Category Archives: D365 Operations (AX 7)

FastTrack (D365O Tech Conference)

Microsoft has a generic program called FastTrack which enables direct collaboration with customer projects and initiatives. The D365 Operations group has its own take on this program. The Operations program provides services via technical talks, customer specific workshops, and recurring status calls. Agust Bjornsson, FastTrack Operations EMEA Lead, shared some of Microsofts goals at the Tech Conference. 

The bottom line of the FastTrack program is for Microsoft to enable consistency of implementation across the partner channel, and for customers (and partners) to have a feedback mechanism back into Microsoft if they encounter questions or issues.

I think this is a fantastic concept – these types of programs are so crucial to knowledge and idea sharing between Microsoft, partners, and customers. It’s still a fairly new program, so I anticipate tweaks to the concepts going forward. And to be frank, part of this program’s purpose is for Microsoft to monitor for implementations going off the rails – thereby protecting their future revenue streams. But keeping the communication channels open is a critical part of any long term product investment.

The company I work for, SAGlobal, has participated in this program both for our internal implementation, and on customer implementations. We’ve been happy to have a go-to person for each implementation. Olaf Traustason, Senior Technical Lead, said about FastTrack

I enjoy the Technical Talks because they are to the point and on point. 

Analytical Workspaces (D365O Tech Conference)

Last year I blogged about Workspaces in Dynamics 365 as a concept. At this year’s Tech Conference, TJ Vasser talked about some of the newly available features on the reporting side. TJ highlighted his own blog post about the various reporting options available for Dynamics 365 for Operations.

Analytical Workspaces

Up until March 2017, the only option for bringing Power BI content into D365O was to publish content packs in PowerBI.com, and each user had to link a Workspace to that published content pack. With Platform Update 4, it’s now possible to embed Power BI content packs directly into a Workspace. Embedding Power BI into Workspaces should remove much of the effort from the end user, and shifts the work to reporting analysts and developers.

The major components of the embedded experience are:

  • Adding a new form, or adding a Workspace tab.
  • Defining the .pbix files that are embedded in the Workspace.
  • Writing a controller class that links the .pbix file to the form, manages filters and security, and defines drill-through experiences.

It’s Not All Rainbows

There are many caveats to this story – when investigating D365O and Power BI features, it’s always a good idea to prototype the entire process before building out any specific feature. Some of the caveats for the embedded reports include:

  • Currently only Entity store is supported; using your own database (BYODB) is unsupported.
  • Embedded Power BI requires a developer and code promotion; publishing to PowerBI.com is easier to make fast changes.
  • It is possible to drill through from the embedded report, but each drill-through experiences require an Event handler in code.
  • There are better options for dynamic filtering experiences, but these also require development.

 Summary

Simplifying the user experience and bringing reporting into the app will make embedded Power BI a powerful tool. I anticipate quite a bit of development effort to provide awesome experiences. I also suspect the change management process for embedded could be problematic. It’s a good step in the right direction and is worth exploring. 

New Configuration Copy Features (D365O Tech Conference)

D365 for Operations needs a simpler way to define and export groups of entities from a source environment, and transform and import data into a target environment.

Microsoft is building some brand new (and long needed) tools for importing and exporting configurations between companies, environments, and default/template data environments. Mike Falkner led the session demoing the new features.

Define and Export

The Data Management UI is getting a refresh to be more usable in a number of areas:

  • Better overall organization of Workspace
  • Lists instead of tiles
  • Easier picking of entities into a group, including mass picking
  • Manual and automatic sequencing improvements

Transform and Import

There weren’t demoable features ready on this side of the equation. The general approach is supposed to be hard coded rules that can transform specific entities. The import should be simplified by more quickly selecting and importing multiple Data Packages.

Summary

I’m very happy to see more features in this area. The current features are workable, but every step takes longer than ideal. Look for features to come out this spring, with a quick and iterative release cadence.

