Wishing everyone one who reads this a happy festive period and all the best for 2015!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

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A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 32 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Attending the Microsoft Dynamics AX Solution Architect course in Frankfurt from March 18th – 20th 2014 was inspired by my employer believing in my current role as a “Lead Solution Architect” I would benefit from understanding how Microsoft see the role and how I could enhance my current skill set.

The first agenda arrived in my in-box with three full training days starting at 08.30 and ending at 21.00 (apart from the last day that had a comparative 17.30 scheduled finish). The end agenda had 19.30 finish times so a little more relaxed! Clearly it was going to be a tough three days and with the agenda covering technical as well as functional areas the anticipated profile of a solution architect seemed to be the all-seeing all-knowing AX technical/functional hybrid!

Microsoft position the Solution Architect role with a quote (apologies the source is not referenced on the quote):

“The role of a solution architect is to solve a problem by defining a system that can be implemented using technology. Good architects define systems by applying abstract knowledge and proven methods to a set of technologies with the goal of creating an extendible and maintainable solution” 

Microsoft see the role spanning pre-sales through to deployment and go-live. Whilst I am involved in the delivery of implementation projects my exposure to the pre-sales environment is limited as we have a pre-sales team that go to multiple opportunities helping close the deal before handing over as much information as possible to the delivery team.

The role as viewed by Microsoft is represented pictorially in the following manner:

The role of the Solution Architect throughout the project lifecycle

The role of the Solution Architect throughout the project lifecycle

The key perspectives a Solution Architect needs to consider from a Microsoft perspective before designing a solution are:

  • Business Perspective
    • High level goals and objective
    • The business processes carried out
    • Major organizational structure
  • Information Perspective
    • Standard data models
    • Data management policies
    • Descriptions of the patterns of information production and consumption
  • Application Perspective
    • Services that support the business processes
    • Cross Organization functionality
    • Interaction and Interdependencies
  • Technology Perspective
    • Desktop and Server hardware
    • Operating systems
    • Network connectivity components
    • Technology options

The course was a focused three day instructor led interactive course with learning sessions interlaced between the main focus of a case study. The case study saw the group divided into teams to solution design for the “Contoso Corporation”, a company with 40,000 employees turning over $20 billion covering 40 countries, with 5 global manufacturing facilities, 100+ global warehouses controlled by third parties, 6000 retail stores with 4500 of these franchise held, 3 R&D Centres, 3 Regional Head Quarters, shared service and knowledge centre in Budapest with 8000 consultants and technicians working worldwide at home or on the customer site, 15 current different ERP solutions, 3 different commerce platforms, 6 POS solutions and 1.2 million SKU’s.

Basically your average project!

