Comparison: Which Microsoft Dynamics ERP Is Right For You?
The four applications that comprise Microsoft’s ERP offering have different histories, use cases, and capabilities.
In 2006, Microsoft made a decision that determined the future of its enterprise resource planning (ERP) offering. After years of acquiring accounting software with the intention of rolling it into one system, the company finally decided to scrap the plan and carry their new platforms forward as distinct products.
The family of products, which had begun assembling five years earlier under the name Microsoft Business Solutions, was made up of a CRM and four ERPs: Great Plains, Axapta, Navision, and Solomon. Each had its own history and product strategy, and each had been acquired because of its distinctness from the other platforms. When combining the ERPs into one comprehensive accounting system proved too difficult, the division was given a new, market-friendly name and committed to developing parallel products. Microsoft Dynamics was born.
Though the software has gone through changes over the past decade (most notably its transition to the cloud with 2016’s release of Dynamics 365) the offerings remain distinct. Here’s a rundown of each product, where it comes from, and how it might help your business.
What it is: These days, primarily used for SMB project accounting.
Where it comes from: The oldest member of the group, the software formerly known as Solomon was released in 1981 by Ohio-based TLB, Inc. Throughout the decade it established itself as one of the first killer apps in the Microsoft ecosystem, and in 1994, the next-gen Solomon IV became an award-winning Windows application. The company was acquired by Great Plains in 2000, which itself was acquired by Microsoft the next year.
Perfect if you are: Looking for a simple platform that can track and manage project costs.
Pros: The platform is highly customizable and easy to learn.
“Includes finance, project accounting, manufacturing, field services, supply chain management, analytics, and e-commerce. Different module or add-ons available from the third-party vendor that can be integrated with Dynamics SL.” –Roman on G2 Crowd
Cons: Inflexible and at times counter-intuitive, SL shows its age in terms of UX and features a GL with limited capabilities.
“Microsoft has not invested in improving SL for a long time and it is extremely cumbersome to integrate with new FP&A solutions.” –Shayam on Proformative
What it is: An entry-level system with a vintage feel, designed to be used out of the box by small to medium organizations.
Where it comes from: In 1993, Fargo, ND-based Great Plains released Dynamics Release 1.0, one of the first multi-user accounting systems available in the US. By Release 7.0, the company had become a leading mid-market ERP in North America, and had acquired Solomon. Microsoft targeted Great Plains in a move towards the business solutions space, acquiring it for $1.1 billion in 2001.
Perfect if you are: Taking the next step from a truly SMB solution with entry-level, on-prem software.
Pros: Integrates data stored in Excel well—and it “just works.”
“It can be maintained by non-IT staff; the price was reasonable; it has a good support database and a flexible reporting package.” –Ron on Proformative
Cons: Dated UX, hit-or-miss bolt-ons, and a manual reporting workflows reveal a general lack of attention and innovation from Microsoft.
“Getting to basic information takes more steps than it should. I wish there were more shortcuts so you could complete basic recurring tasks faster.” –Anonymous user on G2 Crowd
Dynamics NAV / 365 Business Central
What it is: This mid-market solution (pronounced N.A.V.) is the most widely-used of the family, and the basis of the cloud-based Dynamics 365’s mid-market product.
Where it comes from: Another eighties powerhouse, the software formerly known as Navigator was published by Copenhagen-based PC&C (later Navision) in 1984. At the turn of the millennium, Microsoft moved to acquire the market’s most dominant ERPs, which at the time meant Great Plains in the US and Navision in Europe. Of those two, Navision’s product proved more flexible and resilient; for that reason, Microsoft based their non-enterprise cloud offering, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, off of NAV when that evolution transpired in 2016.
Perfect if you are: A mid-sized company or department looking for a robust, customizable ERP.
Pros: This solution is the most popular of the group because of its flexibility. Available on-prem or as a cloud service via Microsoft 365.
“Further functionality is available through a wide range of add-ons. These add-ons reside within the database rather than being bolted-on and interfaced.” –Review from TVision Technology
Cons: Flexibility has its drawbacks. Learning curve gets steep and reporting is somewhat limited.
“It can be time-consuming and difficult to distinguish the many add-ons from multiple partners due to similarities and overlap in feature sets, and the challenge of assessing the quality of the partners and their products.” –Beka on G2 Crowd
Dynamics AX / Finance and Operations
What it is: This enterprise-level solution was the basis of Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, intended for medium to large organizations.
Where it comes from: In 1998, a Danish company called Damgaard Data collaborated with IBM to release IBM Axapta in Denmark and the US. Originally intended to manage complex manufacturing and distribution use cases, Axapta was a powerful solution with core modules that included HRIS, AR / AP, procurement, and more. In 2002, two years after Damgaard had merged with Navision, Microsoft bought the company and launched Dynamics AX to compete with SAP and Oracle.
Perfect if you are: A large organization with needs complex enough to warrant a lengthy implementation and costly product.
“Streamlining financial reporting, AP and AR processes, and housing the complete set of business data from banking to purchasing in one location. It also allowed my company to improve process times.” –Review on G2 Crowd
Cons: Microsoft allegedly sells this offering to organizations as small as 200 employees; make sure you need something of this complexity before purchasing.
“It is a very high subscription package for medium and small entrepreneurs, since it offers a complete suite of finances for the quite robust handling according to large corporations.” –Ronetsy on G2 Crowd
Expense reporting for Microsoft Dynamics
Both 365 ERPs feature expense reporting functionality, which are serviceable in limited capacities. See an explanation here of how Microsoft has automated certain parts of the process.
If you’re looking for a more robust expense solution, Abacus integrates with all Microsoft Dynamics platforms using Export Builder.