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A Shot of Business Central and A Beer | Interview With Mike Morton


Welcome back to special episode of A Shot of Business Central and A Beer, presented by Solution Systems, a Gold Microsoft Partner. In today’s episode Ken and Michael will be chatting with Mike Morton. Mike is the General Manager of Business Central at Microsoft and has been in this role for almost 2 years. During this podcast Mike offers insights into what the future holds for Business Central, upcoming features, reporting, AppSource, and much more.







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A Shot of Business Central and A Beer Podcast Show Notes


Intro

Michael: Hey everyone! Strap in for another new episode of A Shot of Business Central and A Beer, the one and only podcast made to help users like you achieve Business Central greatness and learn a little bit about beer in the process.


Whether you’re an owner, director, manager, controller, or shop floor user you’re sure to pick up some actionable advice when you listen to A Shot of Business Central and A Beer. Today, we’ve got a very special guest joining Ken and I on the show…the General Manager of Business Central, Mike Morton! Hello Mike and how are you doing?


Questions & Answers


1. Ken: Let’s start with looking toward the future – which is always very exciting to everyone. If we look forward 3 or 4 years down the road, what can you share with everyone regarding the areas of Business Central that may be the most improved or different looking than they are today?

i. Follow-up: Teams is very popular and the integration with Teams (and Outlook) is very appealing to most users. What role do you see for Teams in the future of Business Central?


Mike Morton: I agree. I think the future is very bright for Business Central and I’m really excited. So, I’ll pick kind of a couple areas. The first one I’ll say we want the product to be seamless and delightful and when I say this I’m really talking the full spectrum. So, from a partner implementation point of view I’ll take perf (performance) and scale. With SaaS that should be a thing you never think about. You don’t have to do a lot of planning. You can just deploy and count on whatever size database or number of transactions, Microsoft takes care of that for you. From an implementation point of view, we’re just trying to make it easier to sort of get up and running and performance critically from an end user point of view. Just making the product easier to use, delightful, fun. You know, when you think about ERP and business apps you think about big and complex and sort of deployments, and people are always trying to add sort of their wrinkles and I think we’re really going to try and sort of surprise people in how they can come to work excited about using their business apps. Actually, something people will really love and enjoy. So, I think that whether you’re and end user, a partner, a SI, I think Business Central is really going to kind of evolve there.


Mike Morton: The second big place, sorry I’m going to give a long answer but you asked about the vision and this gets me excited, and this is not going to be a surprise it’s going to be about integration. You’re going to see us continue to work across with Office and Teams, across Power Platform, other Dynamics apps, third parties, and really ensuring that people don’t have sort of gaps or sort of pot holes on their ways of experience. We want it to be really sort of seamless. So, whether you’re doing communications, whether you’re doing warehousing or manufacturing or supply chain or productivity, bringing those things together and that’s part of the value proposition that Microsoft can really bring because we do have so many assets in those places and we’ll also do it via partnerships. You know, if you want to make sure you connect with your shipping provider or your tax authority or whatever it may be, just having that integration be super seamless and really sort of end-to-end.


Mike Morton: And the last one, James Phillips has talked about this quite a bit. If folks don’t know James he kind of runs sort of the all op Dynamics and Business Applications in Microsoft. We really do think the future’s going to change in terms of how people think about data and intelligence. So today, typically what happens people enter data in a form, they save it, they retrieve it, they do views later, and of course people will do that but we see a much more automated world. Where, even things as basic as sending out a quote and getting back an invoice, you know there’s still a lot of data manual entry. So, how can we sort of automate everything from sort of the gathering data? How can we have sensors? You know, getting information if I’m a field person. Maybe just knowing where I am with my phone shows what activity. Then how do we reason over that data and actually do analytics and sort of have insights on that? You know, saying, “hey this is an oddity” or saying, “this is the thing you can look at”, and then most importantly how do we actually have actions? How can we suggest hey maybe you should contact this customer, or maybe this thing is less reliable and you should replace this, or maybe you should order these things ahead of time in your supply chain? So, I think that the world of intelligence is really going to change. Maybe we’ll talk more about this later but I’ve heard in the past that A.I. is super exciting but an SMB maybe less so because we know our customers, we know our businesses, and we’re not that complex. And I think that there’s some truth to that. There is some more complexity in sort of larger enterprises but part of that has just been a failing of the industry to bring A.I. to the masses. To make it easy enough to use that it’s something that will sort of have that benefit. So, we have to make it easier to use, the scenario is obvious, you know if you’re talking 4 or 5 years I think you’ll see change there.