Day 1 of the workshop will be my next blog………

A week after the event I get to my thoughts on the final day of the AX Technical Conference 2014 in Seattle. Day 3 started with the “ask the experts” sessions. I attended ASK403 “Ask the Experts – Manufacturing” which to be honest was a disappointing session. Clearly R3 is not a vehicle for manufacturing enhancements. This was hosted by Conrad Volkmann with Roxana Diaconu (MRP Program Manager) and Johann Hoffman. A couple of potential changes in the future include the re-write of the BOM/formula structure because they are more closely aligned than ever, and item substitution in BOM’s from planning will be considered. However it was what was not being considered that caused more discussion; graphical scheduler, full item copy, trade agreements in cost calculations, planning to consider purchase agreements (although one attendee said it did I cannot see the options in the plan settings, no more production workflows, shortage reports prior to start, cross docking for production, and RAF and Start Parameters to not be controlled by the user.
However most of the questions were raised the team were not “officially” aware of and they encouraged everyone to submit feedback through the Connect tool and the Support system to help prioritise changes. They also encouraged the sign up to the private beta programs. So listen to them – if you want it, ask for it!
My second session was BRK454 “Explore the power of lifecycle services business process modeller” which was hosted by the program manager for LCS Jared Lambert and probably the best speaker I encountered – Jared really knew the product, was using it in a development environment, engaged with the audience really well and handled the questions expertly.
LCS has been with us for 14 months now and for the past 8 it has been out of Beta. The session I went on was a specific element of LCS the Business Modeller, a tool that helps capture and visualize your business processes. The use of the advanced task recorder to record processes and then import them into LCS to create process diagrams with all of the process steps and properties created from the process recording. Task Recorder advanced is available on R2 CU7 onwards and is available as a separate hotfix.
The diagrams can be exported to Visio (2010 and above) but currently you cannot import them due to all of the data structure captured. However you can generate documentation in a set template, add links, launch AX and see all of your business processes in one online repository. This is a tool that will be making great strides in the future and is likely to become the default implementation tool of the future.
My third session was BRK428 Tracking dimension at work! This showed the new item tracing (CU6 R2), batch attributes-based pricing (R3) and batch merge (CU7 R2) functionality. Hosted by Johan Hoffmann and Phillippe Jacobsen. The batch merge takes a mean average calculation of the batch attributes during the merge with a limit of 20 attributes to merge. It uses the BOM Journal because the framework of having positive and negative transactions in the same journal was already in place. The item trace focuses naturally on serial and batch controlled items and although there is no inbuilt product recall process the traceability have advanced from the initial AX2012 offerings. I will hopefully blog about this nearer the R3 release. The attribute-based pricing extends the concept of the pay on quality that was brought in for vendors and allows the business to sell to customers based upon the attributes of a product. There were some very powerful concepts in this session which will impact on the process industry sector.
My final session was “Managing Sales Incentive Programs using pricing and promotions” – BRK424. Presented by Olga Mulvad and Gaurav Roy this was one of the sessions with the most new functionality packed into an hour. It included trade promotions which allowed the business to track the cost of promotions and apply funds and rebates to obtain a cost versus benefit scenario to understand if the promotion was effective. Broker Management for the payment to an agent for the facilitiation of services based upon the miscellaneous charges concept. Royalty Management to pay royalties to the holder of the intellectual property based upon invoiced sales of a product. Sales rebate changes including the ability to see from the sales line the value of the order with incentives seen against the cost. Vendor rebates based upon the same structure and model as the customer rebates but relating the purchase side. Some of these areas were clearly new and the presenters were very open to constructive enhancement requests based upon what was seen, but even without some of the issues this was a whole new set of functionality previously absent in the software.
The three days at the Technical Conference in Seattle were fantastic. I got to meet up with some very AX orientated people and got to see first-hand the new software and the direction Microsoft are aiming. I hope I can attend the next one, and anyone reading this with the opportunity to go should take it!

After the buzz of day 1 I went for dinner at the Tap House Grill (http://taphousegrill.com/) where I met with some great guys in the form of other MVP’s and important Microsoft people; Lyle Curry, Jim Davis, Tommy Skaue, Joris de Gruyter, Murray Fife, Justin Carter and Jared Lambert (there were others as well :-)). A great night meeting for the first time and putting faces to names and voices.

Day 2 also started with the announcement that Satya Nadella was the new Microsoft CEO and breakfast in the grand ballroom included video footage of the news and pre-recorded interviews. Strange to be so close to Microsoft when this happened and see how they handled and publicized the event.

My first session on Day 2 was another keynote with Mike Ehrenberg, technical fellow, and Sri Srinivasan, director of engineering, presenting how Microsoft Dynamics AX is the unifying fabric that brings the best Microsoft technologies together into “One Microsoft.”. Sri started off with presentations around LifeCycle Services (LCS) which is seeing the focus of a Microsoft push with the move to Azure and the emphasis on the full implementation methodology from pre-sales to live. LCS has been live for 8 months and around for 14 but is still considered a fledgling product with its issues and unknown elements, but it is clear Microsoft are putting a lot of effort into this area.   Once the Business Process Mapping is captured with the advanced Task Recorder the gaps can be identified and the Fit/Gap sent to TFS. There was an interesting concept of linking the data to the support platform and creating a virtual image with a video for reproduction steps to speed up the whole process and to capture the version, build etc. automatically from the base company using the meta data established in the connection.

