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17

Dec

Evolution of Post-box (Dynamics 365 Business Central in Outlook)

The idea of transactions based on physically posted letters/invoices is not new (in fact it was quite usual a couple of centuries ago). We seem to have come full circle following the spiral of history. What really is new is the ability to use your mailbox as a primary place to post financial and operational ledger entries for ERP. 

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, as an element of Microsoft Office 365, now provides the unique option to use Outlook (traditionally thought as just an email system) as a primary place to POST transactions for some users who are mostly working based on external communications.

The evolution is evident: Immediate action is now covering the whole process and it is all in your POST – box!

But first, a philosophical view:

Native seamless integration between internal modules of ERP has already been in place for Microsoft Dynamics products for decades. It already enables operational processing in the ERP to create transactions behind the scenes (in the background). Sub-ledger data input triggers multiple posting processes as a “big-bang” (i.e. data impact simultaneously and in multiple directions) – e.g. posting of the Time-Sheets in Job Journals creates Resource Ledger Entries, Job Ledger Entries, suggestions for WIP calculation and final costs/revenues recognition in General Ledger.

The person entering operational data that relates to his/her job area effectively creates accounting/financial transactions, suggests for automatic billing and calculates taxes. It creates all financial data without the need for accounting knowledge or much active involvement from the person entering the operational information. Therefore, the border between Operational and Financial data already became thin.

The latest generation of the ERP products (such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central) has grown even further – to the extent that operational data is entered not directly from accessing financial system, but from the usual Mail Box (Outlook). Initial data entry therefore does not require any complex financial details or navigation in the financial system, as it is done in a user-friendly manner, leveraging multiple wizards behind the scene.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning enable almost all information coming from email requests to be automatically retrieved, converted from usual language to ERP codes and used to automatically populate D365 BC internal documents. The information is then also posted to the financial transactions behind the scenes and an outgoing e-mail with the attachments showing the external document is also created. All those processes happen instantly and all while working seamlessly with the email message in Outlook.

What changes would this bring for the future of organisations’ commercial and financial departments?

Based on easy access to this technology, we will see a  shift to an increased focus on client-facing activities, while the task of financial and accounting departments will become more focused in two particular areas:

  • Defining the rules (Financial Policies, represented by general and specific Posting Groups, Chart of Accounts, Default and Mandatory Dimensions, etc.) prior to operational “posting”
  • Controlling the results after operational “posting” (incl. advanced Budgeting and Forecasting). i.e. almost no direct data input by accountants.

In the near future we will see a paradigm shift in the direction of public and private organisations’ evolution, from reflection of the accounting events to active financial management and optimisation of business processes.

Worked sample

What follows is a real sample of D365 Business Central.

Just a few clicks to get Outlook integration set up. Outlook is natively integrated to BC:

SMTP setup is configured following the assisted setup – all wizard-like (following “guided tour”):

Email addresses are recorded on customer and vendor records.

Receive email from Vendor (or Customer).

Business Central button (function) is available within the email

This is opening data insights natively retrieving the data from source (D365 BC database):

It provides some charts and balances in real-time which helps the decision making process for the operational user:

And ultimately the user can post transactions via Outlook: creating new Purchase invoice or Sales invoice depending if the e-mail is associated to the Vendor:

Editability of the financial documents directly in Outlook (in the right-hand pane) is supported for document header and lines:

It can be also opened in a separate window, leveraging browser-based technology:

Functions including Post are available directly from Outlook (no need to go to the D365 BC):

During posting – there are no artificial layers of separate validations/error handling, as all normal data validations of the D365 BC are in place (viewable within Outlook).

After posting – it opens Posted Purchase Invoice (again, right here, right now, with no reason to jump between applications):

This posted invoice can be visible from D365 BC as well for the back-end user to verify the transaction origin and associated information:

For Vendor interactions – the Purchase Order can also be created directly from the email:

And after choosing to send, it can be previewed and confirmed:

Email is generated and sent; this external interaction is logged and the Interaction Log is viewable from associated to the Vendor Contact:

Interaction is referencing Purchase Order:

Show attachments can help in opening particular details:

Email is immediately received by the recipient:

Happy D365 BC – Outlook integration! :)

It is also important to mention that Microsoft does periodic updates in the “evergreen” D365 BC that improve usability and add more functions. Outlook integration after the new release looks slightly different:

As a new intelligent feature of AI ), –Outlook also can recognise what the Customer is requesting in the middle of email body message (as shown in the screenshot above – 4 “ATHENS” furniture items are requested). D365 BC translated it automatically to an Item and created a Sales Quote to be sent to the Client. Please note that in case of mismatch or multiple items available – the user can apply manual selection on the top of suggested option.

Conclusion

The aim is to bring all the relevant tools including financial and operational data insights closer to the User no matter where their usual business process is placed. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central provides a multitude of options for interacting with ERP,  including sufficient functional access via Outlook . Post-box is indeed becoming de facto a full-scope financial tool as well as a communications accelerator.

Posted by: Andrew Sknar, Senior Consultant | 17 December 2018

Tags: ERP, Microsoft Dynamics, Business Central, Dynamics 365 Business Central, Enteprise Resource Planning


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