Mike Morton: You know in our vision A.I. is kind of a loaded word like machine learning. But really, if you think about it, how can we have more insights and actions for customers? Whether or not that is sort of true A.I. is probably the better sort of more customer way of talking about it.


Mike Morton: The predicted late payments actually does integrate a lot of really interesting technologies. It really has some of our core Azure ML and some of our core capabilities behind it and so we have a lot of that infrastructure in there, even in BC today and if you have enough sophistication you can actually go in Azure ML and build your own things, but we haven’t brought that to the masses. We delivered that feature which was great, we’ve delivered a couple more like that, but how do we change the game in terms of exceeding our customer expectations?


2. Michael: With the influx of NAV customers upgrading to Business Central, and these customer’s being use to 1 major upgrade per year and 1 small monthly hotfix update per month with NAV, we’ve heard some whispers from them that the update cycle might be too frequent in BC. Personally, I like the BC schedule of 2 major updates per year and small monthly updates that contain more than just hotfixes, but I’m wondering what you think about the frequency of these updates and whether or not you know of any plans to change the frequency of updates?


Mike Morton: This is certainly familiar feedback. As some of your listeners may know I worked in the Office organization for years and we had these same conversations in Office where some customers wanted updates all the time to the latest capabilities. Others are like, please every 10 years, Word is fine, I’ve learned exactly where all the buttons are. So, first of all we need to make a distinction. I think from a service deployment, and this may be kind of irrelevant, but I think that our ability to update the code should be sort of be independent of whether customers actually see and experience change or anything sort of breaks. So, I think that we want to have the ability that we can make updates, insure the product is secure, fix bugs, or respond to sort of feedback rather quickly. I think that this could be different than in terms of when customers actually experience that upgrade. So, we can deploy bits but have them be “cold” or “off” or “flighted.” There are a lot of sort of industry terms here, and have customers say here’s now when I want to actually have these new capabilities show up or have these new changes come on board. The balance is that we’re going to have to figure out the right sort of level of flexibility we give customers. So, there are no planned changes right now. It is sort of top of mind topic and frankly we get questions in both directions. We get questions of, “hey can you please do less frequent?” We also get, “hey can you try and get this thing in an incremental release?” I think that’s going to be a good conversation with the community and one that we’re going to probably have some nuance on in terms of how we give flexibility in certain areas and probably less flexibility in other areas.

3. Michael: If you would have asked me 5 years ago if I ever thought Microsoft Dynamics NAV, which is now Business Central, would ever be simplified to the point where it’s virtually the same for everyone out of the box, I would have said no way! How wrong I would have been! Can you talk a little bit about why Microsoft has gone down this path of simplification?


Mike Morton: We think that having simpler implementations is a win for everybody. We think it’s a win for end users by having just sort of an easier experience, we think it’s a win for partners because they’ll be able to do more volume and take on more customers per month, and it’s a win for Microsoft because we think we’ll be able to sort of do faster innovation be sort of kind of create more capabilities. And sort of how we got there was a cultural shift. Microsoft has a great history as an enterprise company. When we go to partner conferences we often get asked for feature x and feature y and capability z and we do a lot of those things. So, I’m not saying at all that we’re not going to continue to add sophisticated capabilities but I sort of reject the notion that sophisticated capabilities in a simplified experience are at odds. You know, I think that you can absolutely build experiences. Think about the palm pilot, people were like hey yea that’s going to win because you can’t add. Compare a palm pilot now to an iPhone or an Android device and it’s kind of laughable. You know Apple has done a great job or Android of building very sophisticated things and still nail a bunch of their key scenarios. So, I think we’ve had some cultural changes and that includes bringing in people that have experience in sort of other domains than sort of enterprise business apps and I think you’re going to see that not just from Business Central I think you’re really going to see that across the board in Dynamics including our sort of true large enterprise products where you might think simplification is less of an issue. We’re going to make that bet.


