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Dynamics AX 2009 Previewed at Convergence 2008
The Windows Observer--Dynamics AX 2009 Previewed at Convergence 2008

Published: March 19, 2008

by Alex Woodie

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was on hand at Convergence 2008 last week to give attendees a sneak peak at the upcoming launch of Dynamics AX 2009, the new release of Microsoft's high-end ERP application that's due to ship before the end of June. The software giant also unveiled a new series of online services for clearing payments and selling on eBay, new tools for moving from QuickBooks to Dynamics GP, and hyped the upcoming release of Dynamics CRM Live.

During his keynote address before 10,000 attendees of Convergence 2008 last week, Ballmer highlighted the work Microsoft is doing to connect back-office applications, such as ERP and supply chain software, with the front-office applications like Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint. Such integrations have been at the forefront of Microsoft's Office and Dynamics development efforts ever since Microsoft teamed with SAP two years ago to create "Duet," which allowed users to interact with SAP's ERP software through Office.

"The IT industry really grew up [with] business applications. That's where the initial mainframes came, that's usually the first thing that a business invests in when it forms: ERP, supply chain, logistics, HR, payroll," Ballmer said. "About 20 years ago, it became clear that the personal computer was an amazing innovation, and all of a sudden you got this huge investment . . . in personal productivity, tools that people could use to write their own documents, do their own spreadsheets. These were two different worlds, two different islands."

These days, bridging these two environments is a big focus at Microsoft, Ballmer said. "We have been very focused in as a company from the Office side, from the SharePoint side, as well as from the Dynamics side, in filling in that white space in the middle," he said.

With Dynamics AX 2009, which is due the first half of the year, Microsoft has made efforts to make the ERP system more usable by improving its user interface. The company's user experience team worked with students at the IT University of Copenhagen on so-called "desireability studies" to determine how usable (and therefore how desirable) the full range of Dynamics ERP and CRM applications' screens would be to a range of users.

This process, which Microsoft also called "Feel IT," yielded more than 30 user interfaces that Dynamics AX 2009 users can work with, depending on their role. This approach, which Microsoft dubs RoleTailored, helps users cut through the clutter and view the information that's only relevant to their jobs.

Other enhancements in the new ERP system include a new workflow framework for customizing business processes, a new compliance center that Microsoft bills as a "one-stop shop" for compliance-related information, and new reporting capabilities, which were developed with Visual Studio 2008.

The new ERP system also supports Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008, a combination that Ballmer said yields a 70 percent performance improvement compared to previous versions. And when users run Dynamics AX 2009 on preconfigured versions of Windows Server 2008, such as Windows Server Essential (the new mid market bundle due to ship later this year), the installation and management of the ERP system will be made easier, Ballmer said.

Microsoft also talked up Dynamics CRM Live, the new multitenant application that's due to become available this spring. With CRM Live, users have their choice of running the software on-site, of having Microsoft or one of its partners host the software, or a blended hybrid approach. Microsoft touted a CRM Live victory over at Industrial Strength Marketing, a Tennessee-based marketing organization that specializes in the manufacturing and distribution industries. "We're migrating from because we saw greater structural capabilities and significant process improvements in Microsoft Dynamics CRM," the company's president, James Soto, was quoted as saying.

Microsoft also announced what it's billing as "the first in a series" of "rich online services" that will work with the complete line of Dynamics CRM and ERP software. These include: an online payment service for clearing credit card transactions using the payment networks of PayPal and Chase Paymentech Solutions; an online marketplace service that allows Dynamics customers to sell products on eBay; and a keyword marketing service for tracking and managing search engine marketing initiatives.

Lastly, a new set of tools was also announced that allows Intuit QuickBooks users to move their accounting information to Microsoft Dynamics GP.

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