Automatic Business Central Upgrades: Bad Information in the Wind

I got an email from Microsoft the other day about a Business Central upgrade for one of our clients. Part of the email read as follows:

Your Business Central environment could not be updated to version 19.0 because one or more of the installed extensions failed to update successfully. Review the error information below and complete the recommended actions to resolve the issue before the update can be attempted again.

The extension identified was an extension from Microsoft AppSource, and is key to the client’s business. The email contained a laundry list of errors that were preventing the upgrade. Since we don’t have access to the source code, we couldn’t fix any of them.

Business Central Upgrade Troubleshooting Process

Here is the process we followed:

  • Created a sandbox with an exact copy of the customer’s data (this takes a couple of clicks).
  • Upgraded the app to the newest version using the App Management panel in admin.
  • Rescheduled an update for the sandbox.

The result? We got the same list of errors. An email to the vendor resulted in this suggestion (from the vendor’s tech support):

To be able to proceed without errors, you will have to uninstall the [vendor name removed] app, do the update, and then reinstall the app as workakround. [sic]

So I’ve uninstalled the app in the sandbox I created. Now we wait to see if it upgrades. [A quick aside: to do this in production would mean that the app was not available when the upgrade was done. If the app proves incompatible after the upgrade, we would not be able to reinstall it. That would be a problem.]

Reloading the App from AppSource

While I was waiting, I verified that I could install an AppSource App in a sandbox. I found some documentation that suggested that it was possible, but nothing with a set of detailed instructions. I also found some blog posts that suggested that it was not possible (see below for why I don’t trust blog posts completely).

Frustrated Employee during ERP implementation photoIn the course of all of this, I ran across the following statement on a site. It is accompanied by a video of what appears to be an experienced man stating–emphatically–that AppSource apps update automatically, and are required to be compatible in advance of the release of a new version. The problem is…I had an email from Microsoft proving just the opposite. Here’s the statement from the website and video:

The benefit of using apps is that Microsoft will update your Business Central every month – and you don’t have to do anything. No cost. No tasks. No upgrading project.

Here’s my pet peeve: this site is selling itself as a training site and it is completely, totally, and dangerously wrong! If the app version you have loaded isn’t compatible with the upgrade, Microsoft will eventually upgrade and delete the app. The data will still be there, but you may have an anxious client while you reload the app.

Microsoft Documentation on AppSource App Upgrades

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the first paragraph of the documentation on Upgrading Apps from Microsoft:

When an updated version of an AppSource app becomes the active version in the Dynamics 365 Business Central service, tenants do not automatically get this updated version. This upgrade must be done manually by getting the latest version of the app in AppSource.

Ok. All the advice you get in the marketplace from “experts” isn’t good advice: not by a long shot. Now that that rant is out there, back to verifying that I can load an AppSource App in a Sandbox.

If you need some help with or information on a Business Central Upgrade or Dynamics NAV upgrade, contact us with an overview of your situation or schedule a chat.

Sage Announces Change in Sage 300 PR Support

For years, Sage 300’s PR has required an annual tax table subscription. Since the invoice goes straight from Sage to the customer, I don’t know the pricing unless a client mentions it to us. It seems like it is somewhere around $695.

Last week, we got an email from Sage telling us that this was about to change. From now on, the annual fee for payroll support (which included payroll tax tables) will be more for users that process more employees. For 1-15 employees, the annual fee will change to $1,000, and it rises from there to 501+ employees. The email we received said that Sage customers (users) will get the notice in November.

AOffice desktop with stats, calculator, pencil, papers and folder named Payrolls Sage spins it, “Sage 100 and Sage 300 payroll customers now pay only for the employees for whom they process payroll.”

That is the way ADP, PayChex, and a number of other Payroll software companies handle it, after all. I guess I’m just sensitive because smaller clients in our area have been piqued at the $695 cost. I still remember the calls I got when Sage took out the feature in the DOS software that allowed us to change the payroll tax tables ourselves. But I also know that we and Sage got more calls because of messed up tax tables than we could shake a stick at.

Back to the change…I think there are several things driving this change:

  • Fifteen years ago, many of our small business clients with 50 or so employees processed their own payroll. Some of them did it on spreadsheets, so updating to computer software was a big improvement. Most of our clients wanted Payroll in their systems. Today, I have to think to count the number of clients who are actually processing their own payroll. And we have several that have payroll software but don’t use it.
  • The number of regulations and reports even a small company has to keep up with today are multiplying: E-verify, W-4, I-9, new employee reports, employee separation notices, worker’s compensation, AHA, COBRA, state insurance laws, unemployment, etc. Outsourcing payroll just to get someone else to watch out for these things and take care of them has been on the rise for several years. Even companies with 1000+ employees are outsourcing pieces of this puzzle.
  • Both of these items put together mean that there are more features an average piece of payroll software has to have, but there are fewer companies to spread the cost across. Voila: price increase.

After all, that’s really what it is, isn’t it Sage?