Common Data Service (D365O Tech Conference)

The Common Data Service (CDS) has been a much discussed concept since the middle of 2016 when Dynamics 365 was first announced. The way this feature is described sometimes seems like CDS is the unicorn of the Dynamics 365 world – it solves any problem.

Sometimes what gets lost in this story is the basics – CDS is a new, simplified database concept. The advantage of the new CDS approach is a faster setup, deployment, and management of the data model, user interfaces, and integrations.

Environments

Environments group features together in CDS including:

  • A collection of tables and table relationships – aka creating a database
  • Publishing Power Apps aka a user interface
  • Integration and mapping tools connected to Dynamics 365

Common Data Model

The CDM is the definition of tables and table relationships. The Microsoft published CDM is geared towards the Dynamics 365 entities and used for integrating multiple D365 products.

Power Apps

In many of the CDS demos Microsoft shows Power Apps with CDS, which sometimes conflates the technology. The database components of CDS don’t require a Power App to be used.

Power Apps are most…powerful when they combine requirements from multiple systems into a single experience. For example, there may be multiple systems that do issue or task management, and each system may require its own fields. A Power App can be created with all the fields required across all systems, then the integration features to push issues into each system will work swimmingly.

Integrations

CDS entities eventually will be used to pass data back and forth between Dynamics 365 databases. There’s a focus by Microsoft to provide some scenario based integrations for things like Order to Cash scenarios between Dynamics 365 Sales and Operations.

There are a couple of mechanisms for passing data back and forth. Microsoft Flow is most commonly used in demos because it supports many products, but there’s also a more “native” integration feature that will pass data more efficiently for Dynamics 365. The integration features also include data transformation logic.

Templates 

Templates are used to deploy the CDM, PowerApps, and Flows/Integrations as an Environment.

Admin Center

The Admin Center is a portal for designing, publishing, and maintaining the CDS environment.

This portal also manages the security. They key components of security like table level and record level security are in the toolkit.

Summary

There is a lot of interesting technology around the CDS. But right now it seems like the CDS is a solution in search of a problem. There needs to be simple examples of the technology solving specific problems for Dynamics 365 for Operations customers to jump in on this new feature set.

Microsoft will probably hate the comparison 😬, but I think of CDS in the same way as people used to use Access databases. Access databases were simple, limited, specific tools; many times they were disposable as technology evolved. Conceptually CDS may be an evolution of that story. If the business use case is longer term, it may be better to build features and UIs directly in a Dynamics 365 product.

App Source (D365O Tech Conference)

Application stores are a mainstay of every modern operating system. Microsoft is working towards bringing this concept to the business application space.

The Dynamics 365 App Source concept allows ISVs and partners to bring their addons to a centralized marketplace. App Source can help partners and customers find business users and customers. On the flip side, customers can find validated solutions that have gone through a validation and approval process.

Unlike a traditional App Store, business apps are generally more complex to implement than a PC or mobile app. Many times code, business processes, and data need to be tested and promoted to various systems to make the solution work. The Dynamics 365 for Operations App Source site connects to a management toolkit called Lifecycle Services that helps strategically deploy the key assets into various environments.

At the tech conference, Shefy Manayil Kareem (@Shefymk) from Microsoft discussed the following key features of App Source:

  • A new publishing portal for Dynamics 365 due later in 2017
  • For ISVs, improved actionable insights for App Source hits and leads
  • New predictable trial experience
  • Announcement of “Test Drive”, where a managed environment is already running and ISVs can temporarily allow access to an environment for a prospective customer
  • Leveraging multiple components from D365 Operations, Sales, PSA, PowerBI, Common Data Service, and Power Apps
  • Reviews and ratings displayed in App Source based on the trial experience

The App Source concept is a few years old, and continues to round into form. Key upcoming features like Test Drive should lead to simpler trial experiences should significantly increase the value of having a solution on App Source. Ultimately, ISVs and partners hope to decrease the time for prospects to investigate the features of an product and drive sales.

 

Upgradeable Programming in Dynamics AX (v7)

New post is up over on my company’s blog. Have a look!

