately, the labels on some of the squares are truncated, so...

Truncated names. I can only guess what these metrics are

Since all of the squares are the same color, there is very little visual differentiation.  And some have a green line on them, some have a white line, which is something I need to look into--is that a "Cue" indicator?  I think that typical users should turn off as many of these metrics as possible, and only keep the ones that are truly useful and actionable for them.

Below the pile of squares, there is an "Insights" section that can contain panels with lists, reports, and KPIs.  These are neat looking "dashboard" type lists and KPIs.  This is fine in concept, but they are relegated to the second and third page of the 'Home Page', requiring the user to scroll down quite a bit in order to view them.  These make for a good demo, and perhaps a good management dashboard, but I don't know how much they will be utilized on a typical "Accountant" user Home Page.

How many Insights is too many Insights?

Personalizing the Business Central Home Page

As I mentioned, the Business Central Home Page is highly customizable.  So let me try and setup a Home Page that I think would be more effective for a typical busy end user.

I start by clicking the gear icon in the upper right, then selecting Personalize.

Business Central will then display a "Personalizing" banner, and I can click on page elements I want to modify or remove (or add).

Time to go

I can click on the Insight banner and select "Hide".  With a single click, the Headline element is removed and the Activities section moves up on the page.

Much, much better

Let's keep turning stuff off.

In the Activities area, you can hide an entire "group" of metrics, such as the Payments group with 3 squares.

Hide metric group

Or, you can hide individual metrics within a group.

Hide individual metrics

This is great, allowing the user to minimize the visual noise, yet still see metrics from different groups.

After I remove lots of items from the Home Page, this is what I end up with.

Much more manageable and usable

While I had several concerns about the business of the default Home Page setup for the Accounting Role Center, this end result is a nice demonstration of how configurable the Business Central home page can be.  In my opinion, this is a huge improvement and makes the Home Page more usable, more practical, and much less daunting for a new user.

While I was able to remove elements from the Home Page, I haven't yet figured out how to selectively add elements.

If I click on the More link in the Personalizing banner, a "+ Field" button appears.

If I select the Activities section and click on "+ Field", two options appear, but not all of the options I removed.  I don't know if this is a bug, an incomplete feature, or if I'm doing something wrong.

I removed lots of metrics, but only two are listed to add back

So I need to do more research to see if I'm missing a step that would allow me to add back specific metrics, or add new, different metrics.

As for adding things back or resetting the page layout, if I select a section and then click on the small red triangle menu, it looks like I can reset that section.

Clear personalization for a section

I reset a section and clicked on "+ Field", but no options were listed.  So it seems that metrics are restricted to those pre-defined for the Role Center.  I hope this is something that will change in the future.  Adding data elements from anywhere in the system would be a nice feature, as I know of many SMB users who handle the tasks of multiple roles.

Apparently additional metrics cannot be added
Also, the Personalizing banner also has a link to "Clear personalization", which affects the entire page, resetting back to the Role Center default.

Clears all personalization for the entire page.
But what does All Except Actions mean? 

I'm puzzled by the "All Except Actions" option.  As far as I can tell, I'm unable to modify the Actions links near the top of the page using the Personalize feature, so I don't understand why that is a separate option to reset.  Perhaps it is possible to modify the Actions list for a Role Center somewhere else?

Adding New Activities

As I mentioned, I think that the Activities section looks like one of the most valuable parts of the Business Central Home Page.  So I tried adding new items to it.  I already tried Personalize, but I wasn't able to find a way to add any new elements to it.

Can I add new Activities?

If I click on Activities, a "Setup Up Cues" option is displayed.  Unfortunately, the Cues window does not appear to allow me to add new Activities--it seems to only allow me to modify the Favorable (Green) / Unfavorable (Red) preferences for each "cue".


While the Business Central Role Center Home Page looks visually appealing and is customizable, I think there are opportunities to improve it in future releases.  I would really like to be able to add Actions and Activities from any 'module' of the system using the Personalize feature, as SMB users often have to handle tasks in multiple areas of their companies.

I think the flexibility of the Dynamics GP Home Page is a good model to follow, as it is very customizable, and is not restricted by the user's role.  GP users can  add just about any custom Reminders, Tasks, Quick Links, and Reports to their Home Page (limited by GP security), so I'd love to see that same flexibility in Business Central.

I am hoping that the Role Center Home Page in Business Central improves in future releases, and that additional end-user customization functionality will be added in the future.

If you know of a way for an end user to add new elements to a Role Center Home Page, particularly to the Actions and Activities section, please let me know.

You can also find him on Twitter and YouTube

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