Registered for Directions US and NAV Techdays 2016

After careful deliberations and weighing of all options, we decided that I will attend two more events this year: Directions US and NAV Techdays. Lucky for me, they are two of my favorite events.

Directions US is organized by and for the partner channel. Partners go here to work on their knowledge, to learn about the latest development in our industry, to see what new products are available, and not in the least to network with our peers in the partner channel. Personally I like this event because there is a minimum of marketing fluff that is directed at the end user, and people are hungry for knowledge.

There were some other people that wanted to go to Directions as well. Because it will be held in Phoenix this year, which is just a 2 hour drive for me, it didn’t take long to pick me to go to this one. It is looking like I might even be able to present a session or two.

 

NAV Techdays is THE premier technical event for NAV professionals. This will only be my second time at this event (why I never went before that is still a mystery to me) but I could not look at a year as a successful one without going to Antwerpen in Belgium.

The content at NAV Techdays is second to none: two days of 90 minute sessions, all deep dives into the most geeky technical topics that you can think of. It would be an absolute honor to present at this event, but I’d have to brush up on my skills a LOT before I’d feel comfortable standing up in front of that crowd.

Before the event itself there are two days of workshops. These workshops are not included in the event price, but they are all well worth the cost of admission. I will be attending “PowerShell – Black Belt” by Eric ‘Waldo’ Wauters and “Deep Dive Eventing & Extensions” by Arend-Jan Kauffmann. I cannot wait to get those started.

See you in Phoenix and Antwerpen!!

NAVUG PHX Chapter Meeting

Today attended the second meeting of the NAVUG Phoenix chapter, which was held at the Microsoft office in Tempe. The picture is the view from the conference room there, and it is not a bad place to work if you ask me.

We had maybe about a dozen people in attendance. In addition to talking about current affairs of the chapter, there were a few useful presentations. Per Mogensen from mergetool.com presented the security features in NAV. One of the ISV’s presented their product and gave us a preview of another product that they were about ready to launch.

Then I had the pleasure to present about Events and Extensions in NAV 2016. My goal was to explain what this means for non-technical people. I only had 30 minutes, which is barely enough to scratch the surface, and it is very easy to get very technical on this topic. I hope I didn’t confuse people even more, if you’re interested, you can download the slides here.

It was great to meet some people from the user community and from the local partner channel.

Envision Not a Replacement for Convergence

Although it has been a few months since we went to Envision in New Orleans, I wanted to take a few minutes and write down my thoughts on this event. For me it has a very double meaning. On one hand it was a new type of event for me that brought a lot of food for thought. Rather than getting down into nuts and bolts of product knowledge, this event was more about thought leadership and marketing, two concepts that are more abstract than I am comfortable with.

In previous years, we (the company I work for) would always attend and/or sponsor the annual event called Convergence, which was the Dynamics event that was focused on the end user of the Dynamics products. After we had already purchased the VERY expensive platinum sponsorship for Convergence US in 2016, Microsoft decided to restructure their event rotation. They brought it to us as though “Envision” was intended to be more than just Dynamics, but it was essentially a rebranding effort, so it was really another iteration of the same thing. By the time that the session schedule came out, and there was not a single session about any of the Dynamics products other than merely marketing, we realized that this was an entirely different type of event altogether, and unfortunately it was too late to cancel our sponsorship.

The event itself was VERY poorly attended. Day one of the event itself felt like it was the afternoon of the last day of any other event. We hardly had any visitors to our booth, the floor felt like it was deserted all day long, and most of our guests at our traditional coffee stand were booth staff of other partners on the floor.

Normally, platinum level sponsorships come with 2-3 speaking slots of an hour each, and a partner session that can be uses to promote ourselves. This time around, we only received a couple of 15 minute slots at the media wall, which was very different. The picture is me presenting at the media wall, where I talked about the challenges of global implementations (slides here). There were plenty of people that seemed to be very interested in my presentation, but 15 minutes was barely enough to race through some of the highlights.

