Monday, May 30, 2011

SmartList

Imagine waking up one morning to find that there was no SmartList. That’s right - every instance of Microsoft Dynamics GP SmartList across the world had been removed overnight. I would like to propose that the North American mid-market business world would suffer a meltdown much larger than the GFC.

SmartList is one of those parts of Dynamics GP that is taken for granted and mostly ignored, until it stops working, and then all hell can break loose. Working with a wide range of GP clients across the globe I have discovered that most users of GP would use SmartList every day. Many of these would use it in excess of 20 times per day. Most companies have 50+ favourites with many having hundreds and hundreds of specialised lists.

If SmartList did not work then the business would stop. Users would not know what to do. Smartlist has become such a fundamental part of daily business activity users could never imagine a world without SmartList.

It is amazing how simple things make the biggest impact. Google, for instance, provides one of the simplest web pages available on the entire internet and yet it is also the most used page on the internet. It is simple and yet most of us cannot live or work without it.

SmartList is the Google of Microsoft Dynamics GP. SmartList is simple. The user interface is simple and uncomplicated. Everyone uses it. People trust SmartList and know how to make it work.

SmartView is the new SmartList. Knowing how much our customers are reliant upon SmartList I decided to personally take all the initial support calls relating to SmartView (a bit odd for the owner of a company to promote himself to the support desk). I did this for two reasons - firstly I quite enjoy providing support and secondly so I could monitor the impact SmartView was having on our customers.

What I have found has even surprised me. Companies have hundreds of SmartList Favourites. GP Customers have hundreds of SmartList Builder SmartList. These Companies are truly 100% reliant on SmartList and SmartList Builder. When something goes wrong with one of their lists it is a major catastrophe. Dynamics GP is SmartList. SmartList like Google is simple, it works and everyone knows it.

So the challenge for SmartView is immense. How do you make Google better? How do you make SmartList better? I am completely confident that we have managed to take the best thing about GP and make it even better.

We have kept all the great things about SmartList and then added in features that customers have been wanting - without making it harder to use:

1. We kept SmartView really simple
2. The user interface is clean and easy to navigate
3. All the lists from SmartList are available in SmartView
4. All your SmartList Builder lists are available in SmartView
5. All your SmartList favorites are available in SmartView
6. SmartView is much, much faster
7. SmartView has optional functionality that you only use if you need it. (Grouping/Subtotalling)
8. SmartView has unlimited filters
9. You can cut and paste records from SmartView to Excel.

If you have not seen SmartView yet I recommend you get on board and take a look at the online videos and learn why people that absolutely LOVE SmartList are falling in LOVE again with SmartView.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Technology creates unemployment

"Today there is a renewed concern that technological advancement may displace much of the software programming (and other) work force, creating widespread unemployment, social disruption, and human hardship"

I have slightly modified a quote I read referring to the early introduction of manufacturing robots in the 1980's. This is an attitude that still prevails. I recently demonstrated SmartConnect and Node Builder to a small group of software developers and the overwhelming reaction was and I quote "That is what we do already - why would we need those tools". Now I can imagine someone saying that exact same thing when the first weaving machine was created during the industrial revolution. I can imagine a horse saying it when they first saw a car. I can imagine it being said by the typing pool when the first word processor was created. The world seems to have progressed through all of those events without global unemployment catastrophe.

I worked in a third world country many years ago and was helping run the accounting team of an aid agency. I asked an accountant why he had not yet finished the bank reconciliation and he answered "if I finished it today - what would I do tomorrow?"

There is no point creating jobs for jobs sake? There is no point spending 7 days writing an econnect integration when you could do the entire process with SmartConnect in 1 day. There is no upside to writing a custom HR node from scratch that takes 3 days when you can achieve the same in 1 hr with Node Builder.

