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Convergence 2014 – AX Track

In twitter parlance, post #CONV14 (Microsoft Convergence 2014) the future shines bright for #MSDynAX (Microsoft Dynamics AX).

The focus for the AX track, as we all expected, was the impending R3 release coupled with insightful customer experiences. And the sheer volume of enticing net new functionality discussed in Atlanta felt like it eclipsed the decade of AX past. So in this short piece I can’t do justice to everything you need to know about R3 and the future but I will try to walk you through some of the highlights across Microsoft’s focus industries.

Since merging industry solutions into a single code with AX 2012 Feature Pack in 2012, Microsoft has heightened their focus on expanding AX capability around five core focus industries: manufacturing, distribution, retail, services, and public sector. Two releases in 2014 will continue this direction. R3 will be generally available on 1st May adding extensive functional depth to the tune of 20% growth in product functionality in a single ‘minor’ release. Rumour has it that this 20% alone is bigger than the entire AX 2009 release. Then later this year in the northern hemisphere’s autumn, an ‘Autumn Update’ will focus on BI and integration to recently announced retail partners, Sitecore and Vantiv. 


Starting with a retail focus, AX has been keenly establishing itself as the enabler for omni-channel retailing by providing a solution that allows customers to engage with retailers on a customer driven journey across channels. R3 makes robust improvements to this vision by:

  • Unifying the pricing and promotions functionality across retail and wholesale
  • Introducing a new call centre channel for catalogue sales and online order support
  • Extending loyalty to facilitate global loyalty programs across companies

If we just talk technology for a second… two of the most exciting things I saw at Convergence were the new device experiences for retail. The POS client of old stays and is now known as ‘Enterprise POS’. Alongside this R3 delivers ‘Modern POS’, initially on Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Modern POS is an adaptive, thin client experience coupled to a new Retail Server component that takes care of all the heavy lifting. It was fantastic to discover that both platforms are highly extensible, with the Windows 8 client leveraging the same drag and drop designer users of Enterprise POS will be familiar with and source code for both shipping in the Retail SDK.

New device experiences for retail with Microsoft Dynamics AX

In building Modern POS, the team at Microsoft focused on functional parity with the existing Enterprise POS, and they got most of the way there with the Windows 8 app. For retailers, the device experiences are coupled to new features like wish lists and put a focus on enabling a more personal conversation in store driven by insight from interactions through other channels.

IT departments will welcome the mass deployment and enterprise management capabilities introduced with R3 through integration with Systems Centre Configuration Manager and System Centre Operation Manager.

Microsoft also recently announced two key partnerships for retail: Vantiv, a leading provider of payment processing strategies; and Sitecore, one of the most popular enterprise grade web content management solutions in market. Although Vantiv plans to expand internationally over time, today they are not in the Australasian market so we will continue to integrate with local payment providers in this region. The Sitecore partnership will see a Sitecore ecommerce platform integrated with the AX retail platform out of the box.

Based on the demo I saw at Convergence, this is something to get excited about. Adam Morgan from Sitecore spoke on the need to shift ecommerce focus away from the transaction and towards customer interaction. Adam demonstrated a more personal ecommerce experience using Sitecore’s personalisation functionality to anticipate need and eliminate the irrelevant. A lot of retailers will be excited to see a content management platform with this type of capability natively integrated into the AX retail ecosystem.

Integration with Sitecore and Vantiv is due to arrive in the ‘Autumn Update’. 

Manufacturing and Distribution

For manufacturers and distributors R3 is all about warehousing and transportation. The new WMS and TMS acquisitions, combined with Microsoft’s own enhancements, see AX geared up to deliver some solid outcomes for complex environments through:

  • Incorporating customer specific requirements into warehouse workflows
  • Simplifying and automating planning for both inbound and outbound activities
  • Increasing warehouse worker efficiency with directed mobile warehousing
  • Reducing transportation costs
  • Automating freight invoice reconciliation and processing

Let’s run through a glossary of some of the key new features (deep dives to come to this blog soon).

Work templates and location directives: A highly flexible way to direct and control warehouse activities and incorporate product, customer and vendor specific handling requirements.

License plates: A replacement for pallet IDs that can be tracked in bulk locations and docks and disabled once stock hits the pick face.

Cycle counts: A rewrite of the cycle counting capability that enables counting without ceasing other warehouse operations complete with variance recount and over tolerance approval workflows.

Reservation hierarchy: A two-stage allocation and reservation strategy where dimensions above location in the hierarchy are used to select stock for allocation when creating the source sales or transfer order whilst location and below dimensions are used for firm stock reservation at release to picking.

Load planning: A way to automate allocation of order lines to outbound shipments based on capacity constraints and flexible, query-driven business rules.

Rating and routing: An extensible means to optimise transportation costs by integrating with carriers to automate best rate or fastest route selection based on order requirements.

Freight reconciliation: Functionality that will automatically compare and trigger manual review of variances between estimated freight costs in despatch manifests and actual carrier invoices.

Mobile device: Native RF scanner functionality delivered out of the box with automatically derived workflows based on work template and location directive configuration.

For organisations on the path to an integrated sales and operations planning process, R3 will provide a simple but flexible demand planning tool out of the box. Thanks to being engineered on SQL Server Analysis Services the R3 demand planner will also lend itself to some interesting extension possibilities. The AX General Session showcased a hint of what could be done with a forecast model extended with big data predictors to recommend adjustments to the generated forecast.

Forecast model extended with big data predictors 

Professional Services

Much like warehouse management, transportation management and retail, professional services receives a large and significant overhaul in R3. This release goes beyond project financials to deliver an end to end solution from pursuit management to collaboration and execution to analytics. The enhancements are vast and compelling for services firms, enabling outcomes such as:

  • Greater customer intimacy by empowering the sales team with an integrated CRM experience
  • Operational excellence through streamlined project execution in AX
  • Service and product innovation driven by effective knowledge management and repeatability based on template SharePoint project workspaces

The new features start outside AX in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013. A guided pursuit management template for CRM delivers opportunity to quote capability for the sales team. Meanwhile tight integration with AX orchestrates the pursuit process through to mobilisation.

Management template for CRM delivers opportunity to quote capability for the sales team 

Collaboration is made even easier with automated deployment of template SharePoint 2013 collaboration workspaces with timeline and task overviews and the ability to publish and collaborate on documentation artefacts.

Resource management has been made dramatically simpler with visual, intercompany resourcing, soft and hard booking, and skill, experience and role-based resource searching.

A new work breakdown structure simplifies project management and setup with template WBS structures and WBS-based forms for scheduling, quotation, estimation, budgeting, forecasting and cost and effort tracking. Integration with Microsoft Project allows a project that resides in AX to be created, scheduled, estimated, quoted and resourced without the need to ever open the AX client.

Companion applications simplify timesheet entry, expense capture and reporting, and workflow approvals and reviews. And timesheets have been enhanced to track version history. The Business Analyser 2.0 companion application provides drill down dashboards for practice management and the projects cube has been enhanced with new capabilities such as earned value reporting.

Companion applications for Dynamics AX 

A year ago I first wrote on this blog about the WMS and TMS acquisitions for AX. At that time we had no idea that retail and professional services would receive an equally significant update in the R3 release. Microsoft has invested heavily in bringing a product to market with Dynamics AX 2012 R3 that will deliver great outcomes for customers. I haven’t even touched on the great updates coming in Lifecycle Services alongside R3, so stay tuned for more details on this blog soon or follow me on Twitter for updates.

Posted by: Douglas Daley, Solution Specialist, Dynamics ERP | 14 March 2014

Tags: AX, Dynamics, Convergence 2014

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