Sunday, January 30, 2011

What's new in Microsoft ERP Architecture?

One of the news that caught my attention in the last couple of weeks is Microsoft Dynamics AX Technical Conference. As many of you know,Dynamics is the ERP & CRM suite from Microsoft. Though Microsoft is not having a significant pie in the ERP market, it is still pumping money in R&D and subsequent product releases.The next version of the product is due to release in 2012 and claims to have a Generational shift in ERP architecture. And that is what I was interested to know more..

One of the key features of the next version is touted as layered, model-based architecture. We discussed about Pace-Layering of SAP Architecture sometime ago. And it looks like Microsoft Dynamics follows the similar concept. Some of the key challenges in the ERP sector are:

1. How do we customize the modules without sabotaging the standard, out-of-the-box functionality?. In case, the customer wants to revert to the standard/default functionality, would it be possible to do it seamlessly?

2. In case of ERP, How do we bridge the gap between functional and technical consultants?

3. How do we manage the unused modules in a ERP suite?

4. How can we have an ERP that would enable an organization to anticpate and embrace change?
Looks like, Microsoft has tried to answer most of these challenges in tne new ERP architecture. By adopting a layered approach, the standard/default features are clearly isolated from multi-level customizations (Country level, Business Unit level, or even at Person level customizations) and the customizations are stored separately.

The key feature that got my attention was the model-based approach. Using this approach, the functional consultants would be able to model the customizations (without requiring significant coding or technical plumbing) and the models can be translated to Tech specifications/implementations.

This is a significant improvement in ERP architecture. I don't think SAP ERP follows a similar approach for functional consultants. All I know is they develop functional blueprints before the implementation. And someone needs to bridge the gap between those blueprints to tech specs. Microsoft made significant investments towards modeling when it announced Oslo initiative in 2007. But later dropped the same and pursued SQL Server based modeling repository. I believe the same has been integrated with the new ERP architecture. I do think if this model based repository is provisioned as a platform/service, it would open up to wide array of opportunities for custom development of new business applications.

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