The highlight of my event was the opportunity to meet Scott Kelly, a NASA astronaut who had just come back from a year in space. Where I live in Flagstaff we are space nerds and we have parties to look at the sky at night. I had watched the International Space Station fly over and wondered how he’d be doing up there. It was great meeting Mr. Kelly, who told me that my town looks great from space.

Envision may be a great event if you’re into thought leadership and marketing, but it is no replacement for Convergence. Too bad, because I always enjoyed attending Convergence, both in the US and in EMEA. Time for groups like NAVUG to step up and fill the void.

Been a While

It has been years since I last wrote, way back in 2012 to be exact, when I was writing for a former employer. When I left that job, I got caught up in my new work, and writing was no longer a priority for me, or I should say my work had me so busy that I just did not have any energy to write. A lot has happened since then – just to name a couple: we moved across the country to Flagstaff, Arizona; our kids both moved out and they are both in college. My current job has taken me back into the technical side of my work, and I’ve discovered that I have fallen well behind on current technologies. As I am catching up, I am the beneficiary of many people’s blogs and forum posts, and this is inspiring me to start writing again and share this knowledge.

To get this started, I re-published the most interesting articles that I’ve written for my former employer. These were all added December 22, 2015, and the original publish date are at the bottom of the article.

I am in the middle of re-working this website, so there will be some changes. The plan is to start with a focus mainly on Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and I will expand into anything that I think is worth sharing. I’ll share articles that speak to me, like for instance this one by Bill Gates about his favorite books in 2015. I’ll share my thoughts about books, which can be newly discovered classics like Stephen Covey’s book about highly effective people, or more recent ones like Andrew Davis’s book ‘Brandscaping’. I saw Andrew at a business event last year, and he is a great speaker too.

Then there is the ever expanding list of things to figure out, such as how to make Windows shortcut keys work in VMWare Fusion on a MacBook, how to stop underscores to auto-format to italics (drove me absolutely crazy!), or where to find the Powershell ISE in Windows 8. Some of these things are surprisingly hard to figure out (for me at least), so hopefully sharing them will help some folks.

The goal is to make this website a body of knowledge of all the things that I pick up along the way. Hopefully it will be of some benefit for you, the reader, and if not then at least I can search this one site for stuff that I’ve collected. Enjoy the read and let me know what you think. Have a great day!

NAS on the Service Tier

If you have made heavy investments in automated solutions that run in NAS you can breathe easy, because chances are that it still works in NAV 2013!!

When Microsoft first came out with the news that the Classic Client was history, and that a number of object types were going to be discontinued, there was a LOT of speculation in the NAV world. Most of this speculation was based on unverified rumors, baseless “common sense” applied to unverified assumptions. One of these assumptions was “the Classic Client will be gone, so therefore NAS will be gone too”. Technically, these people were right of course. With a few minor restrictions (no forms, no dataports, no user input, no dialog boxes), NAS was nothing but a Classic Client without a user interface that runs as a Windows Service. Because the Classic Client no longer exists, NAS as we knew it is indeed gone.

What many of these people don’t realize is that the NAV team actually cares a great deal about making the life of the NAV partner channel easier. Everyone that knows about NAS knows how many products are built around it, even standard NAV functionality is implemented through the use of NAS (Job Queue, ADCS, to name a couple). It was in everyone’s interest to have a good alternative for NAS, and I believe the result is a very solid way to provide the ability to automate just about any user task in NAV. Coupled with the ability to create NAV sessions programatically, I believe that there are even more possibilities.

One aspect of your existing NAS implementation may cause some difficulties, and that is the fact that COM is no longer supported in NAV 2013. For instance, the “CP Timer” no longer works, the “Bus Adapters” no longer exist, and many other automation components will no longer work. For every use of COM you will need to find an alternative, whether this is .NET interoperability or whether you will need to find an alternative component. If you have existing NAS solutions, and you are thinking about upgrading to NAV 2013, please get in touch with your partner and start investigating what needs to happen (if anything) to keep your NAS solution running.

