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Microsoft Dynamics AX: ERP business software for the upper midmarket

Microsoft Dynamics AX is at the high end of the company's Dynamics line, and is available on-premises, hosted or in the Azure public cloud.

Microsoft Dynamics AX is Microsoft's ERP product for multi-site, international enterprises. Its core ERP business software functions are in financial, human resources and supply chain management. It also includes industry specializations for retailers, manufacturers, service industries and public sector organizations. Dynamics AX can be deployed in a public cloud scenario on Microsoft Azure or on-premises, or hosted in a private cloud on the Windows operating system. It also supports mobile applications that run on Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Google Android and Apple iOS devices.

Microsoft Dynamics AX is updated with new ERP business software capabilities every six months. The vendor updates new cloud services offered with Microsoft Dynamics AX, such as Microsoft Dynamics Lifecycle Services, on a monthly basis to add new functions and best practices.

The latest version of the software is Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3, which was released in May 2014. It continued to deliver the core ERP business process functions of Dynamics AX, along with deep integration with Microsoft productivity software, such as Office, and added capabilities intended to enable customers to run agile operations and engage better with customers. Highlights of the release include:

  • New warehouse and transportation management, demand forecasting and eProcurement functionality for the supply chain that provides more flexible order fulfillment. The system streamlines inbound and outbound goods workflows with flexible process support that includes advance shipping notice (ASN) receiving, dock management, advanced inventory put-away rules, flexible order-picking strategies and wave/load planning that helps managers plan and optimize goods-handling workflows throughout the warehouse.

    Transportation management enhancements enable companies to perform what-if modeling on transportation rates, routes and load planning, taking into account orders that can be consolidated into shipments, and optimizing delivery timetables. Other capabilities include shipping cost economy in multi-modal transport models (i.e., truck, rail and air) for the specific load capacities that need to be transported. Dynamics AX 2012 R3 also provides new management tools for forecasting product demand. It gives forecast planners a baseline forecast at the stock-keeping unit (SKU) level that uses historical data, which the planner can then modify in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to reflect the present demand situation.
  • Enhanced retail capabilities for both the brick and mortar and the online elements of the retail sales process. Dynamics AX 2012 R3 delivers enhancements to its eCommerce Website that enable customers to build wish lists of future purchases. Microsoft says the eCommerce Website also features "out-of-the-box" integration with Facebook and Twitter, and with software development kits for Amazon and eBay.

    In the store, sales reps can use a Dynamics AX 2012 R3 mobile phone or tablet app to assist customers who are selecting products and services. AX 2012 R3-assisted sales functionality also consolidates customers' purchase patterns and preferences, and provides sales associates with the timely information to help guide and recommend purchases to customers based on purchase patterns and preferences.
  • Improvements in product innovation. Microsoft claims that Dynamics AX 2012 R3 delivers greater analytics power to business analysts who must assess market trends and changing tastes, and respond to this intelligence by designing new products.

Introduced in 2013, Lifecycle Services are intended to help companies simplify and standardize their implementation processes and make them more predictable. The services complement an assortment of on-premises and online technical support plans that Microsoft offers Dynamics AX users. Companies can also secure ERP planning and implementation consulting and support from a broad set of worldwide certified partners in Dynamics AX.

The primary customers for Microsoft Dynamics AX are upper-midmarket organizations as well as departments, subsidiaries and divisions of large enterprises in manufacturing, distribution, services, the public sector and retail. A majority of these organizations have multiple sites and are present in more than one country.

Microsoft Dynamics AX uses a Server/Client Access License (CAL) model for licensing, which means that users obtain a certificate of authenticity (CoA) and a license key that allows their computers to connect to Microsoft server software. If more connections to the server are needed, then additional CALs must be purchased. These CALS can take the shape of an Enterprise Agreement (EA), an Enterprise Agreement Subscription (EAS), or a Campus and School Agreement - Enrollment for Education Solutions (CASA-EES). The EA is appropriate for organizations with more than 250 PCs, devices or users. The product is also available on the Microsoft Dynamics price list for customers without a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement.

Dynamics AX is sold through Microsoft Dynamics Certified Partners. Pricing and licensing are determined by specific needs. A 30-day trial version is available in the Microsoft Azure Marketplace, where prospective customers and partners can create a full deployment of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3 that provides access to all business logic, and that includes Microsoft's standard demo data.

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