By David Bowles, Senior Manager of Operations, Concerto Cloud Services
Over my twelve-plus years providing consulting services for Dynamics AX, I’ve seen the product grow from branding changes in 3.0 through a user interface change in 4.0, then a significant re-architecture in 2012. And most recently, a ground-up rebuild with AX 7’s release. Customer experience has been a hot button topic through all of these versions, with feedback ranging from good to bad. This release will be no different, as it addresses change for which everyone has been asking since Microsoft acquired the product from Navision.
What is the one thing everyone is asking for with Dynamics AX? A more connected experience. Whether the experience you’re working toward is internally or externally-driven, via portals or business processes, you need a platform that improves your ability to accelerate solutions and improve your consumers’ experience. Enter AX 7.
Today’s technology consultants would use terms such as “agile”, “scrum”, and “continuous delivery” to convey significant technical solutions that improve the software experience. Continuous delivery is the concept that makes reduced development lifecycles a reality, aids in the roll out of application changes, and marries nicely with a cloud-enabled world. But for the non-consulting individual, we can simply say that the cloud powers significant and continuous improvement. So, what can we expect from the new cloud-enabled AX 7?
A New Windows-Metro Look and Feel:
For the end user, the interface has been simplified and reflects the windows-metro look and feel - similar to Windows 8.1. This is an important change because previous versions have been very difficult to navigate, especially for new users. If you’ve never worked with the product before, and your baseline is with Microsoft Office, previous versions of AX have been challenging due to the myriad of menu options available.
New Any Place, Any Device Access:
In addition to the interface look and feel, how the interface is delivered has changed. Previous versions of AX sported a full-client installation, which means it was installed as a complete application on servers wherever the user accessed it. Instead, with AX 7, the software is entirely internet browser-based. What this means from an end-user’s perspective, is they can open AX 7 from any device that has a modern internet browser installed on it: Windows, Mac OS, iPad, Android, and even Linux browsers will work! Portability is a key driver with this user interface change. Imagine now being able to walk out onto a warehouse floor with an iPad having complete access to AX and not having to lug around a laptop and deal with the cumbersome interface of pre-AX 7 which was not touch friendly. The possibilities for collaboration and execution are endless with this latest release. Microsoft’s delivery of enhancements to the user interface will be equally simplified as cloud-based upgrades of AX 7 will be less of a hassle than in years past.
Shorter Installation Times:
For the technical AX administrator, the experience will be equally changed. AX has always been known to be a multi-hour, multi-day installation process. With AX 7, the installation process will be pleasantly different, courtesy of Microsoft Azure automation. Similar to the current AX 2012 R3 installation in Azure, AX 7 will require a couple of hours of building, from the time a new environment is requested until the time you’re ready to log in and start configuring it. This will cut down on the level of complexity required to build development, test, and staging environments, and will make tearing down and standing up new environments on the fly more acceptable. Overall, through these infrastructure changes, continuous delivery is now more of a reality without quite the level of effort and complexity that existed in previous versions.
Only One Architecture Option for the first release of AX 7:
For the strategic ERP leader planning AX 7 rollout, it is important to know that you will have only one architecture option for the first release. In previous versions of AX, the implementation was available as both an on-premise or a hosted/cloud deployment, but with the initial release of AX 7, it will only be deployable to Azure’s Public Cloud. Given this Azure-only option, if you decide to upgrade your current version of Dynamics AX, you must be prepared to transition to the Azure Cloud.
While Dynamics AX 7 in the cloud offers some definitive advantages, it’s understandable that some organizations have made the decision not to switch. If you are currently running AX and have deeply invested in customizations, integrations, specific security or compliance settings, you may be in a place where making your move to the private cloud and taking full advantage of the cloud likely makes the most sense. Microsoft has stated they’ll provide an Azure Pack option within six months of the initial release, so there is hope that you’ll be able to run AX 7 within your IT platform of choice (whether that be your own data center or a fully-managed cloud provider such as Concerto Cloud Services). With this latest release of AX, Microsoft’s looking to offer a new online user experience with the Azure cloud-only option as well as create new features by capturing usability trends and tracking the ERP in a controlled and monitored environment.