Accounting and ERP Vendor Apologizes? Sage Email to Sage 50 Payroll Direct Deposit Customers

A client that uses Sage 50 (formerly Peachtree) sent us an email from Sage. It turns out that Sage switched from one direct deposit product to another and it caused some issues. Here’s the first part of the email:

The Sage Leadership team wants to talk to you.

On June 11, 2015, we implemented Sage ID, a sign-in system with enhanced security that replaced Sage Passport. While many customers have migrated successfully, some customers have experienced issues, making it difficult to process direct deposits. If you had challenges or were not able to process direct deposit, we are extremely sorry and would like the opportunity to apologize to you personally.

I’ve never seen this before, but it made me feel good about Sage; the Sage 50 product still isn’t the bees’ knees, though.

Computer Lockups and Troubleshooting

In the last few days, my computer system decided to lock up several times. I just installed a couple of trial versions of software, and I had purchased Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 12. I’d also installed the upgrade to 12.5.

When the lockup started, I assumed that it was one of two things (A) the software I just installed, or (B) something new Windows Update had installed automatically. I Googled the problem and the names of the software, and discovered that Dragon was being blamed for several lockups similar to the ones I had experienced. I followed the instructions, turning off many features of Dragon that I really like. Lockups continued.

I uninstalled software. I reinstalled Microsoft Office. Lockups continued.

I finally remembered that I had installed Microsoft virtualization technology in Windows 8. This also required me to turn on Hyper V support on my motherboard. When I turned off virtualization support on my motherboard, the lockups went away.

The moral: Troubleshooting is frustrating even for an IT professional. The problem isn’t always obvious, and the solution often involves retracing your steps. It’s something like finding lost keys.

I hope you’re not troubleshooting anything now, and I hope it’s easy to find if you are.

Productivity Improvement and ERP Software

Productivity and software go together for me. I’m not sure exactly why that is. Recently, I noticed that I was using the voice recognition of my iPhone more and more.  So I decided to try out Windows voice recognition.  Actually, I am using Windows voice recognition to create this blog post.

The last voice recognition software I used was Dragon Dictate.  I had to update my computer to make it fast enough to work with Dragon Dictate. Unfortunately, the 97% plus recognition the software promised turned out to mean that I had to correct virtually every phrase in every sentence. If you have a headset, it’s worth turning on the feature just to see how it works for you.

The process of learning to use voice recognition, like any new technology, is somewhat painful.  I am having to learn to pronounce my words distinctly.  It seems often slower than simply typing.  However, it also offers a vision of the future.

Enterprise resource planning, or ERP, is the same way.  It does require effort, and that often means pain.  The benefit in productivity to the organization can be substantial. If you’re still using a system just to perform accounting tasks, consider evaluating your business processes.  Software is often necessary to support efficient process.  In a similar way, voice recognition software forces me to consider the way I write.  In particular, it forces me to consider whether typing is the best way to accomplish my result.

Based on what I see from this test, I think I may have found a new best friend.  Microsoft’s version of the solution might not be the one I ultimately land on, but it gives me a no cost alternative to try.

Improving business productivity should be the primary goal of the implementing technology.  It is our primary goal in building software for our customers.

ERP, Technology, and the Danger of Knowing Too Little

There is a new phenomenon I’m experiencing lately: the danger of knowing too little about ERP and technology. I don’t mean the danger of Photo of a person at a desk with head in hands.knowing too little, I mean the danger of businesses knowing too little. Or perhaps individuals in those businesses knowing too little. Or perhaps IT advisors knowing too little.

Here’s what I mean: it’s not enough any more to know the technology. There was a time when our clients were amazed if we could just get things to work (that was a long time ago). Now we need to know much more. Not only do we need to know technical details to make things work, we need to know business processes. It’s more likely today that an IT specialist can make things work; it’s not likely that a business can take advantage of everything that is in the software.

Let’s take a simple example: inventory levels. Simply, that’s how much inventory to order, when to reorder, and how much should be on the shelf at any given time. It also involves deciding which products should in fact be in inventory, and which should be special ordered. Many businesses still use some version of average sales to get to this number. I can tell when I ask, “How do you decide what to order?” If I get the answer, “We have this report that lists the sales for the last 12 months,” I know we’re using average sales at some level.

The fact is that this isn’t the state of the art in inventory management. It’s not about state of the art software. It’s about knowing what is possible (from a business standpoint) and selecting a tool that can produce it.

The problem is that many businesses hand off the (entire) selection of the business software to the IT folk. Many IT folk know too little. But they’d never admit it. So we see ERP systems that half work, and don’t produce the ROI they were designed to produce. Oh, they work from a technical standpoint. It’s the business standpoint where they fail miserably.

The danger of knowing too little.