Sri continued to highlight the importance of the Cloud to the next version and that LCS was the first step in providing this service. There were also pointers to holding systems on Azure, pre-sales and production, using Azure to bypass the need for all of the hardware in advance. LCS is also outside of AX and they have a monthly update of the product, trying to avoid tying the product to any CU or hotfix.

The second session showed how Master Data Management (MDM) in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3 simplifies master data synchronization across multiple Microsoft Dynamics AX instances by utilizing conceptual business entities, meta data, and declarative configuration. Bigyan Rajbhandari showed how the data import/export framework could provide of out-of-box data synchronization and support for extending this solution to accommodate additional customer scenarios. The system shipped with five core entities pre-build for data synchronization; Customers, Vendors, Employees, Products and the Global Address Book. Other customer entities can be created. This needs SQL Server 2012.

The next session was “Empowering the shop floor operators by bringing information and control to their fingertips” which saw Johan Hoffmann and Bill Moffet demo of a new companion app that supports the daily tasks of the shop floor operator. Designed for devices that run Windows 8.1, the app’s modern user interface was optimized for touchscreens to deliver the familiar behaviours of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. This relates back to the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) mantra that Microsoft have been extolling for the past 12 months. The touch enabled graphically coloured app allowed the reporting of jobs and recording of breaks etc. whilst fully sitting outside of AX. A shopfloor web service has been created using windows integrated authentication to connect. Whilst not fully there it showed where the future is heading with modern smart looking interfaces talking to the traditional underlying structure of AX.

My final session was a lab for the Data import/export framework hosted by Mudit Mittal. This was really interesting. The first question posed was to see who had no experience in the DIXF concept, then who had not attended any of the earlier sessions. I was one of five people to raise my hand to both which must have sent shivers down the hosts spine because the lab gave you files and a task – but no instructions just the odd hint. It took me a little over 60 minutes to go through some base options and then to create the solutions required. In essence I imported a customer file in CSV format and a Vendor file in Excel, I also exported the Chart of Accounts into an XML set schema and then performed multi-company data comparisons and updating the data based upon set instructions. Let that sink in for a bit. No training, no step by step guides and I managed to export and import data. Granted these were set scenarios with files provided but the new DIXF framework was extremely simplistic and easy to use from my perspective – limitations will come as we dig deeper I am sure, but a starting point for customer ownership of the data migration project is clear. Very powerful and exciting, a great finish to day 2!

 

 

The Microsoft AX Technical conference (#AXTech2014) started on Monday 3rd February, but before that we arrived on Saturday evening, and Sunday was Super Bowl XLVIII between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. Microsoft kindly put on a large screen in the grand ballroom but we decided to head into Bellevue and located an excellent bar not far from the Hyatt called Earls (http://www.earls.ca/) which did fantastic burgers and had great service, but more importantly they were showing the game on multiple screens. I had purchased a Hawks shirt (well we had to support the home town) and as history showed the Hawks won the Super Bowl 43-8. The town was pretty electric as they celebrated late into the night in bars and on the street, which lead to a slightly fuzzy head the next morning!

The conference started with the opening Keynote split between Hal Howard, corporate vice president of Microsoft Dynamics ERP research and development, and Christian Pedersen, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics AX. A boisterous affair with references to the SuperBowl and some general talk about ERP trends, the AX Roadmap, general innovations (DIXF in CU7 and LCS advancements) and some introductions to the Retail options spoilt by the loss of connection to the Redmond servers.

My first real session was “A Day in the life of a Microsoft Dynamics AX solution architect” with Dan Orgen and Matt Sheard. The idea was to explain the roles and responsibilities of a solution architect and apply to the different phases of an implementation project. This was a really interesting run through for the role I currently undertake. The MS vision is a much freer role with a great dependence on deep product knowledge and experience, the issue for the reseller is how to position this from a budget perspective to the customer. Some of the greater considerations were single versus multiple instances and legal entity modelling. The focus on goals, and the mapping of these to the different stages of the plan throughout the implementation was discussed along with understanding the roadmap and TAP options. A really informative session.

