At KPMG Crimsonwing, our global alliance with Microsoft and membership of multiple early adoption programs has given us valuable insight into the product roadmap, specifically around the latest release of Dynamics 365 for Operations or “D365O” (formerly AX).
We have been implementing what is now known as D365O in the cloud for some considerable time. This doesn’t mean though that this new release has not mandated a change in approach. Having completed the first-ever UK deployment of D365O for TGI Fridays , and been supporting this for some time now we are well-placed to offer some insight into the pros and cons of this disruptive change to the ERP market.
Today I want to focus on a small number of the benefits of the move to an (almost) Software as a Service solution for businesses that are looking to make the move.
1. Access when, where, and how you want to
By now, many are aware D365O is a true clientless application. This can offer a significant advantage in deployment as there is no need for costly and complex Terminal services or other remote connectivity solutions.
Our clients and delivery team can connect securely straight to the D365O environments using their favourite browsers from anywhere and on many devices (as a side note – the latest updates have greatly improved the mobile experience).
With recent releases, we have seen the personalisation features we lost initially being replaced with better versions.
This was a massive investment from Microsoft which is designed to deliver a tangible benefit to our clients.
2. Less risk & more predictability with updates
Those involved in deploying D365O will already be aware that the move to a Software as a Service solution means updates come thick and fast – fixes, new functionality, mobile readiness just to name a few.
This is only possible through the adoption of a robust deployment approach, adopting Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) to manage the code base and help ensure all updates are subjected to rigorous validation and testing prior to deployment by both the partner, and also the Microsoft deployment team.
Gone are the days of untested changes hitting your production environment and wreaking havoc and long days and nights to isolate and rectify the root cause.
Changes can only be applied once they have passed stringent deployment checks for both test and production environments.
New function and fixes are being delivered to our clients, safe in the knowledge that they will not cause disruption to business as usual activity.
3. Class-leading tools
As just touched upon, the use of VSTS to manage the build and deployment of your solutions can offer real benefit.
This is just one example of a number of rapidly evolving tools that are facilitating faster and more efficient deployment – Each of these deserves a post (or 10) in their own right, however, I’ll focus on a few of these below.
Central to these is Lifecycle Services (LCS). We’ve been using LCS from its infancy when it did little more than allow you to capture videos of business process through task recorder – It has come a long way!
A few highlights:
- Business Process Modeller (BPM) – A centralised repository of core business processes ensuring fast adoption by clients with minimal need for adaptation. These can then be used to provide interactive help to the end-users.
- Asset Library – Models and data are neatly packaged and can be deployed directly to our environments ensuring a consistent build without the need for time consuming installation and configuration.
- Cloud Hosted Environments – Gone is the era of a 5 day build. Now, environments can be deployed (with the appropriate assets) at the click of a button!
Power BI deserves its own blog, and indeed there are many! The Power BI capabilities are only limited by your imagination.
Once connected there are an increasing range of standard reports available from Microsoft and ISV’s. The licenses for Power BI are included with your D365O subscription – so it offers an extremely cost effective reporting solution.
A few highlights:
- No Cubes – We have said farewell to the traditional cumbersome, unreliable and much maligned cubes that were difficult to manage and deploy
- First Class Client – Power BI tiles are surfaced directly in the D365O client, meaning no need to navigate anywhere else
- Autonomy – It is easy to build new reports and dashboards without the need for code. This means our clients are empowered to write their own reports
- One View – Data comes from multiple sources and is combined into one consistent view. No more need to own your own “Spreadsheet Farm” and the insights can be seen across the organisation
- Ask the question – Guaranteed to get an “Oooh” from any audience is the natural language query. As long as you know the question (and the information is available) Power BI can render the answer to the user (it doesn’t even need you to spell it correctly!)
Watch the Power BI webinar here.
As with most things, there’s still room for improvement.
As is the case with many big leaps, there are inevitably some challenges we are still adapting to.
- Data Entities: There are currently some key data entities missing, which is problematic for data migration and interfaces. Where this has happened there has been a need to develop these data entities.
- Odata: The reliance of Power BI on Odata can impact performance on a live database. This can be resolved by connecting PowerBI to your secondary cluster (I am not going too techie!), this does give a little latency in the available information though.
- Core Function: When the RTW version of the product was released great swathes of functionality were in the ‘AX 2012 features that have not been implemented, but are not deprecated’ pile. Through the rapid and consistent deployment, we have seen a wide range of these been added back and improved and there is more (and better) function with each release.
- Alerts: A consistent pain at present is the previously widely used and currently missing alerts (due H2 2017). We took the opportunity to develop something better, basing the alerts functionality on the database log with Microsoft Flow distributing the alerts.
- Apps: Finally, the expenses and other apps are not ready. Our clients demand apps, to allow them to run simple business functions from the smart phones and tablets. We are using Microsoft PowerApps and the D365O mobile platform, to surface this function. The jury is still out on which is the better long term solution with both having advantages and disadvantages.
Overall, D365O has delivered a major shake up to the ERP market. It has come of age and now offers a real advantage over the traditional elite of the market, whilst still being able to compete against the smaller players.
Anyone considering a technology transformation should have D365O on their shortlist!
For more information, please feel free to get in touch: pkreukniet [at] crimsonwing.com