The only thing the above proves is that we all think in a self centred way. So do I. Not that long ago I played on a mediocre sporting team and was not a great player - but one of the best on that side. We did OK but did not win all that often. We had an opportunity to recruit a really good player for our team. I actively dissuaded the addition to our team. Why? Because I new it would mean less game time for me? I knew I would not be the goto guy anymore? The new star would show me up. Funnily when we did recruit the new player - the team did better, we all slotted into new positions and the change worked out really well.

But - was my decision to not attract a new player good for the team? NO. Is a developers decision to not use smartconnect as it might make them less 'needed' a correct one? NO. Should a developer be able to decide that it is better to lump a company with a pile of custom code rather than use a configurable solution? NO.

Developers should be doing way more exciting things than writing 'xml' code. Developers should be doing way more exciting things writing custom stored procedures. Don't let your staff spend time weaving by hand - when a machine can do it and your staff can do much more value adding activity.

"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory” (Edward Deming) has long been a mantra we have had at eOne. I encourage you to questions the status quo, and make positive change for all the right reasons.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Everyone loves a special price

I have never really undestood why, but everyone loves to buy things at special discount price. Something you wanted to buy, but resisted, that was $100 on the shelf is suddenly very attractive when you can buy it for $80. I have also been victim to the case of buying somethign at a 50% discount that I had no interest in the day before. I walked past a store today that I have walked past 1000 times and never stepped inside - but today everything was 50% off so I walked in. I did show restraint and left empty handed.

If your customers love a special price then there are two great options from Microsoft right now valid until June 24th:
Smartlist Builder 20% off: If you have customers that do not use Smartlist Builder then what are they doing? How do you use GP with out it? With the addition of Navigation List Builder and most importantly Excel Report Builder - there is so much value in this pack. If you are not showing your customers how their GP system cna be better with SLB then you are leaving money on the table.

Extender 20% off: Extender does so much more than anyone realises. I am yet to meet a GP customer that can store ALL of their business specific data within standard GP. They all need eXtender, so why not get it at a discount. If you are not showing your customers how their GP system can be expanded with eXtender then you are leaving money on the table.



For all the details

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Understanding SmartView

SmartView is really very good, even if I say so myself!

I want to dig a little deeper into how SmartView works so you can understand the back end rather than the sex and sizzle on the front end. I think the best way to present this is in a Q&A format:

Does SmartView shows all my standard SmartLists? What about SmartList Builder? How does it do this?
All the standard lists from SmartList are available inside SmartView. All lists built within SLB are also available within SmartView.

SmartView builds all of its standard lists based upon either GP Tables or specific views built for SmartView. SmartView reads the SmartList tables and rebuilds the SQL views/queries based upon the columns, tables and links used for the original list. Therefore SmartView returns data based on its own dataset that is built as a replica of the original SmartList. In regards to SmartList Builder lists we use the same SQL scripts that generate the SLB lists to give exact replicas of each SLB list in SmartView.


There seems to be a couple of differences between some of the lists in SmartList and SmartView?

This can happen as we are using SmartList data to rebuild the lists in SmartView. There should be very few of these and we are correcting any identified as soon as we find them. The reason for some minor discrepancies is that at times we need to interpret what is in the SmartList tables, identify the tables links and determine exactly which table a field is pulled from. In many cases a single field could come from one of 5 different tables and if we picked the wrong one you may find a data difference. We have done our best to make them exact matches - but if you find something not quite right - please let us know. We have also found some fields in standard lists that are out of place and make no sense - so we have removed these fields from the SmartView lists.

How does Security work?
There are two levels of Security. Firstly you need access to the SmartView screen itself. This needs to be granted through the normal GP task/Role security. Power users will automatically have security access.

The second part of security is access to the data lists. SmartView relies on SmartList Security. If a user has access to a list in SmartList - then they also have access to that list in SmartView.

Another point on security is that if your lists are built from views then these views must be assigned to the DYNGRP role in SQL to appear in SmartView.