If I Visit Your Site, Don’t Call Me

This morning, I had forgotten the password I used for a site that I needed to make a change on. The account is a free account, so I simply put in my email address and pressed the “reset my password” button. The email came in. I changed the setup. Then while I was on the site, I decided to add another item to my configuration. I’d forgotten that the limit for the free account was two items, and I already had two set up. The site redirected me to the paid signup form. A basic account was $20 per month. Not a huge fee. But the value of having three items monitored by the site was about $0.50 per month. Needless to say, I logged out of the account and moved on with my day.

I was in the middle of doing something else less than 10 minutes later when the phone rang, and I answered. It was the company whose website I’d just been on. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a programmer. I know it’s pretty easy to create a site that sends an email or a notice when someone does certain things on the site. But having someone call immediately after I’ve made a quick change on the site to sell me a service is a bit much. It’s a little bit creepy. It reminds me that my privacy is being violated every day I use the internet. I don’t mind the sales effort; I respect it. But if I had wanted to buy the service, I’d have bought. I see this as desperate. Maybe others don’t feel that way.

My $0.02

Business Platitudes, Technology, ERP, and the Answer to Everything

Ok, so this is not exactly a post about ERP or business software, and we do focus on those items. This is a post about an Inc. magazine article on business platitudes that ought to retire. This article is no hat-tip to buzz word bingo. It’s actually an article that hits home a bit in the technology industry.

One of the platitudes in the article is “Work smarter, not harder.” It’s an old saw that this is what technology helps businesses do: “We can install this techno-widget and cut your effort by 50 person-days.” Well, maybe. All of the other platitudes are things that I’ve heard recently, and I’ve actually said some of them. What comes out of the article for me Stairway of computers drawingis that we need to quit batting around platitudes and start doing some real work on one of the central issues in business today: the world is changing and many who have business expertise are ignoring the developments in business that are changing the world. We are extremely vulnerable to the new and different.

Many businesses, for example, are clinging to old ways of marketing and selling their product. Moving from the “join the Rotary Club” world to the “have an online social presence” world is difficult for many business people. But maybe it’s not an either/or maybe it’s a both/and. My friend Dave Barger over at LunaWeb is trying to get the word out, but it’s a difficult slog. The problem–from my business perspective–is that too many businesspeople are working in their businesses, not on it (kudos to E-Myth guru Michael Gerber).

These days it isn’t or shouldn’t be just about the web or just about ERP or just about eMarketing. It should be about building a foundation of technology that supports business. Ignore this, and you imperil the whole structure. Focus on just one element, and the foundation doesn’t have integrity. Like all foundations without integrity, the problem won’t show up instantly; it will be a few years. Then it may be too late.

So go on and “work smarter, not harder” and “don’t reinvent the wheel,” but while you’re working on it, reinvent your business. If I can help, I will. Contact me at DGG.

Oh, and while I’m at it, the answer is 42.

No Time Sheets; No Hourly Rates

Photo of a man who might be a CPA I was trained in Public Accounting, as a CPA. I’m not sure that’s a good thing; I’m pretty sure it’s not a bad thing. Before you ask, I don’t do tax returns and I know very little about IFRS other than the acronym and that it’s important.

I do know, however, that time was important in public accounting. We lived and died (not literally, but in our careers) by the billable hour. More was better; too few and you’d find yourself in the unemployment line or looking for another job.

For management, it was an easy way to judge our contribution. Clients often didn’t receive it very well, particularly when the invoice was more than the “estimate.”

As of March 1, 2012, the only billable hours at DGG will be those we have to track because of existing contracts. Those contracts will end sometime in the next 8 or 10 months, and we will offer fixed prices to all of those customers.

Net results? (a) We can focus on delivering quality rather than billable hours. (b) We will manage delivery of a high quality product on time and on budget rather than managing the number of hours. (c) Customers will know exactly what the invoice will be at the end of the work. No surprises.

So, the billable hour is dead at DGG. Time sheets are dead. Hourly rates are no more.

From now on, we’ll use the time we save to help customers get more profit out of their existing systems. That was how I got into this business in the first place, and it’s what DGG is best at.

Payroll (Social Security) Tax Holiday Extended

Our friends at Ford & Harrison, LLP (labor attorneys) forwarded their newest newsletter with the information that Congress passed the 2% Social Security tax extension bill without waiting until the last minute. Ford & Harrison’s newsletter reads:

Executive Summary: On February 18, 2012, the Senate passed a bill that extends the tax break on the employee portion of the Social Security Old-Age, Survivor and Disability Insurance tax (OASDI) through the end of 2012. The House of Representatives had passed the bill earlier in the week, and it is now awaiting signature by President Obama.

Last week, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which extends, for the remainder of 2012, the 2% payroll tax cut that is otherwise scheduled to expire at the end of February. The bill has not yet been signed by President Obama, but he has said that he will sign it.

Thanks for the info, F&H. Very timely! I was concerned about doing another round of Payroll Tax updates to prepare for the end of the Social Security reduction only to go back in a week after they passed the bill and undo what we’d done.

As to Congress, maybe they are getting the idea that we’re tired of their shenanigans and posturing!