Copyright © 2005-2011 Timothy Horrigan
One of the more unusual items on my resume is my experience as a Navision Solution Developer. Navision is an accounting and database software package which was originally developed by a Danish company called Navision A/S. The history of Navision goes back to 1985, when Navision A/S brought out its first MSDOS-based accounting program. The current Navision product dates back to the early days of Windoze 95/98, and it was the first serious corporate accounting package built from the ground up for a Windows-based client-server environment (rather than being merely a port of a MSDOS or mainframe product.) A few years ago, Navision A/S was bought out by Microsoft, and attached to the same division which makes Great Plains and several other competing mid-market ERP (Enterpise Resources Planning) packages.
This division is known as Microsoft Small Business Solutions, and at some point Microsoft wants to combine all the division's products lines into one. A September 6, 2005 press release announced that this product will be called Microsoft Dynamics. (This name was supposedly chosen after what Tami Reller, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Business Solutions Group characterized as "a significant research project that was amongst the most extensive naming research projects Microsoft has ever done.") In the meantime, the various existing Microsoft Small Business Solutions products are being rebranded as follows:
Microsoft CRM becomes Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
Microsoft Business Solutions-Great Plains becomes Microsoft Dynamics GP.
Microsoft Business Solutions-Axapta® becomes Microsoft Dynamics AX.
Microsoft Business Solutions-Navision becomes Microsoft Dynamics NAV.
Microsoft Business Solutions-Solomon becomes Microsoft Dynamics SL.
For more info:
In July 2006, Microsoft announced a couple of major changes to Navision. First, they placed Navision 3.* on a long list of products (including, most famously, Windoze 95/98) which will be taken off the support roster. As of November 12, 2006, Navision 3.7 will no longer be supported. On a more positive note, Microsoft announced that Navision 4.* and its future successors will be priced on a per-user basis rather than a per-module basis.
In 1999 and 2000 I worked for two Navision Solution Centers: Enterprise Management Solutions (now defunct) in the Hanover, NH area, and Competitive Edge Services (still going strong) in Worcester, MA. The network of Solution Centers was a key part of Navision A/S's strategy: in theory, Navision A/S would never have to deal with end users. Regional value added retailers would do all the implementation, customer support, marketing, etc. This model worked well in some cases but not so well in others: there were a lot of marginal Solution Centers which for whatever reason never were able to thrive. Microsoft also does not market Navision to end users: it is offered through the Microsoft Partner network.
I worked with Navision 3.*, which became obsolescent only in late 2004 and early 2005. The product remained much the same through a dizzying series of mergers and name changes. The core Navision 3.* product was variously known as Navision Financials, Navision Solutions, Navision Attain, and Microsoft Small Business Solutions-Navision Edition. And now, the new 4.* Navision release has been given the scintillating moniker of "Microsoft Dynamics NAV."
Click here to read the transcript of an introduction to Navision 4.0 by Tom Blaisdell, Todd Bergeson, and Susanne Priess of Navision US in Atlanta.
Navision is targeted at small and medium-sized businesses which have outgrown shrinkwrapped accounting programs like QuickBooks or Peachtree Accounting but who don't need the complex (and expeinsive) functionality of a large-scale ERP system such as PeopleSoft or SAP. Navision includes a Pascal-based object-oriented programming environment called C/SIDE which makes the system almost infinitely customizable. There are five basic object types: tables, forms, codeunits, reports, and dataports. (A dataport is like a report in reverse: it takes data from a text file, massages it, and puts it in a table.)
The core Navision product consists of a relational database engine (either SQL or a proprietary engine with similar functionality) along with a complete accounting system. Every functional area has its own set of journals and ledgers. In theory, the product allows the users to do drill-downs and lookups on every record. In practice, the lookup functionality is often compromised. The old Navision A/S pricing model used the number of tables and forms as a metric for how complex (and hence expensive) a given installation should be. This meant it cost a significant amount of money to add additional tables to a Navision installation. So it was a common (though bad) practice to keep the price down by adding customized code fields to existing tables without including lookup tables to tell users what the heck the codes meant. (Currently, however, a per-user pricing model is being phased in.)
Click here to see a Microsoft video showing Navision's main menus. This is the gripping tale of John Roberts, a newly-hired system administrator with Italian Style Furniture (a subsidiary of Cronus, Inc.) who wants an overview of the new Navigation Pane in Microsoft Navision. (The new Navigation Pane turns out to be wonderful, but not quite wonderful enough to prevent Roberts from changing careers. He becomes a lawyer and is so successful that he eventually becomes the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.)
Click here for a menu of assorted archived webcasts about Navision. (These are official Microsoft webcasts, so Windows Media Player will be needed.)
To learn more check out these websites:
A Couple of Books You Can Buy:
If you do any work with Navision, you will become familiar with Cronus, which is a fictional Danish furniture company. One of its executives is John Roberts, who shares his name with the current Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. It is a small company, but it uses the full range of Navision's functionality. It manufactures and distributes two lines of furniture, one named after Winter Olympics sites and the other after Summer Olympics sites: one of the lines consists of pre-assembled items, and the other consists of items the company assembles in-house (utilizing Navision's Bill of Materials functionality while building the items.) The US subsidiary is based in Atlanta, just like the pre-Microsoft incarnation of Navision US.
Although Navision has strong security provisions, Cronus is a very transparent company, where managers and rank & file employees have wide-ranging access to information. (This is not one of those companies where information hoarding is standard operating procedure. Also this is not one of those companies where information takes the form of highly-digested printed reports which are produced only periodically. Navision is designed with the assumption that just about every worker, even those below the upper management levels, continually needs real-time access to a wide range of raw data.)
Every Navision distribution package is shipped with a "Cronus database" which is used for training, demos, etc.
Cronus was named after a figure from Greek mythology— but not Chronos, the God of time.
Cronus is equivalent to the Roman god Saturn: he is the god of corn, the harvest, etc. However, he is a much less nurturing figure than his Roman counterpart.
Cronus's story is bizarre even by the standards of classical mythology. He was the son of Gaia (the goddess of the Earth) and Uranus (the god of the sky.) Gaia convinced Cronus to castrate Uranus with a sickle, thus separating heaven and earth, and this is the beginning of history as we know it. Cronus became the King of the Gods, and took his sister Rhea as his queen. She bore several children, the gods Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia, and Poseidon. Cronus swallowed each of these babies, fearing they would do the same thing to him as he had done to his father.
Finally, Rhea gave birth to Zeus. She hid Zeus and fed Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling instead and Zeus forced Cronus to disgorge all the older babies. After a brutal war, Zeus became the King of the Gods, and Cronus ended up in Tartarus, which is equivalent to the lowest level of Dante's Inferno.
The connection of all this to Navision is obscure. Cronus's child Poseidon is the god of the sea, and Navision's name does have nautical implications: "Navision" is a portmanteau word combining "navigate" and "vision." (And, it is worth mentioning, Navision's programming environment is called "C/SIDE" and its database server is called "C/FRONT.") Also, I suppose one could view Navision as the rock which causes the corporation, symbolized by Cronus, to disgorge the swallowed financial data so it can be utilized by the corporation's management team, symbolized by Zeus and His sibling