Saturday, April 30, 2011

If it Aint broke, still fix it.

Just because something does not cause you problems right now, does not mean you can ignore it. I learnt this the hard way yesterday. For some time I knew there was something funny going on with one of my back teeth - but it really did not cause me any trouble or discomfort. So i ignored it. Then all of a sudden it started to cause a bunch of issues - and yesterday as I stared up the hairy nose of my dentist - a whole world of pain came crashing down on me. The craziest part is that it was self entirely self-inflicted and had I done something earlier there would have been some much more pleasant options available.

So if there is something that you know you should have done recently and have put off - go and do it. This might be personal, health or work related.

Another example I shared at convergence related to my internal reporting. For 4 years I have taken a SmartList once a month, exported it to excel, cut and paste it onto a master worksheet, done a find and replace to take out currency symbols. Then I viewed this report in a really nice pivot table.

There was nothing broken with this process at all. Nothing caused me pain or issues except that it took me roughly 30 minutes each month. (4 years * 12 months * 1/2 and hour). But what if I discovered that back in March 20010 that I had accidentally deleted some rows from the spread sheet? What if I realised that our new order clerk had been voiding documents for 12 months that were now part of my report?

I then took an extra 1/2 hour to a few months back to turn this report into an Excel Report Builder report. Literally 30 minutes. Not my report is always live and always up to date. I can review it at any point in a month and not wait until month end. I can share it with the sales team all month to review progress. I have eliminated my half hour each month on this report and now spend it taking a longer lunch (I know I could be more productive - but sometimes you have to treat yourself).

In this case nothing was broken - but making a change has made a major improvement. The benefit is not just in time saving but in how we can manage our business.

So if you have something that is not broken - go and fix it anyway.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"All In" the cloud

Those of us that attended Convergence a few weeks back will have heard Steve Ballmer state one more time that "when it comes to the cloud, we are all in. We are all in across every product line we have and across every dimension of the cloud."

It is interesting that he chooses Poker Terminology to emphasize the cloud strategy. When you are playing a game of Texas Holdem you only go "All In" in 3 different scenarios:
1. You are very confident (odds stacked in your favour) you will win the hand
2. You are chipped up and Bluffing and trying to push your opponents out of the hand
3. You are out of chips, have been pushed into a corner and are desperate for a win at all costs.

I know Microsoft are not 'out of cash' and 'bluffing' achieves no purpose - so I can only conclude that Microsoft are 99% sure that the cloud is the 'right bet'.

What is the cloud anyway? It is a big white fluffy overused term - that has lost much of its meaning. What I understand cloud software to mean is that the software can "diversify to any market and device ... you could use it on whichever corporate server, from behind any desktop or mobile devices, the overall experience wont affect the use of a service provided with a cloud that is on the net. So your software and services get more agile to what or whichever location or device your using - its a small world after all"

Many people in the ERP world see the cloud as 'hosting', 'a web interface', 'monthly pricing'. 'no install software' etc. These may all be components of a cloud offering - but I think the key word in the above is agility. To get the service you need, where you need it and when you need it. Microsoft have been talking, planning and working on this for 10 years - and might remember some of the old marketing videos where a guy gets hit by a car while talking on his mobile phone, and rushed off to emergency, and all his medical records pop up etc. That is the early cloud vision!

So what is Dynamics GP going to look like when it is in the cloud? What about CRM - or is it in the cloud already? The cloud is going to take many forms and be delivered in many ways. I think a big part of the software 'cloud' will be that all the hard things about software will be removed from the software experience. Installs, configuration, backups, connections, integrations etc will all get easier in the cloud!

Once upon a time you bought a smartphone, and had to configure it to connect to the service provider you wanted. On my SmartPhone today it pops up and says 'found a wireless network, would you like to use it?' and when I click yes it connects to this free wireless network. So this makes using my phone much easier to use and at the same time saves me a bunch of money from my wireless data plan. That's what I expect from the ERP cloud. GP will become easier to use, easier to access and it will save me money.

