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Getting excited about NAV 2013

The last time I wrote an Intergen blog post on Dynamics NAV was in December 2010 when Microsoft had just released NAV 2009 R2. That was ages ago, so why, you might ask, do I feel compelled to write about NAV again? I'll tell you why. I'm filled with the joy of NAV. I'm standing on my sofa and proclaiming to the world that, for the first time in years, I am excited about NAV.

Yes, that's right, I just used the words excited and NAV in the same sentence. The new version kicks butt. There are so many cool features in this new release, but I'm not going to run through them. Instead, I'm just going to try to explain why I like this new version so much. If you're the kind of person that would rather watch a video clip than read lots of words, I've selected this short YouTube video that explains my feelings towards NAV 2013.



So why the euphoric exuberance? I'm so happy because I've spent the last two weeks working on upgrading Intergen's Dynamics NAV Extensions pack and add-ons to work with the new NAV 2013 release, which is due out at the back end of this year (I heard a rumour that the launch event is planned for September 20th, 2012). Obviously my experiences have been developer-focused, but I'll try to point out features for normal people too.



It seems crazy to get excited about a debugger, but if you've ever done NAV development, you'll know the debugger is not a nice tool. And then came NAV 2009 with the RoleTailored client and the debugging experience graduated from "not nice" to "really nasty". I won't go on about what made the RTC debugging in NAV 2009 so painful, but I would like to say that debugging in NAV 2013 is amazing. I start the debugger from the development environment and select the session I want to debug (can be an RTC session, or a Web Client session, or any other client or service) and then as soon as an error pops up, I get to see the code on my screen. The really nice thing, and this is where it gets good for end users, is how easy this makes supporting the system when you get weird error messages. Because I can select any session to debug, I have found that when Sandra finds an error, I can just debug her session from my machine and get her to run the same process which allows me to find the troublesome code instantly. Have you ever had an error or problem where it only happens on your machine or the developer can't reproduce the problem, or you have to spend ages explaining what you were doing, and the support person still can't replicate the problem, because they do things slightly different to you? Those days are gone. This means faster resolution to issues and faster development times, which in business terms, means more cost effective (cheaper) implementations and faster resolution to issues.



NAV 2009 brought better looking reports with a version of SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) reports running on the client. In reality, although the tools allowed developers to create better looking reports, the out-of-the-box reports didn't look great. To make matters worse, development of the reports was tricky and time consuming and moved report development away from tech-savvy end-users and became a developer-only task. In NAV 2013 Microsoft has revamped the standard reports to conform to a new report layout guide and, the ones I've seen look pretty. The business documents, such as purchase order, and sales invoice, actually look usable out of the box. But that's only half the story. The report development tools have been upgraded to use the latest version of report designer, meaning a lot of the painful layout workarounds that were needed are no longer necessary. The datasets are produced using a simple tool and I think this will see us running training courses in report development once again so that users can develop, or tweak their own reports. Better and easier tools for developers means cheaper implementations and modifications. A simpler toolset means the ability to save even more money by doing some of the work yourself without needing a developer. The reports can be run directly to PDF, Excel, Word, or previewed on screen.



When NAV 2009 needed to work with Excel it was painfully slow because of the amount of messages that need to be sent between the client and the server. The smart boffins at Intergen fixed this by creating an add-on that can generate Excel files on the server and then download them to the client. Now Microsoft has built its own version of this into the standard product and it's fast and powerful. The user experience is similar to the old classic client version, only much, much faster. The Excel integration has gotten a real face lift with the send to Excel feature producing nicer looking worksheets with a nifty refresh button allowing you to pull the latest data from NAV. Nice! But there's more. They've created a new object a type in NAV called the Query, which is a bit like creating a data port (i.e. easy to use). These queries can be easily created in the NAV development environment and exposed as an OData feed, which in layman's terms means you can grab the data in PowerPivot, and this means you can create pivot tables with slice and dice analysis. It's like DIY business analytics. I'm hoping to show this at this year’s Dynamics Day.



Dimensions are ways to tag financial data for later reporting. It's one of NAV's core strengths. One of the enhancements to NAV 2013 was to revamp the dimensions under the hood. This means that as an end user you don't see any differences, but for developers things are much simpler. The main reason for changing the dimensions was to improve performance which is something the end users will notice; this version is fast. The simpler dimensions model has made it easy for us to develop a couple of useful enhancements to dimensions as part of our basepack.


Easier Installation

Getting NAV 2009 working with three tiers was tricky and required battling with three-headed dogs (Kerberos). In NAV 2013 we have a single user account that connects to the SQL server and it takes care of permissions without impersonating the Windows user that connected with their RoleTailored client. This has meant connection pooling (which means better performance) but it also means a much easier install. Easier installs mean reduced implementation cost. It also means we can now have NAV logins that are not Windows users. Oh, and the NAV server is now fully 64bit which means it can scale up on more powerful platforms.


And Lots More...

There are heaps more awesome features that have been added to the RTC. Select all on list pages, tool bar for page parts, office-style ribbon, go to on card pages (like Ctrl+F find in classic), better charts, named role center pages, copy of records, OneNote integration. It's a really great client. And then there's the SharePoint client. And then there's the Web client. It's all good. So if you're a NAV user, please give serious consideration to upgrading to NAV 2013. And if you can’t upgrade, well, there’s always the kitten video.

Posted by: David Roys, Technical Lead | 12 September 2012

Tags: TechEd

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