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Write Once, Work Many


June 29th. 2015

One of the most requested customizations S+C has encountered through the years is the need to display data on a variety of mobile platforms. Historically, this has been a less-than-desirable undertaking: disparity amongst mobile OSes and device sizes meant that the most effective way of displaying and exchanging data with your management system was through a web page. While being the best available solution in most cases, it was not without drawbacks: an extra level of user interface leads to additional development and maintenance costs. Microsoft has a series of Line of Business products - the most recent release of their Dynamics NAV 2015 product includes a Tablet Client. This release is a step towards resolving these issues by allowing users to adopt a “write once, work many” mentality.

 

The best way to think of the various Clients (Role Tailored, Web, and Tablet) is that they are specialized display engines. When a developer creates a Page object (the interface that the users interact with), it is stored in a language called Extensible Markup Language, or XML. There is nothing special that a developer needs to do to “compile for Tablet” – the XML typically isn’t even visible to them. Now, when a user requests a Page, this XML is what the server sends for the Client to use for presenting data to the user. That is, the same XML will appear differently on each Client, as each one has different rules for rendering XML.

 

With that being said, there are some limitations when using the Web or Tablet interface. For example, some of the major differences between the Role Tailored and Tablet Client:

 

  • The Role Tailored Client allows for multiple windows at once – for example, to compare 2 different Sales Documents. This is not possible with the Tablet (or Web) Client.
  • The Ribbon UI will only display “large” (Promoted) Actions.
  • The Tablet Client does not have access to FactBoxes, or the default Link/Note functionality.  Nor does the Tablet Client does not allow for horizontal scrolling of List pages.
  • The Tablet Client does not have ability to Preview reports

However, with proper solution planning most of these differences are avoidable. For example, it’s important to remember that the Tablet Client is designed with a “touch” experience in mind - the lack of a proper keyboard makes repetitive data-entry tasks non-optimal for mobile. So, when designing a solution that you intend to deploy to multiple Clients (RTC, Web, Tablet), the best methodology is to change the user’s workflow so that:

  1. On any List Pages that are designed, the most important data is in the left-most columns.
  2. Ensure that any Card (or List) Pages that are being designed have a method to enter/display what would normally be shown in FactBoxes.
  3. Ensure that the Actions a mobile user is interested in have been Promoted, so that they’re available on the Ribbon.
  4. If there are reports that a tablet user needs to preview, consider designing an alternate delivery method. For example, printing the report to PDF, which is then stored in a shared file location. Or, email the PDF to the users.

Overall, the release of Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2015 is an exciting time for Partners – a reduction in development cycles generally leads to improved ROI for clients. And, it’s important to remember that


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