AX 7 has many new features around organizing code; partners, customers, and ISVs need to understand these features to build upgradeable customizations. With prior versions of AX, it was common for customers to get stuck on a version because of the complexity of upgrading.

Keeping AX upgraded benefits customers, ISVs, and Microsoft. Having customers on a more recent code base reduces the cost of maintaining old software versions and the cost of providing support for bugs that have already been fixed…

Azure Marketplace Series

I’m continuing my blog series about the component pieces of an Azure Marketplace solution over on the company blog:

Latest post: Understanding Process Data Packages in LCS

Previous posts:

Azure Marketplace and the new Dynamics AX (v7)

Workspaces in Dynamics AX (v7) – Let’s Make them Awesome

Packaging Extensions for Dynamics AX

 

 

Workspaces in Dynamics AX (v7) – Let’s Make them Awesome

Dynamics AX has been down the dashboard road before. Role centers were introduced in AX 2009 and carried forward into AX 2012, but never really found traction. The new Dynamics AX (v7) fundamentally shifts what the dashboard concept means; take a fresh look at Workspace design.

What is a Workspace

Microsoft defines a Workspace as

A way to provide an initial overview and to increase productivity in the activity by allowing simple tasks to be completed directly in the workspace.

This is a major change from prior versions of AX; a Workspace is now a task center not a role center. Anticipate users having access to multiple workspaces, and using the one that best fits the activity at hand.

I was an accountant in a previous life, so I’ll use that role as an example. Consider the activities an accountant does:

Does the accountant really want to create journal entries at the same time their attention is focused on month end tasks that are past due? (Hint: No.) Consider first the activities of a role, then group related tasks into a Workspace.

What’s in a Workspace

Once the scope of a Workspace is defined, tasks should be broken down into standard sections.

Workspace Screenshot

  1. Buttons to add new information.
  2. Tiles to surface critical tasks and to-dos.
  3. List pages with commonly accessed records and buttons.
  4. Charts and PowerBI reports to review historical trends.
  5. Links to favorite forms.

The immediateness of information should be presented from left to right and top to bottom. Buttons and tiles are for tasks to address each time the Workspace is opened. List pages quickly drill into a multitude of forms. Charts and BI are periodically reviewed to investigate trends. Links are default favorites for commonly used forms.

If You Build Tiles, They Will Come

To get users excited about workspaces, compelling tiles are the selling point. Tiles must surface information users wouldn’t already know but want to know. Here are some tips for creating good tiles.

Be specific

Users want to know what they need to do, not all the work that needs to be done. Menu items with “My” in the title can easily be the starting point for great tiles.

Take action

Getting people to come back to a workspace is achieved by letting them know where additional action needs to be taken. The simplest example is displaying the number of pending approvals in workflow. Other things may be date driven, such as Purchase order lines that where the delivery is past due. Perhaps there are things a user needs to keep an eye on, like unposted journals or source documents.

Knowing what open issues to address will increase the frequency a user will visit the Workspace.

Prioritize

Put the tiles in order of most urgent to least urgent. Since languages are commonly written left to right, the natural tendency is for the eye to start at the top left corner and work into the page from there.

Considerations for Other Sections

List pages

List pages allow contextual buttons that get the user into a specific form quickly. So the most important part of these pages is determining what are the most common buttons on each form the user wants to access.

Pretty stuff

Charts, APIs, and other visualizations are easy to demo but difficult to implement. Visualization design should begin with interviewing users and understanding their current decision making process. The parameters around that decision can then be surfaced so they can more quickly recognize and investigate issues.

Links

Put in the links section menu items a typical user would tag as a Favorite.

Gamification

The term gamification means awarding electronic certificates after a participant has earned a certain number of points. Remember in elementary school when the teacher would put a gold star sticker on your homework when you did a good job – that is an example of gamification.

This concept could work well for Employee centered Workspaces. Here are some examples of badges that could be given out:

  • A Sales order processor entered 10,000 order lines.
  • A Timesheet worker submitted 52 timesheets in a row on time.
  • An accountant literally wears a green visor.

