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The changing face of ERP

Microsoft now owns and develops Microsoft Dynamics NAV which is an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution acquired from Navision Software in 2002. In the final quarter of 2008, Microsoft plans to release what some consider to be the first “Microsoft-flavoured” version since buying the Denmark-based software company. Dynamics NAV is already a highly-successful, award-winning ERP solution but the forthcoming release is set to bring something quite extraordinary to the middle-tier business solutions market.

The Dynamics NAV team promises a ground-breaking user interface, a state-of-the-art technology platform, and web-services enablement while remaining true to their core product values of simplicity, adaptability and ease-of-use. You have to admit that when it comes to telling you how good their products are going to be, nothing can compete with the Microsoft marketing machine.

I like to think that ERP users can be split into two basic categories: those that don’t want to use the product but can’t avoid it, and those that don’t want to use the product and manage to avoid it most of the time. If you want a less cynical view, you could call these groups “The Finance Team” and “Everyone Else”. Thankfully the Dynamics NAV product team have recognised that most people do not want to use the ERP solution and have devised a ground-breaking three-tier architecture that opens the underlying business rules and data to the applications people do want to use, such as: Outlook, Word, InfoPath, SharePoint, web browsers, and mobile devices. In fact, if you know how to integrate with and develop .NET applications (something we at Intergen know a bit about) the way you present your business solution to “Everyone Else” is entirely up to you.

So what about the other group, the ones who can’t avoid using the ERP? It may have been an over-simplification on my part to call them “The Finance Team” since the group includes many departments, such as: Production, Purchasing, Warehousing, Transport Coordination, Project Management, and Customer Service. Traditionally, ERP systems have tried to be all things to all people and, as a result, are often overwhelming. Thousands of menu options that launch reports and data-entry screens that have hundreds of fields and menu options mean it is not uncommon to see fear in the eyes of new users. Microsoft has solved this problem with their “Dynamics Customer Model” and “Role-Tailored Client”.

The Microsoft Dynamics R&D team has completed hundreds of site visits to companies and partners where they conducted over 1400 interviews and observations of real people carrying out their daily work. The information they gathered has been used to create “The Microsoft Dynamics Customer Model” which has formed the basis of a new “Role-Tailored” user interface. In addition to mapping the application to the role the individual user performs, they have allowed information from other systems, such as Outlook, to be presented directly within the Dynamics client. This is great news for the end user as they will have an application that is based on the processes, activities and tasks that are specific to their role within the organisation.

The user of the Role-Tailored client is also able to personalise their application, adding new actions to their action pane, promoting commonly used actions, hiding fields, hiding tabs, etc. For example, sales order entry users can remove the “Foreign Trade” tab from their own Sales Order Entry form if they only deal with domestic customers. It is also possible for “Super Users” to configure the application for all of the users within a specific role.

Microsoft has demonstrated great vision by taking a successful product and effectively re-designing it to be unbeatable – but this is just the start of the journey for Dynamics NAV. A video presentation of the upcoming release shows a “teaser trailer” of the future vision. The video illustrates using a three-dimensional model to match the supply of an inventory item to the demand. This is a great example of how the act of separating the underlying business logic and data from the presentation layer has allowed the user to use the best tool for the job.

2008 promises to be an exciting year for Microsoft Dynamics NAV. We have had five years of sizzle and this year we will finally get some sausage.

Posted by: David Roys, Technical Lead | 13 February 2008

Tags: Dynamics, NAV, ERP, Role-Tailored Client

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