So if Microsoft are 'all in' the cloud then it has to be a winner for everyone. Software will get easier to use, easier to access and much more flexible in the way it is delivered. That can only be a good thing. Could Dynamics GP benefit from not having a clunky install? YES. Could GP provide more flexible user interface Options? YES. IS a web interface handy? YES. Would it be useful to have easy access to SmartList on your mobile device? YES. What about having an easy way to push updates from your iPad, Android phone or Windows device into GP? YES. What about SmartView on your SmartPhone? YES.

I guess my point is that if Microsoft are 'All In' that this is not a Gamble - it is a Given. The cloud will be good for ERP and we had all best get on board in one way or another.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tech Tuesday: Global Variables

For this week, I want to cover one of the new features in SmartConnect 2010: Global Variables. Now, if you have done scripting in SmartConnect before, you may have noticed that global variables have been in SmartConnect for a while now. However, now we can actually create new global variables and assign default values to them as needed.

To create new variables we need to go through Tools -> SmartConnect -> Setup. On that window hit the Variables button to bring up the window where we can create new variables, remove existing ones, or set default values.

If you set a default value for a variable, it will assign this value to the variable as soon as it is initialized in a map rather than leaving it as a null value. This can be useful if you are storing something that you won’t normally change (like an email address) or if your scripts have issues with null values.

You can set variable defaults per map that override the overall defaults if you want for the specific map. This can be done from the Map Setup screen by going to the Options -> Tasks button. On the Maintain Tasks window, Global Variable Defaults should be selected on the left, and then any of the variable defaults can be changed.

If you override the default value on the map, the variable name will change its font color to show that the variable has a different default value from the overall setup.

These global variables can be used in any scripts (calculated fields, restrictions, tasks scripts, etc) to store and pass data between different scripts on the same map. They can be used in other tasks as well; for example, using global variables as the email addresses and the body of the email in the email task.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tech Tuesday: Text Data Source

Welcome to the start of Tech Tuesday posts on our blog! Each Tuesday I will be adding a new article to this collection that can be used in your own projects and implementations. I’ll try to keep them brief and to the point as the idea behind them is to be more technically focused to balance out Martin’s dominance of the blog up to this point.

One question that we commonly receive in support is whether or not SmartConnect can read in data from text files that may not have a header or files that may use a delimiter other than a comma. We can actually use SmartConnect to configure all the connection details to your needed text file.

When you are setting up the data source you should choose ODBC as the connection type and then select the text driver from the connection string lookup button.

In the ODBC Text driver setup window you will want to uncheck the Use Current Directory option and then hit the Select Directory button and choose the folder that contains the text file you want to use as the data source.

Next, hit the Options button to expand the setup window and then hit the Define Format button. From this window you can choose your file, determine whether it has headers or not with the option box, and also choose the delimiter. If you choose the Custom Delimited option you can enter the pipe character in the field below it.

Once you have selected your file and determined the header and delimiter options, you can hit the Guess button at the top right to have the driver determine what columns are in your source file and their data types. Once you have everything configured properly from these windows, you can close out of them and continue with your map setup as normal.

FeedBack Fantastic

There are plenty of blog articles out there about what a great time everyone had in Atlanta last week. I will not write another - but rest assured it was both the busiest and best event I have attended. If you have never attended Convergence - then you simply must book in for next year. It is not optional, block out your calendar and start planning for next year now.

What I love most about Convergence is learning. For me that does not result from attending a bunch of presentations or listening to Steve Ballmer. In fact I can never be sure when the learning actually happens but it comes to me on the long flight home.

Somewhere in my subconscious, and usually one very bad meal and an action movie later, roughly above Hawaii - things seem to synthesize in my mind. I have never been to Hawaii but I have always been thankful for its airspace!

