Billed as the only North American Microsoft Dynamics NAV event driven by NAV partners, NAV Directions North America, taking place October 25-28, has carved out a unique niche in the event landscape that has sustained it into its eleventh year.
As an event that is focused on Dynamics NAV, participants attend expecting to learn about Microsoft’s plans for continued investment in the product, says Scott Brennan, a partner at Sikich LLP & US president of the non-profit NAV Directions organization.
Of particular interest this year, partners want tips on how to make upgrades easier, how to make the actual transition to the cloud, as well as information about the smartphone client, he says.
Product development of features and enhancements, along with technological enhancements that provide more ease of use and ease of deployment are also top of mind for attendees, according to Katherine Turner-Lawrence, VP of Sales & Marketing at Western Computer, and a member of the Directions board of directors.
Those attending the event want to learn about the new functionality that will help NAV compete more effectively, she says. “The cloud offering is obviously a big topic for Microsoft and partners are in various stages of adoption.”
It Takes One To Know One
The Directions conference is managed by a 12 member volunteer board who come from the same community as the attendees.
“These are resellers, independent software vendors, and consultants that are part of the same community,” Brennan says. “So, you could say this event is organized by the same people who attend it. Who better to know what the attendees want? I believe this is a big reason why the event has been so successful.”
The Directions’ board works closely with Microsoft to develop the event’s content so it coincides with the latest release, says Turner-Lawrence – in this case the brand new release of Dynamics NAV 2016.
“We also look at our channel and solicit input from board members and potentially others to make sure we will be presenting a conference packed with value,” she adds.
As Dynamics NAV has focused on improving its user interface, its mobility story, and its alignment with other Microsoft products, the conversation at Directions has really shifted away from customization and third party solutions, according to Turner-Lawrence.
Although Microsoft has delivered much-needed functionality, to compete effectively there are still areas in NAV that have to be filled by ISV solutions or customizations, she says.
“Microsoft has been pushing partners to go vertical for many years, something that is not easy to do,” Turner-Lawrence says. “The cloud offering is compelling but will work best with a vertical and very repeatable solution, which not many partners have been able to do successfully.”
For Brennan, however, the answer isn’t quite so clear cut.
“I think this is one of those classical yes and no answers,” he says. Yes, in the sense that little or no customizations fits much better into the message that Microsoft has been pushing the last several years about the cloud/Office 365 and NAV being easy and quick to deploy. “But no, in the sense that the other side of this is the message that Microsoft has been encouraging partners to pick and specialize in a vertical market,” he says. “Part of the move to a vertical will most likely include building out specific IP or using existing ISVs for that industry, which in turn are modifications.”
Tradition . . . Tradition
This year NAV Directions US turns eleven. Directions was born out of a necessity after Microsoft purchased Navision in the early 2000s, Turner-Lawrence says.
“The channel was used to an annual partner event,” she says. “[So] a few larger ISVs and larger partners got together and Directions was formed.”
Throughout the years, the directors have made it a point not to stand too much on tradition, but rather work hard to keep the conference fresh. However, there are a few things the attendees count on each year, Brennan says.
“For example, [we] have the event at a right-size venue which allows us to take over the place and make it feel like we are the only group there,” he says. “The NAV community is a tight-knit group and many of the people have been part of that community for many years, so I think there are a lot of old friendships. The sessions taught by partners to partners always seem to be the highest rated.”
The partners expect to get “a ton of value” in terms of learning what Microsoft has just released-so each year they expect workshops, deep dives, roundtable discussions and an opportunity to speak to their peers in the channel, Turner-Lawrence says.
‘A Change Is Gonna Come’
Because the Dynamics NAV team is accelerating its product planning, the Directions boards often has to organize itself and adapt the conference to the pace of change at Microsoft and in the channel.
“With the annual release cycle from Microsoft, it has created more opportunity for the Directions event and given Microsoft the best opportunity to educate the NAV partner channel,” Turner-Lawrence notes. “I think we all wondered if Microsoft could really meet an annual release cycle, but they are doing it.”
Although Brennan isn’t sure the NAV team’s product planning affects the planning of Directions all that much, he acknowledges that it does give organizers a good amount of fresh content with each new release, which always helps drive attendance.
There is one big change on tap at this year’s event, though. For the first time, the organizers are planning to offer new Dynamics NAV certification exams.
“This will be the first year we have offered any kind of certifications at the event,” Brennan says. “Several of the board members have offered their consulting advice to the group organizing this new certification. [But] there has been no response yet as it is too early in the process.”
The exams have been developed by the new professional association, the Association of Dynamics Professionals, with input from many consultants in the NAV channel, Turner-Lawrence says.
“It made sense to provide space at the event and we hoped it would encourage more to attend,” she says.