For a long time I’ve known about NAS on the Service Tier, and I’ve been looking forward to the time that I would finally be able to share this information. So sit back and relax, grab a cup of coffee and start the video. I’ll explain how to set up an instance of the Service Tier for NAS Services, and I’ll show you a number of ways that you can implement NAS on the Service Tier.

First published August 8, 2012

SQL Setup Essentials for NAV

The way that SQL Server is set up can greatly affect the performance of your NAV database. People often ask me about how to properly set up SQL Server for NAV databases, and it is a common topic in the online forums. I’ve posted a clip on YouTube in which I cover the essential elements of how to properly set up SQL Server for NAV.

First published April 18, 2012

Import Flat Files with XMLPorts

After reading this blog and watching this YouTube video, you should have enough information to start figuring out how to use XMLPorts to import flat text files, even when this file contains data for multiple tables.

When I first got started as a NAV developer, I was assigned a senior whose job it was to educate me about what it takes to be an effective NAV developer. Whenever I had a question he would always challenge me to figure it out myself, while maybe giving me a tiny little push in the right direction. At first I thought that was very annoying, but it forced me to develop what is probably the most important skill as a developer: the skill of “figuring out how stuff works”. Once he was satisfied that I had spent an adequate amount of time and brainpower to a problem, he would take the time to give me a lesson. Sometimes he would make these lessons up on the spot, because he had to figure it out himself. Those lessons are my favorite memories of my time learning how to be a NAV developer, and oddly enough most of them weren’t even about syntax or objects, but about “how to figure stuff out”.

Every day, I make my rounds through the online communities, in search of questions to answer. Sometimes, I find a question that makes me wonder myself how something works. When this happens, I take a standard NAV database, and spend some time in the evening hours to figure it out. The past few days there’s been a question about how to import data for multiple tables into the RTC from a flat file, using an XMLPort. Now, at my work, all the developers attend a weekly conference call. On these weekly calls one of us presents a technology, or some tips on how to do certain things. We had recently held one about XMLPorts for the RTC, so I felt confident that this one would not be too big of a problem for me.

While my wife took my daughter to dance class, I worked on a couple of XMLPorts for the RTC, to import Purchase Invoice information into NAV. The YouTube clip below describes the results of those efforts. Hopefully this will help you understand how this works.

First published April 24, 2012

NAV2013 Beta – OData Introduction

With NAV 2013, Microsoft has added the capability to expose data from your NAV system as OData Web Services. Where that differs from regular Web Services (which in the NAV Server management snap-in is now identified as ‘SOAP Services’), is that OData only exposes data feeds, and within the context of Dynamics NAV is read-only. Click here to read all about OData, and here for an overview of OData in NAV 2013.

I’ve put together a new YouTube clip to show you where to find the OData Web Services in the NAV Server Management tool and the Web Wervices table from the RTC, as well as a couple of examples of how to consume them. As you will find out fairly quickly in this video, I have a LOT to learn about OData. I wanted to share what I do know though, and give you an idea of where to start looking.

This provides a new way to expose data from NAV, in an industry standard way, although I am sure that true OData experts will find missing pieces. It is another possibility for us to expand the reach of the ERP application that we know and love. I hope you enjoy the video, and that you will be inspired to start learning about it, and maybe even get some ideas about how to use them for your business.

First published May 23, 2012

New and Improved Page Design in NAV 2013

In NAV 2013, Microsoft has introduced some very nice new features to make designing Page objects for the RTC much easier than we were used to in NAV 2009.