So out of Convergence, and based on what I heard from partners and customers - here is a snapshot of Action items eOne is going to be executing in the next few months:

1. Adding 2-3 people to our team. (Support and Consulting services)
2. Improving our collaboration tools to allow our team, our customers and resellers to communicate better, share experiences, post code samples, distribute solutions.
3. Take a long hard look at the style, format and content of our documentation
4. Improve ability to self learn SmartConnect
5. Helping GPUG to distribute SLB solution and run SLB Tuesdays.
6. Spend time reviewing and correcting 'all the little things' that can cause frustration in our tools.

What I find most amazing at Convergence is the passion of Microsoft Dynamics GP customers. This is a seriously clever, and very energetic group of people.

eOne had our largest showing ever with 10 people present in Atlanta with 5 of our team from Fargo and 5 from Sydney. People often ask me why we bring people from our development team and help desk team to convergence. The answer is very simple:

1. Only at Convergence do they realise how many people use eOne software.
2. Only at Convergence do they see how our solutions impact the working lives of individuals
3. Only at Convergence do we get face to face feedback from so many customers
4. Only at Convergence do you fall over at the amazing things customers have done with our tools - things we never imagined!

Thanks to everyone that gave us feedback last week, and thanks to all our customers that took time to share their amazing stories with us. As a team we have come home energized, excited and ready to deliver another year of software that makes Dynamics GP a whole lot better.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

New Feature: Sales as a source and destination

Oh My - now this is getting wild!

You speak - we listen. We have always positioned SmartConnect as the one stop integration and automation tool for Microsoft Dynamics GP. We always have been and remain 100% focused on GP. To achieve this goal we listened to our partners who said 'not all our customers use Microsoft CRM - but they still want their CRM and GP integrated. We want to use SmartConnect for this integration but there is no way with SC to read and write from the hosted Sales Force application'.

SmartConnect is now your solution to integration with Sales If you are a GP reseller then you have no need to look for an alternate tool for these clients - you already have it and your consultants know how to use it.

We leveraged all our Microsoft CRM online experience to build the easy to use components. Whether you want one way, two way, real time, batch based or change tracked integrations between SalesForce and GP - SmartConnect is the answer. So when your customer says we need to integrate GP and SalesForce you can smile with confidence and offer a fantastic solution. There is no longer any need to scare you clients with the costs, or frighten your consultants with the complexity of a tool like Scribe.

eOne is more than ever your one stop GP integration and automation shop! Most exciting is that there is no extra charge for the Sales Force destination - it is all bundled into the single price of SmartConnect.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Convergence Schedule/ Support

It has been great to see so many of our partners and customers pre-booking meetings with our team at Convergence, in Atlanta next week. My schedule seems to be booked out from 7am to 10pm every day.

We have a couple of spots left, so if you want to book us up now then please let me know. We will also be manning our booth in the expo hall - so if you are unsure of your schedule right now, just come by the booth and we can answer all your questions there.

If you are not attending Convergence this year, then watch out for our webinar sessions in Early May that will step through all the new functionality we presented in Atlanta.

We are taking our entire Fargo based team to this event - which means our support team will be on the road. We will still be on email ( and phone as per normal but please note that response times may be a little stretched. We will endeavour to respond promptly as always. If you are attending convergence and have a support question then please come by the booth and we can respond on the spot.

File Destination

SmartConnect has always been an import and automation tool. The new build of SmartConnect provides functionality to make it an export tool as well. This functionality is essential in closing the integration loop in a complex multi application environment.

The 'old' SmartConnect gave you just 2 main destinations of GP or CRM - but now you have the destination of a txt, csv, excel or xml file. The building of a SmartConnect map does not change - but rather than pushing an output file to CRM or eConnect (GP) this option will turn your source of data into the file specified.

So when you are working on a multi application project you can not only accept but now you can produce all the desired file formats to pass to an external application. All this without any code and via the simple SmartConnect interface. This feature of SmartConnect takes away one of the great mysteries of working with GP - 'How to generate export files in a predefined format, on a scheduled basis - without talking to a developer'.

