Dynamics NAV Conferences – which ones & why?

I have just finished the most intense conference season I’ve ever done. I believe I’ve done nearly all of them so I thought I’d get my impressions down while they are still fresh.

Directions EMEA

Organiser NAV Partners in EMEA
When October 12-14 in 2016
Where Prague
Website http://www.directionsemea.com
Restricted To Dynamics NAV partners
Appropriate for Roles Management, Sales & Marketing, Consulting
Approx. Cost inc. travel from UK £2000
Recommendation You should be there
My Conclusion Most important (for me) of the year

For staff from Microsoft partners only, its certainly the biggest Microsoft Dynamics NAV only event and gets the most support from Microsoft Dynamics NAV product team. There were not many program managers from Copenhagen that were not there and leading sessions on what they had done in the latest release. It's an across the board conference, there are sessions for sales and marketing people, consultants (although largely what’s new rather than best practise) and developers would have enjoyed the MVP track plus a few of the MS sessions.

In addition, the UK sent the largest number of people both from the Microsoft subsidiary and from the partner community. That meant that the networking was very good and what I learnt about MS’s plans and my friends/competitors was very useful as a business leader.

It also had the best turnout of ISV’s – just about everyone was there in force with quite a few product launches so its an ideal opportunity to review who you work with and if you currently build solutions in some areas make sure they are still competitive.

If I could only do one conference, then this would be it. If you want to be taken seriously as the MD or CEO of a Dynamics NAV partner you need to be there.

How many of your team should go with you? Certainly you will not be able to cover it all. Anyone who is a solution architect or strategy planner with customers will benefit by being there. It doesn’t go into the technical detail of some others but you get a clear indication of what’s important and what’s not about the new release and it’s a great starting point for what you need to learn.

If you don’t go then I struggle to see how you will compete. You’re going to have to spend far more time and cost reading and experimenting. It's in Prague next year so only a cheap flight away, book early to make sure you get a place because I think it may well sell out.

NAVUG Summit

Organiser Navision User Group
When October 11-14 2016
Where Tampa, Florida
Website http://www.navugsummit.com
Restricted To Anyone
Appropriate for Roles Expert Users of NAV
Approx. Cost inc. travel from UK £3000
Recommendation Good for end users who are not developers
My Conclusion Like to attend when it fits my schedule

This is the one I didn’t do - but heard a lot about. The Dynamics User Groups in the US run a conference for end users with the NAV, CRM and AX conferences all running at the same time and place. There is a specific track for each product though. The feedback I got via the MVP’s who attended was that it’s a great event for end users with a particular opportunity to ask questions about the version you are using rather than the one that’s just released!

It’s a shame that in 2016, the US conference is at the same time as Directions EMEA. I think a lot of the speakers will have to make a choice and that’s likely to be Directions unfortunately.

I hear that a European version is launching in Germany though so maybe that will fit into the schedule. For end user or contracting consultant’s I think it’s the best (although maybe the only) conference to go to.

Directions US

Organiser NAV Partners in the US
When September 25-28th 2016
Where Arizona, USA
Website http://navdirections.com/
Restricted To Dynamics NAV partners
Appropriate for Roles Management, Sales & Marketing, Consulting, Developers
Approx. Cost inc. travel from UK £3000
Recommendation Go if you cannot go to Direction EMEA
My Conclusion Like to go again especially if its the launch of Madeira

So if you’re a US based partner or for whatever reasons cannot make the dates then read everything above and that also applies to the US version. It’s the same format as Europe with sales and marketing, consulting/new feature and MVP best practise tracks.

To me it was different to EMEA because it had less people and was in one hotel rather than a conference centre. Maybe it was because I knew less people and had no colleagues with me but I found it more relaxed and so I was able to learn more at the US conference than EMEA conference. There was more time for interaction with the product group as well.

If I was a US partner, I would definitely go. Actually as a speaker I will give the time next year if I get asked. It was worth the flight for what I learnt even if the value of the networking was less.

Future Decoded

Organiser Microsoft
When Early November
Where London, England
Website https://futuredecoded.microsoft.com/
Restricted To Everyone
Appropriate for Roles Not sure I know
Approx. Cost inc. travel from UK £500
Recommendation Don’t bother if your SMB focused, you’ll get more on Bing!
My Conclusion Microsoft need to decide who the target audience is

I thought this was just a UK conference but I notice that quite a few European countries seem to be doing it as well now. Its pitched as explaining Microsoft’s vision of the role of technology in business and is aimed at both the user and partner communities. It has a day aimed at the business community followed by a day aimed at the technical community.

I attended in London and found, to be honest, that for SMB businesses the content was very limited despite the efforts of a few Microsoft staff. Given that a couple of week before some other people from Microsoft where showing me a graph that explained that 60% of the potential cloud revenue was businesses with 10 to 99 users which was idiotic, something I told MS in the UK in no uncertain terms. Enterprise customers already get the most time and information from MS because each one spends big bucks, but the SMB community has very limited opportunity to hear from Microsoft.

