Podcast Transcript: Rob Jolliffe on designing a Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central industry strategy

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The following transcript is taken from our recent podcast episode with Robert Jolliffe on industry strategies for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central.


Welcome to The MSDW Podcast. I’m Jason Gumpert Editor at msdynamicsworld.com. On this episode, I am speaking with Robert Jolliffe. He’s the founder of Microsoft Partner Sabre Limited. based in Ontario, Canada. Rob has written for us in the recent past about various topics, including cloud tech opportunities in the manufacturing space in the future of cloud ERP. After hearing a recent episode with Alex Chow, where Alex shared his firm’s experiences working with organizations that had already had a negative outcome from a fixed fee Dynamics 365 Business Central project, Rob suggested that we talk about his experience actually offering a type of fixed fee model for Business Central and why he believes it can work well with the right structure and approach in place. As you’ll hear, Rob’s firm does not suggest the standard one size fits all fixed fee model. His clients succeed in this model he says when several factors line up correctly from the start: industry focus project management techniques, a support model, and other elements. We discussed how his firm’s model has evolved from traditional time and materials to fixed fee, what he has learned from others in the Microsoft channel offering their own types of programs for Business Central, the techies most interested in adding to his practice in the future and why he still feels like a relative newcomer to NAV and Business Central even though he joined that space about nine years ago.


Great to have you. And as we were just getting ready to start here, you remarked, I think this is a good place to start that you still consider yourself relatively fresh in the Dynamics 365 Business Central, Dynamics NAV channel. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about why you say that’s the case, even though it’s been coming up on a decade, close to that, of work in this space, right?


I’ll give you a little bit of my background. So, I graduated from university with a mechanical engineering degree in the early 90s. And like a lot of guys in engineering, I ended up moving into IT, was hired by a company in about ’94-’95 that had just purchased an ERP system, which is today Infor ERP, and became really familiar with the product was one of the very few IT professionals in the region. I live in Ontario, Canada, and there’s a lot of manufacturing– this was a manufacturing company. So, some of the other companies in the region would reach out to me and ask me, “Hey, would you be able to help me do like a custom report or something like that?” And so, I went out into the market in 1998, I started my business, I like to tell people I hung my shingle and started selling ERP consulting. But I didn’t even know what Dynamics was. I didn’t know what Navision was, I had never really run into them. I was in a completely different space and all my clients were manufacturing, because the product I was servicing was a manufacturing product, and I never sold it. There were there were resellers who had exclusive reselling agreements. So, it was 2008 when Microsoft … I was also doing IT services because I been an IT manager. So, Microsoft started managing me in about 2008. And I was talking to my partner account manager and he said, “Tell me about your business.” So, I told him, “You know, 70% of what we do is ERP consulting and 30% of what we do is local IT services.” And he just said, “Why don’t you sell Dynamics?” That was that was the beginning of the end, I guess. So 2008, we became a Great Plains partner. That’s what Microsoft recommended. They said that, at the time, Great Plains was equivalent to NAV I didn’t really look into the NAV product, I trusted Microsoft. And about five years later, obviously, the Great Recession happened right away almost. So, we never really got deeply into the Great Plains product, we had a lot of challenges selling it. And what I was finding was virtually every manufacturing company, which is where my comfort zone is, who I pitched Great Plains to, they all said, “Well, GP is for accounting.” And that was like almost the first words out of their mouth. So, I went back to Microsoft because I lost numerous deals to NAV and a local NAV partner. I went back to Microsoft and I said, “Should I be selling NAV,” and they said, “Sure. Maybe you should be selling NAV.” And that was about 2012-2013. So, we’re really new. I talked to these other partners who started in 1998 with Navision before Microsoft acquired it or even earlier, and they all look at me and I’m the fresh blood. It was weird getting it into the community because it was such a close-knit community in 2013, I really felt like going to high school and being a freshman and not knowing anybody and not being part of the in-group.


That’s interesting. It’s almost like you came into this space at the point where some NAV partners were already considered real serious veteran who had spent a lot of years building up a business and probably had some very successful years already, as now partners in different parts of the world. Same with GP, I bet by 2012, there were GP partners who I feel like probably had some of their best years in those early days, I mean, some of the sort of the heady successes that you hear about from early GP years, I think, had sort of come and gone already, and they were sort of entering a new phase. I’m not saying companies haven’t had success since then and you were sort of in the middle of that somewhere. You were not an old timer in the space but, I mean, you weren’t a rookie, you had already built-up industry expertise, and you were an IT professional, but you were sort of entering this Microsoft channel for ERP. It’s sort of an interesting time there. And nine years later, here you are with a much more developed Business Central and have Business Central practice among other things, right?