Dynamics NAV vs Business Central

The difference between Dynamics NAV vs Dynamics 365 Business Central is not that big. It is pretty simple actually. Do you want to learn how to distinguish one from the other? Understand the evolution of the Dynamics 365 suite? And understand which one is the best choice for you? I explain everything in this blog post.

Thanks to the extensive family of Microsoft products, we have many options. But sometimes it makes it hard to choose. So, while Dynamics AX became Dynamics 365 Finances and Operations and numerous apps have been added to the Dynamics 365 suite, I must admit that we receive phone calls from confused clients every now and then.

When Dynamics 365 Business Central was created, many have found that Dynamics NAV takes up less and less space, and that we would refer to Business Central instead when we spoke about ERP solution for small and medium enterprises. What does that mean?

A little history

Microsoft Dynamics NAV originates from Navision, a suite of accounting applications that Microsoft acquired in 2002. At that time, Microsoft CRM and its four ERP products (Dynamics AX, Dynamic GP, Dynamics SL, and the Navision software) were rolled under Microsoft Business Solutions. In 2005, Microsoft rebranded its newest ERP product as Dynamics NAV and continued to release upgrades through 2018. In 2016 Microsoft announced the creation of Dynamics 365 as a rebranding of its existing ERP and CRM products in a new online-only offering. Microsoft deemed the new ERP a successor product to Dynamics GP, Dynamics SL, and Dynamics NAV. Microsoft publicly released Business Central as the new version of Dynamics NAV in 2018, with a semi-annual upgrade schedule planned.

What is different?

The platform is the only difference between Dynamics NAV and Business Central. Microsoft designed Business Central to be hosted on the cloud and NAV to be implemented and operated as an on-premise solution. While Business Central includes all the apps users have come to know and love in NAV, the cloud offers an enhanced experience, including:

  • Fluid integration with other Microsoft solutions as Office 365 and Power BI for maximum enterprise efficiency
  • Intelligent data analysis for better decision making
  • Optimized and coherent search capabilities
  • Potential for custom product additions over time
  • Automatic and seamless software upgrades
  • Reduced maintenance and support costs
  • Subscription-based licensing

So, what changed?

While we are talking evolution rather than revolution, it is worth understanding that a few key aspects of the NAV solution now look or work a bit differently. Development options have also changed and, no surprise here, so has licensing.

First, let us take a look at the key changes in the UI and the functionality as Dynamics NAV switches to Business Central:

Modern, web-based UI - The most visible part of the shift to Business Central is the slick new web-based interface. Business Central drops the desktop apps of Dynamics NAV. Via the slick new web interface users enjoy a clearer presentation of more personalized information including better dashboarding and use of graphs. It is the UI familiar to many existing Dynamics 365 users.
AL coding - In the past, customization of a Dynamics NAV implementation was made integral to the core and written in the C/AL language. It made upgrades a big chore as modifications to core code had to be unpicked. Now, Business Central uses the AL language.
Customization comes in the shape of extensions - not alterations to the platform core. In theory, the upgrade process should be easier.
Better integration - When hosted in the cloud, Business Central should offer better integration with other Microsoft solutions - Dynamics 365 CRM, for example. Tools like Microsoft's Common Data Service have the potential to break down data silos, making it much easier to obtain a single version of the truth. You also get access to advanced analytics via Power BI and access to Azure's IA prowess.

APPs and extensions can be simply integrated

The new AL coding is a 'game-changer' in the world of ERPs. Business Central allow you to install extensions developed by ISV (Independent Software Vendor) partners directly from Microsoft AppSoure. That way you can expand the application's functionality and quickly test and try out the new options and then quickly uninstall the add-on if it does not meet the needs you expected.

This option is not available with Dynamics NAV. On the other hand, with NAV you can customize the solution's functionality, so it is tailored to the individual company and develop add-on modules that extend the functionality of the solution. However, everything indicates that these opportunities will at some point be transferred to Business Central.

What is the next step for your Dynamics NAV solution?

Dynamics NAV is now closed off to new customers - if you are looking to deploy Microsoft's ERP solution for SMBs you will automatically be redirected to Dynamics 365 Business Central. For existing Dynamics NAV users, it is clear that many aspects of NAV have been tweaked or changed in the evolution of Business Central. But, at its core, Business Central is the same product - with the same capable ERP functionality addressed at the same SMB audience.

Nonetheless, in the medium to long term, most users of Dynamics NAV will need to take some action to adopt Business Central. Your version of Dynamics NAV will eventually enter Extended Support and, at some point, no longer receive updates. Depending on how you currently deploy your NAV solution and, of course, which version of NAV you are on, you may find the upgrading to Business Central is seamless. Other implementations of NAV will require a bit more work to upgrade.

There are several obvious business risks to an out-of-support version of NAV. But we suggest that companies make an effort to stay up to date with the shift to Business Central anyway. The newer edition of Dynamics NAV (Business Central) brings significant benefits in terms of practical AL, analytics, and business processes.

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