 

Now let’s go make some awesome experiences.

A Brief History of Dynamics AX (v7) on the Azure Marketplace

New Dynamics AX technology is creating challenges and opportunities for ISVs and partners. Solution providers are now asked to bake their experience and expertise into the product by adding process guides, methodology, sample data, and help in addition to AX customizations. The goal of this thorough product offering is to reduce the time to deploy Dynamics AX.

Productizing Industry Features on Dynamics AX

Many times companies have to make tradeoffs between having a system with a breadth of features and having a system that is well suited to their industry. Developing an ERP with a huge feature set requires an investment that only a few large players can make. However, understanding the nuances of each industry requires real-world implementation experience and feedback from end users.

The new Dynamics AX has technical capabilities that can bridge these two models. Customers can have the breadth of features they want in a single system, while also adding solutions that provide the must-have features to successfully run their business. Microsoft has provided new capabilities via Lifecycle Services (LCS) that allow implementers to fulfill this vision through a variety of tools discussed below.

The Azure Marketplace serves two purposes. It is a lead generator where prospects can see what solutions are available on Dynamics AX and contact the vendor. Perhaps more importantly, the marketplace is proof that solution creators bring a comprehensive package to the table.

LCS

LCS is the delivery mechanism for the Dynamics AX Azure Marketplace products; it contains all the assets needed to deploy the solution. Assets currently include:

  • Methodology – The steps a customer will go through to get the solution live.
  • Business Process Library – Prerecorded task guides that allow new users to quickly learn the functionality and best practices.
  • Models and Software package – Customizations that create a more robust experience in Dynamics AX.
  • Data Packages – Base configurations and data migrations to get users hands on with their data.
  • Demo Data – Demo environment to research the capabilities of the solution.
  • Environments – Deploy complex Dynamics AX environments in one day.

In the past delivering a product was focused primarily on customizing Dynamics AX. Now the capability exists to deliver more than just customizations; LCS can jump-start the implementation process as well.

Dynamics AX (v7)

New technical capabilities come with the new Dynamics AX, and it is important to leverage these capabilities when building a solution.

Extensibility

There is now a significant amount of development that can be done “off to the side” in Dynamics AX through extension technology. This approach to development becomes critically important when considering code upgrades or hotfixes. When done right, updating AX and updating the industry solution have less dependencies on each other; reducing on-going maintenance costs of Dynamics AX.

Data Management

Whether working on data migrations, integrations, or configurations, the new data management framework centralizes these tasks under an umbrella call Data Entities. Having the right entities built into the solution accelerates getting information into Dynamics AX.

Workspaces

Workspaces surface information about key tasks so users can jump into their activities in Dynamics AX. Workspaces are front and center in Dynamics AX, and it is important to combine industry knowledge into dashboards that surface the pertinent details.

Business Intelligence

Business intelligence is a first class citizen in Dynamics AX. Data can be aggregated and consumed nearly real-time, giving users more confidence in the results. Aggregated data can also be consumed directly within Dynamics AX or via PowerBI reporting dashboards.

Behind the Scenes

The approval bar is intentionally set high for the Azure Marketplace, and therefore there are some behind the scenes requirements that need to happen.

Testing

Testing is obvious when creating customizations, but it gets more complex when creating a solution. In addition to unit testing the development, there’s also a need for automated testing and performance testing of high volume and high use features.

There are also a lot more deployment tests than before. Deploying environments with default data, demo data, and compiled code are all areas that need to be validated.

Marketing

There are specific assets required to publish to the Azure Marketplace, including metadata, marketing text, and logos.

Coordination

Not only do all these assets need to be delivered, they need to be completed simultaneously for them to be approved and published on the Azure Marketplace. This adds an extra level of coordination in the Product management lifecycle.

Approval

Solutions now need to be approved by Microsoft. The approval has a number of components including best practices checks (CAR report), a video walkthrough, and publishing all the updated assets.

More information

Looking for more information? I am presenting more on these topics on a webinar on March 30, 2016.