The export process is very simple and uses the base functionality of SmartConnect. In the same way you always have done - you select a data source, and then map this data to a destination. The only difference is that the destination is a list of columns you would like in your export file. When the map runs - instead of importing it exports.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

New Feature: SQL Destination

You ask, we listen. This is the theme of our new releases in 2011.

The upcoming release of SC contains a brand new destination called SQL and Stored Procedures. Have you ever wanted to do a the equivalent of a table import using SmartConnect? Have you ever wanted to pass source data into a complex stored procedure through an easy to use mapping interface?

The SQL destination means that you can update any SQL table you choose, with SmartConnect. This function is extremely powerful in that you can do direct inserts into the table of your choosing via the same SmartConnect interface you are familiar with.

I must have been asked 100 times "Can I use SmartConnet to update my custom table in SQL? Can we push data from GP to Sales Logix? I know the table name and eConnect does not support it, can we just write to it directly? After an import to GP how can we update the source tables with an update flag?"

These sorts of questions always came with work around answers involving writing code or custom nodes. Those days are over. If you are game - you are now able to write data directly to any table anywhere.

The power is great with this feature, but comes with a 'user be ware' notice. Obviously the power of eConnect is all the data validation that occurs during integration. The SQL destination by passes the rules - and updates tables exactly how you have mapped it.

Stored Procedure
This is a super cool feature. (Note super cool is not a term I would usually use but I am getting into convergence mode). Safer and more secure than the SQL option above, a stored procedure destination knows no limits. All you need is a stored procedure that inserts data into a table. This Can be a GP table or any other update you can do with a stored procedure.

When you build a map you select a data source as per normal, and then select a destination of Stored Procedure. You can then map your source data direct to the destination fields of the stored procedure within SmartConnect. When you bundle this feature with the stand alone interface we discussed in the last blog entry - you can use SmartConnect to integrate from anywhere to anywhere!

Come and talk to me in Atlanta to learn more.

Friday, April 01, 2011

SmartConnect Goes it Alone

Convergence 2011 is going to be a great event. The eOne development team have been heads down for some time and we will be presenting a whole bunch of new functionality and products. I will highlight all of the NEW things in the next few days via this blog.

Whatch out for:
1. SmartPost
2. New SC Destination: SQL script and Stored Procedure
3. New SC Destination and Source: Sales Force
4. New SC Destination: File (Excel, txt and csv)
5. New SmartView
6. SC stand alone interface.

What I think is most exciting is that SmartConnect goes it alone with its own standalone user interface. That's right you get to install SmartConnect on any environment, even if there is no Microsoft Dynamics GP. The functionality is maintained 100% from the current release and the look and feel remains familiar to existing users. The great thing is that you no longer need to log into Dynamics GP to build a map.

Why is that so cool?

1. Much Better for CRM consultants: If you want to integrate GP and CRM together then you can do it all without ever logging into Microsoft Dynamics GP or Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The Smartconnect application acts as an independent integration application.

2. Neutral Territory: It was often an issue for Non GP consultants or IT prrofessionals to log in to a GP look and feel environment for building maps. While SmartConnect still looks the same -it is neutral territory for all consultants.

3. No Longer use up a GP license to build you integrations.

4. Build you maps on any workstation you choose, including machines without GP installed.

5. The SmartConnect market just got a whole lot bigger. You can import data to CRM or any other applications for clients that do not have GP.

6. The new UI fits perfectly with the new data destinations in SmartConnect including: Direct SQL, Stored Procedure, Sales Force, export File. All of this allows you to use SmartConnect for almost all your integration needs.

For all our existing customers and implementers - nothing changes. You are still able to run the GP interface both now and in future builds of SmartConnnect. The independent interface is an option during install and you can determine when and if you need to use it. If you would like more information about the Stand Alone user interface for SmartConnect please let me know.