This is a great opportunity massively missed in a venue that could accommodate many more people. Why not work with the SMB partners to put on excellent rel,evant content for the business decision makers in SMB? When your hiring the likes of Lord Sabastian Coe and flying Satya Nadella in as keynote speakers, then hiring a few extra rooms would be minimal. If you cannot do worthwhile content Microsoft, let us organise it.

Otherwise don’t complain when we don’t tell our customers to sign up for next year or bother to attend either. Why would I send them to an expo that has a Dynamics Stand and does not have NAV on it!

NAV Techdays

Organiser Mibuso
When Mid November
Where Antwerp, Belgium
Website http://navtechdays.com/
Restricted To Everyone
Appropriate for Roles Developers & Technical Architect
Approx. Cost inc. travel from UK £1750
Recommendation Send your Developers & Technical Architects
My Conclusion The other must go, best in depth technical content

Held every year in Antwerp in Belgium, I’d bet that the majority of the MVP’s say this is the best conference, and if you’re a Dynamics NAV developer or technical architect then it clearly is. What makes it the best?

This is the MVP track from Directions in steroids. The speakers are all from the developer or technical community – they face the same challenges as the attendees do. They explain it without having a Microsoft ‘spin’ on things and give many more real world examples.

It’s a small thing but the sessions are longer being 90 minutes each rather than the 60 minutes as at directions. It means you get more detail but can do less sessions. There are only two sessions running but they are not repeated. At other conferences there are 6+ but you get two opportunities for most.

If you need extra learning, then the preconference days give the option of in depth tuition. We did some last year but not this year because we judged that the change in a year didn’t justify it. We will look at the topics next year and decide if we feel we as a company or a particular individual is weak in an area and use it to catch up.

Its less focused on the latest release than other conferences. Sure they are talked about and the pros and cons of the ‘improvements’ discussed but there is much more best practise than certainly, for example at Directions.

If you have development or technical staff, they will benefit from attending this. With 960 odd people from across the world then it getting bigger every year. For my company we sent 10 people this year at a cost of close to £20k once the fees, hotels, travel, meals and of course in Belgium, beer are counted. With the loss of three consulting days each you could argue its double that. However, it is still worth it, all of them are more productive because of what the learnt and motivated because of the exposure to that wider community. We will be back next year.

For the US people I know that Luc from Mibuso is talking about trying to start a US version. It would be great to do that but the issue is the people from Microsoft and MVP’s who make up the majority of the speakers, are spending so many weeks away as it is that its difficult to find a time when it fits in and get them to commit. With so many of the speakers coming from Europe the travel costs will be high as well. We will see, maybe tagged on to the end of Direction US or something like that, it would be good if it could be done. Tell Luc if you would attend, sure that will make it easier for him to arrange.

Convergence Europe

Organiser Microsoft
When Early December
Where Barcelona, Spain
Website http://www.microsoft.com/en/convergence/emea15
Restricted To Partners & Customers (including prospects)
Appropriate for Roles Management & Sales from Partners,

Business Decision Makers & IT Strategists from end-users

Approx. Cost inc. travel from UK £2000
Recommendation If you cannot do any others, do this
My Conclusion Not sure, too much style over substance

So the last conference of the year and again, I feel that increasingly it’s heavily biased towards Enterprise. There was some confusion this year after the US Convergence when it was announced that it was going to be the Enterprise business conference rather than the Dynamics conference it had been in the past.

The fact that AX7 was announced into preview (glad Dynamics NAV has never taken this long to be launched) might have biased my view and certainly the Dynamics SMB leadership teams were all there. There was a lot of CRM content around the launch of 2016 (nice one guys for getting it out the door) so if you use both products and have not been to any of the other conferences then it would be worth going. I was left concluding that I could have watched the keynotes online from the UK and used to he time to deliver a lot more for my business strategically.

One point that made it worthwhile though is there is a Dynamics Academic Alliance conference that runs the day before and during convergence. If your involved in education, then I think that’s well worth a visit. Some great content and sharing of curriculum and good practise from lots of countries. For me the Alliance and meeting a customer who won a visionary award, made it worth the trip.

Final Conclusions

I’d say for partners if you don’t send someone to at least Directions and Techdays then you’re not serious about NAV. Make sure those people know before they go that they will have to present to the rest of your team the key things they learnt, that concentrates their mind not to enjoy the partying too much at the expense of the sessions.

For end users its currently more difficult. I need to attend the NAVUG conference before I can say its worth the time and cost. Obviously if the cost is reduced for European users by being in Germany that will be an easier decision.

I have to say though I believe your partner should really be knowledgeable and proactive enough to give you the specific advice your company needs. That should leave you to concentrate on your business processes rather than learning the what’s new in Dynamics. So should you spend the money and time? If you are my customer I’m disappointed if you feel you need to. Go to your partner’s free of charge customer days(s) first I would say and tell them if you need more.