The traditional mantra of ERP implementation methodology has driven home the thought that the most successful ERP implementations minimize system “enhancements” and adopt business processes to the “out of the box” functionality delivered by ERP.
Interestingly, we continue to see ERP Vendors invest heavily in tailoring options, such as role centers, workflow, and business logic coding as they work to fight the stigma of ERP being an inflexible monolith.
Several of our clients have asked us to help craft an IT strategy that enables the business to grow aggressively in opportunistic ways while retaining critical home grown applications that serve as strategic differentiators. They want the advantage of packaged software along with the flexibility to integrate, modify and extend the software to meet the needs of an evolving business and strategically differentiated business models…while being able to cost effectively staying current with software releases.
The latest version of Microsoft Dynamics AX goes a long way towards meeting this goal.
A Focus on User Roles
Microsoft was innovative in their introduction of the role center within the Dynamics products. User roles are defined and then centers are constructed with the screen segmented into intuitive windows of functionality including KPIs, Activities, In boxes, Work Lists, etc.
These are highly flexible and easily adapted by users familiar with the Microsoft standards. New KPIs, screen layout changes, etc are all driven through role configuration screens. Fields can be hidden, re-sequenced, re-labled, etc.
Work flow events can be easily triggered off of activities associated with records or even fields. An intuitive graphical work flow designer allows you to capture a series of incoming and outgoing sequences to capture task results and to subsequently generate dependent tasks. Tasks can be serial or parallel. Tasks can be assigned to roles or a hierarchy. Tasks can have time limits with escalation. Workflow history is fully reportable enabling Business Activity Monitoring.
Defining roles within software has been traditionally tedious, prompting the ERP vendors to provide preconfigured roles which are then tailored. Hundreds of screen and rights decisions are selected to construct a role. Microsoft AX also delivers many predefined roles but now also has a “role record” feature in which a role is constructed based on actual clicking and navigating while in admin mode.
ERP System Architecture
The full Microsoft Dynamics AX application is actually segmented into the Application Code, the Development Environment, and the Platform. Microsoft Dynamics AX is based on a unique Model-Driven Layered Architecture (MDLA). The model is comprised of multiple layers. Each layer references fields, methods, tables, and code. Microsoft delivers business solutions within what they term the Business Solution Layer (BUS) which is comprised of all of the elements mentioned and is the base Microsoft Dynamics AX capabilities.
Microsoft has an extensive business partner network and provides a Partner Solution Layer (VAR). The partner solutions are developed using the development environment and layered in on top of the Business solution. This same development environment is made available to the customers . So customers can develop their own applications and/or modify code provided by Microsoft or the Business Partner within the Customer layer without changing the original code in the Business Solution layer.
Customers can add tables, add fields, create programs, and enjoy all of the benefits of a full development environment. The code executes from top down so that new functionality developed by the customer supersedes that provided by the Partner which supersedes that of Microsoft. If the application isn’t behaving properly then the code in the higher layer can be turned off and then the original code is executed. Microsoft provides release management tools which identifies impacts to customer developed functionality.
Overall, these capabilities are worth considering for many manufacturers heading into ERP implementation. We’ll continue our look at Microsoft Dynamics AX features and functions in part two of this post.