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Microsoft Dynamics AX Software Review


Microsoft Dynamics AX Software Technology Review

ERP Software Technology

Dynamics AX 2012 is a multi-tenant architecture and composed of four primary components:

  • The Database Server, using MS SQL Server to store the Dynamics AX data
  • The File Server, with a folder containing the Microsoft Dynamics AX application files
  • The Application Object Server(s) (AOS), a service that controls Dynamics AX operation, and
  • The Client(s), which is the actual user interface for Dynamics AX

The ERP application is written in the .NET framework and Dexterity (a custom language originally created for Great Plains), among other development tools.

Dynamics AX 2012 has a new application foundation that addresses three areas—master data, reference data, and global engines—and that facilitates data, transaction, and product hierarchies and provides visibility across multiple entities. Creation of master data structures, such as org charts, in a central repository improves reusability, security and reporting, and allows for easier data sharing. Time zone enhancements enable organizations to set and change time zones and to synchronize with local time zones for enhanced transaction reporting across multiple time zones. The global engine capabilities make possible business process support such as a unified procurement strategy across employees, purchasing agents, compliance regulations, down to localized regulation and vendors across the entire enterprise, and support different languages. The multilayered architecture allows business agility and flexibility, as the software can normally cater to companies' specific requirements.

System Integration Capabilities

Being a Microsoft product, AX 2012 allows strong, seamless integration to Office 2010, Project Server, SharePoint, Visual Studio, and SQL Server services.

Tools such Visual Studio and MorphX are available to developers, along with full application programming interfaces (APIs) for customizing the application and allowing interoperability with other systems. Further integration can be done via X++, an object-oriented language with similarities to C#. X++ is part of the MorphX development platform used to construct accounting and business management logic and applications.

Web Services are embedded into the new layered application framework, allowing for integration to web-enabled applications and other systems, such as social media interoperability, which is offered through some independent software vendor (ISV) partners.

Desktop integration is particularly strong. Bidirectional dataflow from MS Office, Word and Excel enables data structuring both inside and out of the ERP application and can update AX from Word and Excel with a single click. Enterprise search is available to find help within an organization's network or within the application. Outlook functionality, such as sending e-mail using the address book or through the CRM software, is another built-in feature. Familiar functions, such as the ribbon interface within Office, are integrated into AX 2012 to reduce training cycles (for Microsoft Office savvy users) and enhance the user experience.

Dynamics AX upgrade paths are better than many ERP competitors and customers can upgrade from Dynamics AX 4.0 or AX 2009 directly to AX 2012 in a relatively straight forward transition (i.e. not the fork lift upgrade process required by some competitors).

Software Customization

Basic software configuration options are available at the user level and include customizations of menus, permissions, dashboards, business process engines, and the user interface. Even the database can be user configured to customize AX for an individualized feel—an advantage that can help drive user adoption and lower the risk of ERP failure.

The role-tailored interface allows customers to drill down and drive up data elements that apply dynamic search to filter the information correctly. The role-based user experience allows employees to prioritize, organize, and manage their workloads.

Dynamics AX 2012 allows for extensive software customizations with tools such as MorphX—an integrated development environment (IDE) in Dynamics AX that permits developers to graphically design data types, base enumerations, tables, queries, forms, menus and reports. MorphX allows access to virtually any application class that is available to the ERP application, by launching the X++ code editor. Because MorphX uses referencing to link objects together, changes in, for example, data types of fieldnames will automatically be reflected in places where they are used (such as queries, forms or reports). Also, changes made with MorphX will be reflected in the ERP system immediately after compilation.

Dynamics AX also offers support for version control systems (VCS) integrated with the IDE, allowing for team-based collaboration. There is also a tool for reverse-engineering table structures and class structures to Visio. However, the actual implementation configuration may limit the practical use of both these features. X++ is the programming language behind MorphX, and belongs to the curly brackets and .-operator class of programming languages (like C# or Java). It is true object-oriented, class-based single dispatch language, and a derivative of C++ to which garbage collection and language integrated SQL queries were added.

An enhanced customization capability has been achieved with the business process library (BPL). Microsoft has taken its best practices—including industry-specific best practices—and compiled a library of data-flows and workflows in which customers can leverage templates or modify existing processes.

The enterprise portal with global engines functionality allows leveraging of data to multiple ERP modules and simplifies workflow management. The business process engine allows alerts, triggers, approvals, and workflows to be created, executed, and managed efficiently while providing organizational visibility. The business process engine uses drag-and-drop design to create workflows and dataflows, and models can be copied and quickly edited to allow for slight variations.

The MS Partner network now provides independent certifications based on actual product knowledge and development capabilities, and not just on the dollar value of products sold. The partner network has created a multitude of add-ons that address vertical markets, localized solutions and additional extended functionalities that fill white space or compensate for deficiencies within the base ERP software.

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