4. Ken: Speaking of simplification, it’s been our experience that users love features and want as many as possible. What is the thought process behind what new features to include (or not include) with Business Central? For example, why is Manufacturing included with a Premium license but not warehouse handheld scanning capabilities or a B2B Customer Portal are not standard features/modules?


Mike Morton: And these are often, as you can imagine, great conversations that we have internally over at Microsoft. There are a couple things. One is, we look at the area and think, is this better served out of the box or better served via the ecosystem? And often that factor kind of comes down to a couple things. If it’s very different across geographies and localizations, that’s where sometimes it comes better from sort of across the ecosystem. Where it’s hard for us to build something that’s going to make sense sort of world-wide while we have partners around the world that can really do that sort of localize and specialize, and ultimately for the end customer it’s more out of the box because to get the sort of end-end solution for their geography or their region. It might also be just on how specialized it is to a particular vertical or how sort of common the feature is. I’ll also plug our ideas site aka.ms/ideas. We really do look at that daily. We look at what people vote on, what people sort of suggest. So, we look at the community and try to prioritize. I have a healthy team of engineers but no matter how many engineers I have there’s never enough to do everything you want. We do just classic prioritization like everyone else. So, I think we certainly kind of listen to the customers and the feed back there. The last thing is, I’ll say we do really want to make sure that we are focused on our target market. Which is pretty big. We have fairly large mid-market customers using Business Central obviously in the SMB space. There are some super advanced things that we’ll say, “hey if we’re going in that direction our D365 Finance or Supply Chain might be the right choice to go there” but frankly that’s rare. The majority of the time our decision making is based on the ecosystem and whether or not just how we prioritize our resources.


Mike Morton speaking about heated debates on who gets to include what feature in Business Central: Honestly, not at all. We don’t hold back capabilities in Business Central. There’s not some mandate or something along those lines. Our team makes the decision for what we want to do for our markets. So, the key thing there is how we spend our resources. So, I just want to make sure that we don’t spend so much time building this thing that is going to apply to 3 customers when we could spend that same time and have that apply to 10,000 customers and really kind of expand the market. It isn’t really a Microsoft policy thing it’s about us really being excellent in our space.


5. Ken: Over the past 25 years I have been working with ERP, users always want better access to data and reports. And despite the myriad of improvements that have been made in this area, it seems as if it’s never easy, fast, and useful enough. The new feature in Business Central that will allows users to output any report data directly to Excel will be extremely popular. But beyond this, what do you see as the future of reporting and business intelligence for small and mid-sized companies? (What role will Artificial Intelligence (AI) play?)


Mike Morton: That’s a complicated question because reporting is so many things. There’s traditional printed reports that you might need to send to regulatory or running a business. There’s things like Power BI where it’s more interactive and analytical. There’s cases where you’re sort of doing one off analysis and as you guys know there’s a variety of solutions today. You can do things out of the box with our reporting stuff, you can do things with Excel, Word templates, the Power BI integration, and we haven’t found the solution yet to sort of rule them all. Certainly, Power BI is a big bet from Microsoft. I think from a technology standpoint you’re going to see more investment there. I think certainly Excel continues to be the hero of sort of end user offerings so us kind of making it better, and then we kind of recognize there’s still a huge need for, even without customization, out of the box reports that do more things. We still get a lot of asks on why isn’t this report in the box, why isn’t that report in the box. So, we’ll look at that, and that is one, you talked about heated debates, where the answer is not as clear as I’d like. I think we’re going to continue to invest in several of those technologies, it’s not a clean sort of one or the other but I think overtime it’s going to be on us and the community to make it as seamless as possible for the partners and for the customers.


Mike Morton: And some of the technology has gone even further where it finds the insights for you. So, it looks at and it’s like hey did you notice that your February this year was worse than your February last year? So a ton of interesting things there.