The next session was after lunch. I went to Introduction to warehousing and transportation functionality with Program Manager Aco Atanasovski, Karina Normann Jakobsen and Mirza Abdic. They closed the doors on this session because the room was full. A really interesting taster to the new functionality. The transportation offering looked very similar to a huge specification I wrote in AX2009 and therefore felt familiar. There are routes for transportation definition and a clearly complex rating engine to return options. There is a freight reconciliation but disappointingly the self-billing concept was absent. As a note the transportation system ONLY works with the new WMS offerings and not WMSII. The warehouse elements showed the RF device emulations which in release 1 have no offline capability. There is now the concept of “soft” reservation rather than the locking of locations which caused so many issues in WMSII. There were location directive to enable the flow of goods which looked pretty flexible with hierarchical needs defined. There is also a new inventory status dimension, batch item extensions, batch disposition support, QMS inbound and outbound, simple cross docking and a WMS flow for Retail. There was also the concept of License Plates (potentially replacing Pallets but it was unclear). Overall the changes here look huge and the impact on the standard offering is significant with the path between WMSII and the incorporated Blue Horse Shoe functionality for R3 a little hazy until we get into the detail of the software.

I then tried to get into the detail overview of the new warehousing functionality but the session closed early with the room full, so I hopped down to the demand forecasting session where I also found the doors barred to be due to demand – clearly the conference was popular! I then went into the Streamline HR processes session. I was not expecting much value from Darin Kramer and a focus on the US, especially after it was stated early that R3 was not a major HR release. However the US gets some “New Hire” reporting functionality and there are personnel actions for the in and out of employment processes (although I believe the process is finalised when you enter the new worker :-)) There is a new cube and some budgeting changes that look quite good if I ever needed them. There is also a HR blog at http://aka.ms/DynamicsAXHCM which we were encouraged to look at (so I encourage you).

My final session was the detailed overview of the transportation management system. A disappointing end to the day with the first 15 minutes being a repeat of the overview from earlier in the day and then the session descended into an uncontrolled random Q&A session. There was a round of applause when a guy asking about question 15 asked “Can we stop the questions and return to your session?”🙂

A great opening day, meeting lots of people and seeing some really interesting sessions. For context it was stated that the number of changes made in R3 are the same as the number made when AX4.0 moved to AX2009. A truly huge release. This was further emphasised by the need to make the next release a UI change and all of the concepts and major functionality in R3 will be built upon. In essence R3 is the first major stepping stone to the next release of AX.

 

14 years in the world of Dynamics pre-dating Microsoft. An MVP of 9 years. AdamRoue, Weaveriski or Steve Weaver; that is me.

Due to this my Company thinks I blog, they tell other staff to “blog”. So my colleagues think I blog, people meeting my online persona will think I blog. My friends know I do something in computers and assume I blog which is the same as my wife and family who if they knew what a blog was would think I blog.

I have never blogged, I don’t blog, well until now obviously.

So why now? More importantly why not before? Well I am on Twitter but don’t really “get it” and I read blogs but either believe I have not to say or add. Importantly most of what I would want to write relate to either the company I work for or the clients I am implementing with, and writing those stories even without naming names could lead to trouble.

However the time is right to write. The topics will be about Microsoft Dynamics AX because it is the field I work in. I will not name names and will try to be as generic as possible where blogs reference actual events. The overriding reason though is the up-coming Technical Conference for Microsoft Dynamics AX. It is in Seattle and it is my first visit to anything like this in the last 10 years, so if I have nothing to write about in the next week then I never would (assuming NDA allows of course :-))

So stay posted, however you have found this, and in the coming days and weeks I will update you on anything that I feel anyone might be interested in relating to AX, which as I read back is reason enough never to have blogged!

Steve