With the next release of Microsoft Dynamics AX 4.0 only two weeks away, the software company is preparing resellers and ISVs selling the enterprise resource management software with a pep rally this week.
Partners from across the country are meeting Wednesday in Toronto to hear an executive summary of the new features, technical presentations and details of sales and marketing strategies, said Nancy Teixeira, enterprise resource management (ERP) product manager for Microsoft Canada.
“It’s designed to ready and enable our partners,” she said. “To compliment the free May 31 launch day we’re also offering classroom training –- deep, in-depth two- and three-day training.”
It’s an important launch for the company, which is positioning AX as a challenger to SAP’s All-In-One, a version of the German company’s tailored ERP application for large corporate departments and mid-sized companies.
It’s also another step in Microsoft’s race to shift all of the Dynamics family of four products to a unified code base which the company has dubbed Project Green.
That family includes recently-renamed ERP products that includes Dynamics NAV (formerly Navision), GP (Great Plains) and SL (Solomon).
Teixeira wouldn’t say how many channel partners Microsoft has in Canada, but did say that “certainly we consider the Dynamics AX product line to be an emerging solution for us.”
Three new features touted by the company include an optional service management module which lets users add service dispatching and can handle product returns, the ability to create alerts for many business processes that can be sent by e-mail through Outlook or AX, and support for RFID which will enable “plug-and-play” attachment of peripherals such as printers and code readers. However, full adoption of that feature will have to wait until later in the year with the release of Windows RFID Server.
But some users may also be interested in a major change in AX’s underpinnings. As part of its heritage as a purchase by Microsoft, Axapta has been saddled with a proprietary coding language called X++, which has to be used in creating its enterprise portal. With 4.0, AX will use Microsoft SharePoint services, which it hopes will make it easier for companies and partners familiar with SharePoint Portal Server to build portals.
A conversion tool to help users who chose to switch from 3.0 to 4.0 comes with the new version that also shifts database data from older versions that saved in single-byte data to Unicode (double-byte).
Chris Alliegro, an industry analyst with Directions on Microsoft, noted that AX is not the biggest of the four ERP solutions the company sells. However, he added, it is the fastest-growing of them.
It has had some success against SAP in corporate departments and mid-sized companies, he notes. Some of that success is coming as SAP encourages customers to move from its older R/3 product to the newer Web-based mySAP application. However, that shift can involve significant and sometimes difficult transformation of applications and data, he also said.
“That has created an opportunity for Microsoft to go into companies and say ‘It’s going to cost you a lot, going to be fairly expensive. Take a look at AX,’ which it argues is potentially easier to integrate (and) learn, and costs less.”
But with Project Green, the Dynamics family has its own challenges, Alliegro said. En route to creating a single code base for the four products and possibly merge some or all of them into one product, Microsoft is trying to give them a more common interface somewhat linked to Outlook, integrate them into SharePoint, improve their links to SQL Server’s business intelligence features, create a common library of business processes and have them share a workflow engine.
But Alliegro cautioned that by consolidating interfaces, some might be dropped, which would be worrisome to partners and customers who have developed processes and applications on existing versions of the family.
“Any rational partner is concerned about that,” he said.
“The challenge for Microsoft is to get to this library (of interfaces) in a way they don’t completely alienate every customer and partner that bet their business on the old code base,” he said.
On the other hand, he also noted that Micrsoft has promised it will continue to support the four ERP products until 2013.