From left: Christian Pederson, Thomas Mayer, and Microsoft's vice president of marketing and operations, Jason Hermitage, at a company event on Feb. 11, 2016.
From left: Christian Pederson, Thomas Mayer, and Microsoft's vice president of marketing and operations, Jason Hermitage, at a company event on Feb. 11, 2016.

Published: February 11th, 2016

An updated release of Microsoft Dynamics AX will feature a new web-friendly user interface and a direct tie-in to its Azure cloud computing platform, Microsoft Corp. announced on Thursday.

While an exact date hasn’t yet been determined, Microsoft Dynamics AX team’s general manager, Christian Pederson, estimated the next major update to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution would be released in late February. Pricing will be $8 USD per month.

Pederson emphasized the most significant difference between the update, which Microsoft has previously referred to as Dynamics AX 7, and its predecessor Dynamics AX 2012 R3, is an intelligent HTML5-based user interface that resembles an Internet browser; the solution was built from the ground up to incorporate Microsoft’s cloud service, Azure, he added.

“With this offering, we have actually been the main driver of influence into what Azure needs to deliver to serve businesses and business applications,” Pederson claimed.

Like a browser, AX is equally adept at displaying information on both a desktop and mobile device, Pederson said, adding that when designing the platform, the AX team created a virtual company where every “employee” had a different position, so that when manager “Lucy,” programmer “Jim,” or salesperson “Stacy” signed into their personal dashboard, they would all discover unique features tailored to their role.

“Stacy doesn’t care about machine-learning or IoT, she cares about doing her job here and now,” Pederson said. “When she’s seeking information to help make a decision, we can’t tell her to go and analyze something in a separate tool, it needs to be right there when she needs it.”

Another feature of AX is the user’s ability to define their dashboard’s “front-end” display. As an example, Pederson showed the audience the personal homepage of “Paul,” who was seeking a promotion and could access a list of jobs available, which resembled a standard online table.

“What if I prefer Excel?” he asked, clicking a Microsoft Office icon to view the same data in Microsoft Excel.

“I didn’t export the data out of AX and put them into Excel,” Pederson explained. “I am just surfacing the data directly in Excel, so now Excel is my front-end. And this is something you find in every single screen in every single form in Dynamics AX.”

On hand at the event was Microsoft customer Renault Sport Formula One Team, one of the early testers of the new Dynamics product.  According to Thomas Mayer, its chief operating officer, the Renault team runs a U.K. facility with 500 employees and was given the chance to work with a prototype version of AX last year.

For Renault Sport’s workforce, AX offered two benefits, Mayer said: the user interface, which its younger, more Internet-savvy engineers were more likely to use, and the platform’s more advanced capabilities such as machine-learning – as useful to a team that must design two new cars every year. The highly competitive Formula One racing industry is worth some $2 billion USD per year, he added.

By incorporating Azure, AX can also take advantage of Microsoft’s considerable cloud storage network, which includes more than 100 data centres around the world – six times more than Google and Amazon combined – and crucial to a team that participates in 21 races around the world every year, Mayer said.

“For us in the business, having a hosted solution as a service obviously frees up some of my resources,” he said, noting that with AX, his team’s engineers could accomplish what had previously required a team of IT professionals, or advanced training that would not contribute to the team’s annual goal of shaving two seconds from its average track time.

“We are not in the business of running data centres, we are in the business of racing cars and winning world championships, so we want to make the best use of our resources,” Mayer said.

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