Dynamics AX 4.0, due in June, encompasses the basics of Microsofts moves to create a next-generation suite of ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications with Dynamics that takes into account the roles people have within a company by building role-specific interfaces and processes.
Dynamics is being built over the next several years in two waves.
The first wave, scheduled to go through 2007, includes a common user interface across Microsofts ERP suites and some product integration.
The second wave, which should go through 2008, will bring together the products—GP, NAV, AX, SL and CRM—into a single code base.
To this end, AX 4.0 taps wave one parameters by pulling in business logic and data from other Microsoft systems, including Windows SharePoint Services and SQL Server.
It also taps Microsofts AIF (Application Integration Framework), essentially a Web services integration layer.
With the addition of the AIF users are able to build on the AX software by pulling in business logic from third-party applications, using Web services, with no dependencies created on the core AX application.
Microsoft has also developed a set of Web services with AIF for basic business processes—receiving and fulfilling orders, for example—that developers can utilize to build services.
Mike Kennedy, director of Global Information Technology Solutions at Sunny Delight Beverages, is looking forward to the capabilities in AIF to help streamline the companys unique third-party application interface code, but hes not ready for it yet.
"Were still less than a year into our implementation, and are still working out the process and technology issues," said Kennedy, who is based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"It will be six to 12 months before we look at any new technology."
That said, if there is a way to use Web services to streamline some of Sunny Delights existing interface woes, "that would be huge," said Kennedy.
The integration of SharePoint Services, a portal framework, within Dynamics AX creates a single view across transactions, analysis, workflow and documents, officials said.
The SQL Server integration—primarily with the SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services—brings what Microsoft refers to as contextual business intelligence.
Separately, Microsoft is appealing to partners who are looking for ways to standardize the implementation of the NAV ERP suite with the RIM tool set.
"Were really trying to drive productivity with partners," said Mogens Elsberg, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics NAV Global Product Management.
"We put knowledge into a tool that helps partners to set up NAV, to some extent, automatically."
About 70 percent of the suites implementation methodology is standard for users, with the remaining 30 percent customizations, according to Elsberg.
By automating that majority, implementation partners are able to focus more attention on building customer specifics.
Elsbergs group is also working on a connection component that will enable users to link their financial data in NAV to sales-oriented tools in Microsoft CRM.
In the next calendar year, Microsoft will release the 5.0 version of NAV, which will deliver on wave one of Dynamics, which brings integration with Microsoft Office, among other platforms.
"Today 4.0 has the same look and feel of Office 2003, with a roles-based user interface to some degree," said Elsberg, who is based in Microsofts Development Center Copenhagen.
"The UI [in 5.0] will be like never seen before. It will combine structured and unstructured information in a new client."