6. Ken: Do you ever indulge in a cold beer? If so, do you have a favorite beer? If not, do you enjoy any other type of a drink on a nice Saturday afternoon?


7. Michael: What’s your favorite Business Central feature that is currently being worked on but not yet released?


Mike Morton: Gosh, there’s so many to choose from. I don’t want to reveal too much but I’ll sort of pick one in sort of the user interface space. We’re doing some work to just make it quite a bit quicker and easier to do very basic navigation and viewing of data. So, we’ll have a name but I don’t want to share too much, my team will get mad at me but when I saw the demo of some of the stuff working I got really excited because every customer using the product, it’s just going to make their life just a little bit faster, a little bit more convenient. Once it’s there people will wonder why you didn’t have it forever. So, I think that some of the investments in that space are very exciting to me. I cold go on and on about our modern dev and performance and Power BI integration but sometimes those user interface ones I think are particularly fun.


8. Ken: We’re a partner, we develop many apps and extensions but we are hesitant to put our apps on AppSource because it’s not really our business and its going to take a big effort to work in monetization of these apps. If there was a direct monetization through AppSource we believe there would be an explosion of apps for Business Central. Do you envision Microsoft taking over the monetization capabilities for apps in the future?


Mike Morton: I’ll be open and the first to admit we have a lot of work and improvement in terms of AppSource experience and Business Central integration. 1,757 apps right now so we have a lot but you bring up a great point. So, monetization is one. We don’t allow transactability via Microsoft or via AppSource. I do expect that we are going to have that as a capability. For folks that have been talking to us we’ve been saying that it’s a year away for three years now and that’s one that has been frustrating in terms of executing on. Part of it is the complexity. You brought up some people want to charge per user. Some things like payroll, they don’t want to charge per Business Central user they want to charge per employee they send payroll out to. So, the matrix of things to sort of get right there, and it will be optional. I do expect that when we do it, we’ll also let customers if they don’t they can sort of have their own monetization path. This is certainly one on our list. Also, to just talk about the store itself it is overwhelming. You go there and there’s 1700 plus solutions, how do I know if this one is good, is it going to work? App stores like Apple and Android have some of these problems but they also have the benefit of a large number of reviews, you can go and look at ratings and sites and these are the most popular and the BC universe isn’t at that kind of scale where those things could really help. There are some basics for us. Here’s a really simple one: let me filter by country. So, if I’m in France I’ll see payroll providers for Australia and Japan. Hey, can we at least show you the apps that sort of make sense for your region. That’s not a capability that’s available in AppSource but it’s one that I hope we’ll have available soon. Another one is letting partners, and this is one that we’re actually working on, have recommended apps. So, if you’re a partner and you have a bunch of customers you can go in say, “hey these are the ones that we know work well.” We have sort of other ideas around certification, badging, ratings, etc. to really sort of help encourage quality in that experience. So, it’s kind of a multi-faceted area. We have the most apps in AppSource of any product at Microsoft, more than SharePoint one of the things I sort of worked on. It’s a great thing but it’s also a thing that we know we’re going to sort of have to make the discoverability of what makes sense for a particular customer dramatically better.



Speed Round Questions (Michael)


1. Is the Business Central mobile app currently installed on your phone?

2. Have you ever had a nightmare pertaining to Business Central?

3. Will on-premise software one day make a comeback and be the go-to ERP choice?

4. In previous interviews I’ve seen you frequently answer questions with regards to the storage capacity of Business Central. As of July 1, 2021, changes were made to the storage capacity that are very favorable toward BC customers. Are you happy that you don’t have to talk about Business Central’s storage limits as frequently as you did a year ago?

5. Have you ever seen Satya Nadella loose that cool, calm, and collected demeanor that he is famous for?


Outro


Alright, it’s just about that time to start wrapping things up, but before we end the podcast, I’d like to ask Mike is there anything you’d like to share that you feel may be important to get across to our listeners that we may have missed?


Well, we’d like to say thank you for joining us during this episode of A Shot of Business Central and A Beer. We truly appreciate you taking the time out of your immensely busy schedule and we hope to one day do this again in the future.

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