Remember the good old days, when we had a wysiwyg designer for the Form objects, and we could put anything we want, anywhere on the form? This made for some really ‘creative’ (ahem) solutions, but essentially we were used to having complete control over the look and feel of the forms. When the RTC was introduced, we got the first step into a completely independent display target. Instead of defining x and y positions, display elements are now defined by metadata, and the display target should then be smart enough to interpret the metadata when the object is rendered. The intention was to ultimately have a situation in which it doesn’t matter where the page is displayed. The page object itself can be identical, and the display target then decides how to display certain elements based on the capabilities of the display target. For instance, the RTC displays exactly the same page as the Web Client or the Sharepoint Client, they just display the same page differently.

Unfortunately, when all you see is metadata, developing Pages becomes a very abstract exercise. Since there is no direct connection between the development tool and the rendered object, what we had to do was save the object, and hope for the best from there. We had to actually run the page to see what it would look like, and finding individual elements was a very painful thing to do. Lucky for us, the NAV team in Denmark cares a great deal (a GREAT deal) about what we think of the product, and they are VERY proud of the tools. When they were receiving many complaints about the Page Designer, they decided to enhance the development experience in NAV 2013 and address some of the most-frequently-complained-about issues. In my opinion the result is a HUGE improvement over NAV 2009.

What I want to do is focus on two new capabilities in the Page Designer. The first one is the ability to preview the Page right from the Page Designer, without saving the object first. My favorite feature of this capability is that there is a link between the ‘metadata designer’ and the ‘page previewer’. When you click on an element in the ‘metadata designer’, it is highlighted in the preview, and vice versa. You can see a rendered version of the metadata before saving it, and have a visual clue of what you are doing. The second (there is an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ here) is the ability to add columns to the Page object, through a Grid Layout and/or a Fixed Layout. These two new types of group elements make it possible to display multiple columns on the Page.

The NAV 2013 online help has a lot of good information about Page design, with walkthroughs and other tutorials. I’ve created a YouTube video in which I take you through the various screen elements of the NAV 2013 RTC, and then into the Page Designer to show you these new capabilities. I hope you’ll enjoy the video, and hopefully you’ll feel a bit more confident in using the Page Designer.

First published May 31, 2012

Debugging NAV 2013 is Easy

We’ve never had a debugger quite this powerful and versatile. Debugging NAV 2013 is Easy!

By nature I am a pessimist. In any situation I tend to look for problems and point them out to everyone. Since my goal of pointing out the problems is always to SOLVE them, and leave the situation in a better state than I found it, I personally consider my natural pessimism a very positive attribute. One of the things that feeds this pessimism is previous, similar situations. One example of such a situation is the release of a new version of NAV. When this happens, the NAV developers are always hoping that the tools have improved, and for well over a decade, one especially sore point has been the debugger.

When I first started as a Navision developer, version 2.5 had just come out, and most of the customers I worked on were still on earlier versions. The debugger in those days was TERRIBLE. Even then, coming out of a job as a VBA developer, I knew that there were much better alternatives, and I was always surprised just how bad the debugging experience in Navision was. Granted, there have been significant improvements since the 2.5 days, but the worst day in NAV development history surely must have been when NAV 2009 came out, and the only way to “debug” the RTC was the workaround with the Visual Studio debugger (see this video on how to make that work). Given all of these previous experiences, let’s just say that I was realistically pessimistic for the NAV 2013 debugger, and my expectation was actually a continuation of this downward trend ;).

As I’ve said many times before, the NAV team actually cares a great deal about the development experience, and for years they had been wanting to address the development tools. They were well aware of the problems, but the priority to do anything about it was always too low to make it into a new release. With the discontinuation of all the Classic components, however, this changed and there finally was ample priority for a new debugger. The results of years of very hard work are very impressive, and in my opinion the NAV team has delivered something that is well beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations. The new debugger is a great tool, one that gives the NAV developer a lot of flexibility. Not only can we break into any type of session on any Service Tier (given the proper setup), we can even change the appearance of the debugger, and customize it to our own personal preferences.

This is another one of those things that I’ve been very anxious to share, and I am very happy that I finally had some time to put together a YouTube video and write this blog entry. Please enjoy the debugger, and I hope you are as happy with it as I am.

First published August 14, 2012