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ERP to the Cloud, should you make the move?

Are you considering moving your ERP to the Cloud? In this article Managing Director Adam Seaton shares some of the more intangible factors that you may not have considered.

The paradigm shift to the Cloud

I first became aware of the term ‘Cloud’ whilst working for a channel partner back in 2003-2004. I remember it had a couple of interpretations – rightly or wrongly; a gathering momentum of shifting infrastructure to third party data centres; and some software that was delivered via a browser. I don’t think the idea of enterprise class business applications being hosted on the Cloud was even in the most ambitious of thought bubbles back then.

Let’s move the story on to February 2015. I had an email from Microsoft asking if we’d like to join them at a preview of ‘AX7.0’ in Redmond. Yes please. After signing a very weighty NDA, two consultants were despatched across the pond for a week. What they came back with caused a paradigm shift in our business and the ERP landscape.

Initially things moved slowly. AX7.0 launched at the EMEA Convergence in Barcelona in November 2015. The next 12 months passed with more questions and answers as we grappled with the ERP Cloud journey, with new deployment strategies, sales headaches, licensing, transition, learning, and an immature toolset. The core technology was exciting, but the landing was rather lumpy.

ERP to the Cloud: Dynamics 365 Launch

The rebranded, Dynamics 365 got a new launch in late 2016 (Edit: we miss EMEA Convergence, Barcelona).

Then it started. I got the first customer call in December 2016 along the lines of: “We need to stand up a new company structure on new hardware and new domain in 8 weeks – any ideas?”. They went live February 2017, and our Cloud journey was truly born.

Fast forward another 4 years and time for a little reflection. I have been a customer and user of on-premises solutions, a consultant of on-premises and Cloud options, and a business owner hearing stories from all sides.

So, if you’re sat in ‘on-premises’ world and wondering if or how to jump, I’d like to share feedback that you may not have factored in.

Since the initial move to take ERP to the Cloud, it’s evolved to have more flavours than the most imaginative ice cream maker. Cookies and Cream, I understand. Mango Chilli is a puzzle. Cloud, public cloud, private cloud, software as a service, infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, edge computing (aka Mango Chilli), community cloud, hybrid cloud. For years I thought BYOD was bring-your-own-device until I was told the rules had changed whilst I was making the coffee and it now means bring-your-own-database (but you must decide if you want it on premise, or in a public cloud or a private cloud…). So, for the purposes of simplification, my ‘Cloud’ is pure, white and fluffy. It is public, sits in a Microsoft data centre and its software is consumed by users through a browser of choice.

Cloud vs On-Premises

Over recent years I’ve tried to do classic return on investment calculations of shifting ERP to the Cloud verses on premise for several prospects, factoring in all the good stuff around hardware write-downs, backup and resilience cost, administrative overhead savings…you know the drill. Truth is it’s hard, and creative sales teams will make the number compelling as needed. 

I’ve come to realise that the cloud journey is so much more than tangible computable numbers – important though they are.

Did anyone notice the day that Microsoft’s Office suite shifted from an installed application with occasional browser access – ‘if you must’, to a default cloud application with install local client options – ‘if you must’. Me neither, but Office 2016 was the last year marker so somewhere between then and now, I guess.

We have grown custom to regular updates, feature additions, background patches. And your phone has been doing it for a decade or more. But ERP?

What about those modifications, custom tables and data entities, integrations, finely honed data warehouses? How can Microsoft possibly update your ERP solution with new features? How can they possibly test it? How can they do all that and be permanently in ‘upgrade’ mode, given that every man and his dog knows that ERP upgrades of any kind, are the stuff of nightmares. They are projects in themselves and half the reason that ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ rules apply to so many on premise applications. Ergo, they don’t get upgraded at all and technical debt is reality.

I had my doubts, but this is truly where we now find ourselves; regular cadence updates to production ERP environments incorporating all of the above challenges. We’ve had to learn new toolsets and processes to do it, but that knowledge is learnt and banked. We now have, plus or minus a month or two, permanently up to date systems across all customers. I know we perhaps like to poke fun at Microsoft and some questionable strategies (I’ll just say ‘base’ and ‘attach’ at this point), but on this one, I will doff my cap – they’ve pulled off quite a coup.

And that fires great wins across all parties. For Microsoft and the partner, those points are aligned to some degree. 

We are authoring, deploying and perhaps most importantly supporting the same application across all of our business units. If there is an issue, every customer has that issue resolved once and updated globally at pretty much the same time. For most, it is resolved before they know it’s a problem.

Providing value as a Microsoft Partner

For us as a partner, being able to support a single version customer view of the world is equally valuable. Yes, there are business efficiencies and economies of scale but mostly it’s about the knowledge share. It takes an incredible amount of experience and knowledge to assess how problems manifest in different version across the years, and which hotfix is applicable to which version and why you can’t apply fix A to version B due to compatibility with C.

It seems crazy now that we used to maintain virtual servers with so many different versions with demo data just so we could test scenarios. 

And of course, quite rightly, customers have strict access protocols that often-involved VPN’s, remote desktops, or remote PIN dongles. Sometimes just getting to see the system/problem/data is a 20-minute exercise. Now, open browser, click link, allow 5 seconds for security protocols to trust the access, and we’re straight into ‘how can we help’ mode.

And if the sensible plan of action is ‘we could do with that production data in a test system to run some scenarios’ then it’s a service request to Microsoft with a robust SLA.  

So, these efficiencies, this new ‘lean’ deployment and management, certainly filters through to the customers. But what about the more direct benefits. I did want to stay away from financials and with that in mind, I’d like to highlight the community. 

Take advantage of the Dynamics 365 community

Dynamics 365 has a vast global user base and that is a community that customers can tap into. If you want to explore a business case or examples of how customers are leveraging Power Apps to drive rapid deployment of line of business applications, someone out there has done that, or wants to do that same project. Strategically, management can engage at the right level on platform advances and roadmap, whilst users can get down and dirty on specific new features, or problems. The dynamics community is brilliant and engaging and what better way to leverage that than if everyone is having a conversation about the same version and the same news.

Leverage the power of the platform

Finally, I’ll mention platform. As a generally tech savvy person who likes to have the latest tech toys, there are few things more frustrating than realising you can’t do something between product A and product B due to compatibility. Can I get my old Garmin to sync’ to Strava? Nope. Can I get the NHS Coronavirus tracking app to load onto my parents iPhone. Not before a software update and you can’t do that because you need a 6.5 not a 6.0 or before. And so on. 

The real power of shifting ERP to the cloud, allowing for all the nice things mentioned already, is being able to leverage everything else. 

The Cloud, Azure, the community, platform platform platform. The infrastructure is now here, the tools are now here, the security is now here, the processes and support are now here, evergreen software is now here. 

You’ll have to do the ROI spreadsheet on this one, but if you’re are still sat on premise and doing the math, I would truly encourage you to look beyond the pure numbers and evaluate the more strategic and intangible business benefits because that is where your real competitive edge and ROI will be found.

If you’d like to discuss your ERP to the Cloud journey with the team, contact us today.