How to Upgrade NAV to Business Central

If you are on any version of Dynamics NAV up through 2018 you may be wondering what Business Central is all about. In this post I will explain what “BC” is, the difference between NAV and "BC" and what this means to your next upgrade.

What is Business Central?

The full name for BC is Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central. This does not go by any other name, so if you see Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations, or Customer Service, this is not Business Central. Also, if you go online, everything you see about Business Central will be talking cloud. You can run Business Central “on-premise”, meaning on your own servers whether in house or on your servers in Azure. You do not have to switch to the cloud.

To orient ourselves on the timeline let’s talk versions. The last version of Dynamics NAV was 2018. For those who follow version numbers, that was NAV 11.0. The next version is called the Business Central 2019 Spring Release. That is actually tagged as NAV 14.0. Version 12 was an intermediate release and version 13 was skipped. But now we are way past version 14 because every 6 months Microsoft is releasing a new version. At this writing the latest version is Business Central 2020 Fall Release, or “BC 17”. Yes, they are still following the NAV version numbers.

What is the difference between NAV and Business Central?

Under the hood everything in BC is much the same as it was in NAV. We still have tables, reports, pages, xmlports, etc. For those who use the object designer, these objects still have the same numbers, the same fields and the same code. Upgrading does not mean a major change in business processes. Under the hood it’s the same software you have been using all along. Of course, there are improvements and added features.

To give some perspective, over the past 20 years we have gone through 3 major changes to the NAV / Navision user interface. First there was the change from the button menu in Navision 3.7 to the tree menu in Navision 4.0. Then the introduction of the Role Tailored Client in Navision 2009. And now with Business Central we are going entirely to the web client. This change is the most profound from the user perspective. Like the change to the Role Tailored Client in NAV 2009, it is very different from what we are used to. But, also like the switch to the Role Tailored Client, users quickly find that it is actually very easy to get used to and they even prefer it.

Now let’s switch gears and talk about customizations. NAV / Navision was created as a business software product that could be quickly and easily customized and that has been and still is one of its strongest selling points. If you have customizations, and likely you do, upgrading has always been a time-consuming task. Business Central has been designed to minimize this task going forward. However, there is one final upgrade jump that has to be made before you can get there. Let me explain.

In Business Central 15, that is, Business Central 2019 Fall Release, the Object Designer is no longer available. That means we can no longer modify the base code or objects, and so we cannot merge your customizations from NAV into BC. The objects are still there, just not the Object Designer. We can still customize BC, but not in the same way as before. This gives us two approaches to upgrading your customizations and the first is not recommended.

What this means to your next upgrade

The first way would be to jump directly from NAV to the latest version of BC, redoing all the modifications without the benefit of thoroughly testing them. In a typical NAV to NAV upgrade, most testing is unnecessary because most of the customizations have been brought forward without changes. In a NAV to BC 15 (and up) upgrade, all of the customizations to the base code have to be completely redone. How this is done is beyond the scope of this post but, suffice it to say, they are all done without modifying any base objects or code. Although much testing can be done in a test database, there is a much better way to ensure these work properly in the upgraded BC database.

For a limited time, explained at the end of this post, you can take advantage of this opportunity. Business Central 14 is a hybrid product. You can customize this both “old way” using the Object Designer, and the “new way”, using Visual Studio.

The second way, and our recommendation, is first to upgrade and go live on “BC 14”. Then take the time to redo all the customizations, switching them over one by one without being forced to jump in all at once. They can be carefully tested both in a test and then in a live environment. The real advantage is that, because of the dual modification option, you can easily switch back to the original if needed until your upgrade is sure to work 100%. Then, once all of this is done and in your own time frame, these modifications can be directly upgraded to the latest version of BC without redoing them and, what’s most important, without going through the NAV to NAV merge process. The old customizations will simply disappear in the NAV to BC upgrade and the new customizations will already be in place. Thus saving hundreds of hours of upgrade time.

Our best and most urgent advice

And now we will explain why the title says “before October 2021 !!!”. This is when Microsoft will stop issuing licenses that enable you to run BC 14. After that you will be forced to go to a later version that does not include the object designer so that this type of NAV to BC upgrade explained in the “second way” will not be possible.

If you are still on NAV we strongly recommend getting to BC 14 ASAP, or at the very least upgrading your license to BC 14 before October. This requires a change in the license model from Perpetual to Business Central. This means your old license will be frozen but that you will still be able to initiate your NAV to BC upgrade “the right way” and get it done after October, on your own timeline.

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