In the beginning of 2017 I got an opportunity to work for an overseas company. I was to visit the client, but the majority of work would be done remotely. As it turned out, the job was 100% telecommute, and I never saw the people I worked for in person. The only available communication channels were emails, chat, and Skype calls.
Accepting the offer was a risky step for me. At that time, I had a well-established relationship with the employer and I considered my job as cool and safe. The truth is the contract with the overseas company didn’t guarantee anything. I clearly understood that I could easily lose this job for many reasons, and I wouldn’t have any leverage to get my invoices paid.
At the same time I knew the costs for Dynamics AX consultants differ dramatically based on whether the company hires a locally or offshore. Nigel Frank reports that the hourly rate of a freelance consultant in the USA, UK, and Canada starts at US$85. However, in less developed countries like Russia, Ukraine or Belarus, a good rate for a seasoned Dynamics AX consultant can start at US$20. By hiring a remote offshore consultant, a company can save a lot of money and get the job done. Taking this fact in consideration, I decided that the client had a strong interest in keeping reliable remote consultants. So I decided to accept the offer and become a part of the remote team.
What did I do for the project? Essentially the same things I usually do on-site. For example, I customized the system. Every customization starts from a functional gap. In order to define gaps, we conducted discussions via Skype and used screen sharing to demonstrate the system. Then I wrote a document for the programmer which described the required customization of the system. The programmer implemented the functionality in accordance with the document, and then I tested the developed functionality and provided feedback to the programmer. When the customization was free of bugs and worked perfectly, I marked it as ready for implementation in the production application, updated documentation, and trained users. When the customization was on the production application, I supported users to make sure the settings were complete and the customization ran smoothly.
For the sake of clarity here’s an example of the remote customization. The check layout had to be adjusted because the out of the box functionality didn’t allow checks to be printed on the paper blank used by my client. This customization was the most memorable, because I was afraid it could be endless.
The first thing I did was to find a virtual printer which allowed me to set a background image and print on it. Then I printed the check with the background, opened the image in the photo editor, and marked all printable fields with blue boxes. I also numbered the boxes to allow them to be referenced.
Then I used a photo editor to adjust the initial output and place the printable fields where they needed to go. I kept the same numbering as the initial image to match the fields on the images.
I then prepared a description for the developer that explained every number on the images. The list looked like the figure below.
After that, the programmer adjusted the layout according to the list I prepared. We asked the client to test the printing on the physical printer and the results looked great. Some adjustments were necessary, but they were only simple ones.
In fact, we’ve done many customizations. We implemented integration interfaces for external systems, adjusted reports, added options to the warehouse management functionality, etc. All of these customizations were implemented by 100% telecommuting. I’ve never been on-site, and I’ve never seen the AX developer in person.
Another significant part of the job was setting up the system. Traditionally, prior to system set up, a consultant conducts face-to-face meetings with subject matter experts to discuss the requirements. As a remote consultant these meetings were replaced by emails, and in the most difficult cases — Skype meetings.
The first module I was responsible to set up was the general ledger. Ledger posting parameters were needed across the whole system. To collect information about required ledger entries, I emailed my proposal for the exact operations of the ledger entries to the subject matter expert and asked him to confirm or adjust them. I collected and systematized this information in an Excel file. I then set up the system against that file. When we conducted integration tests, I validated the ledger entries against the Excel file and adjusted settings if any mistakes were found.
The approach I used for ledger setup is described in detail here.
We used the same approach for the modules’ parameters and other areas where precision was necessary. However, master records (chart of accounts, products, vendors, customers, etc.) were delivered to the system differently. In order to collect necessary information, we provided Excel templates and asked the client to complete them. When the client returned the templates, we checked the provided records for consistency. When all inconsistencies were fixed, we uploaded the records to Dynamics AX.
Implementation of the system required user training remotely. The truth is remote training became a normal part of our lives. Using Skype, the trainer shared their screen and explained functionality and concepts. Training is one of the easiest things that can be done remotely.
While I was involved in the project, we went live for a few company’s sites. Any go-live requires user support, and we provided some of it by telecommuting. The majority of requests were handled by experienced people on-site. In unclear or difficult situations, the remote team fielded the requests and provided solutions. We used the same telecommunication channels as usual, I mean Skype and emails, but we also could connect to the user’s computers remotely. Our team worked as a second line of support.
The truth is we’ve done a lot of work by telecommuting, and it seems that remote work will be even more popular in the future. There’s plenty of data showing that telecommuting is on the rise. Upwork’s Future Workforce Report (2018) tells us that 55% of hiring managers agree that remote work has become more commonplace than it was three years ago. According to the State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report (2017), regular telecommuting grew 115% in the past decade. The Nigel Frank salary survey reports that 53% of Dynamics community members spent at least one day a week working from home.
Telecommuting as a Dynamics 365/AX consultant works for many cases. The most progressive companies already take advantage of the benefits by hiring remote consultants. This collaboration is beneficial for both sides. I have experienced full-time employment as a remote employee and can say for sure that it works great.