What about all my favorites from SmartList ?
SmartView has a utility to convert your SmartList favorites to SmartView favorites. My recommendation is NOT to convert all your companies favorites. Only convert the favorites you need to move across to SmartView - and do not bring across redundant lists. Another word of warning is that some filters on favorites may not convert perfectly - given the different filters available in SL as opposed to SV. An example is that in SmartView you need to have the column displayed to filter on it. In Smartlist you can filter on a non display column.

Why is there a SmartView User in SQL?
This is for a coming build of SmartView that will allow you access SmartView without logging into Dynamics GP. When we go that way we will need a user that can connect to the SQL server and we will use the SmartView user. You must make sure that at all time the SmartView user has the same password defined both in SmartView Setup and in SQL.


Some of my old SmartList Builder SmartLists are not returning any data?
SmartView relies on a field in Smartlist Builder called Physical name to build the scripts in the background. In an old version of SmartList Builder this column was not being populated. In the new build of SmartView there is a routine you can run that will populate the physical name field for all SLB lists - so you will no longer have any issues with old lists.

SmartView sometimes takes a while to return any data - where SmartList starts filling the screen right away?
That is a fundamental difference between the products. SmartView goes and gets all the data requested and returns it to screen at once. SmartList goes and gets the first record and displays it, then the second record and displays it and so forth. This is one of the reasons why SmartView works so much faster. There may be a slight delay up front - but what takes minutes to display in SmartList will be returned in seconds by SmartView.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

SmartList Mondays

During Convergence I hosted two SmartList/ SmartList Builder interactive customer sessions. These were great sessions run by customers for customers - and a sample of the feedback comments we received are here:

"My Favourite Session all week. Great to learn from other users"
"Most tips I have ever gotten! Wonderful Audience participation"
"Great Session"
. . . and then my favourite comment
"I love the eOne guys, great products, great session and very very funny guy!"

I have been trying to convince my wife of the last part of this for a long time, now I have proof. I carry around a copy of the session evaluation in my wallet and produce it regularly just to prove how funny I really can be!

The interactive sessions at Convergence were hosted by GPUG. I know a silly name that sounds like a messed up dog - but stands for the Dynamics GP user Group. For some time I have been sceptical about the GPUG model but with new leadership headed by Kim Peterson I have significantly more confidence in the organisation.

One thing that came out of the interactive sessions during convergence is the need for an online version of what we did in those sessions. GPUG has stepped up and started 'SmartList Mondays'.

If you or your customers use SmartList, or SmartList Builder then I strongly recommend you get involved in these discussions as I guarantee you will learn some things you did not know before. (As well as sharing things you have learnt about SmartList that others can benefit from). The initial sessions will be moderated by Nicole Albertson (Microsoft SmartList Support Guru) and the eOne crew will also be in attendance to help out.

I hope to speak with you on the First SmartList Monday.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Dog Food and SmartView

I have blogged about the need to practice what you preach previously - and last year I did and we upgraded eOne from GP9 to GP2010 and all went well.

I have also recently talked about my transition to Excel Report Builder to replace my regular export from SmartList. I used this report to review the April sales number just today - and it worked perfectly. I really love Excel Report builder and the 30 minutes it saved me today.

Beyond that I am now a regular user of SmartView - and am loving that too. I had a call yesterday from a reseller saying "My customer believes that they have purchased SmartConnect twice from different resellers and a few years apart". So how in GP would I research this - when I am unsure of the reseller (customer name) and I have no dates to go from?

I jumped right into SmartView and selected the sales line items, for all time. (I know we are not a massive volume company but I got over 10,000 records back in 7.4 seconds). I did a CTRL F to search all fields and typed in the first part of the customer name. It took an extra 6.1 seconds to return for me two invoice numbers both selling SmartConnect to the same customer one in 2007 and again in 2010! The trick was that the customer name was stored in the customer PO number on one invoice and in the item line description on the other invoice.

Now I have an issue to deal with for client and Reseller - but the beauty is that SmartView helped me do something in a minute what could have taken 20 minutes if I waited for SmartList to do the same job. (Or I may be still looking as I would never have thought to search on the item description field to find what I was looking for).