Tag Archives: D365 Operations (AX 7)

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.

Killing Me Softly With Task Guides

Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to help users with simple guides for doing the most common tasks in AX 2012. With the release of the new Dynamics AX (aka AX 7), a brand new task recorder feature set has been released. Task recorders now manifest as in-product help called Task guides.

Task guides are an amazing piece of technology and engineering. The whole experience is awesome for helping to train users and help them remember how to execute functions in Dynamics AX. For me it means the style of books I used to write is no longer needed; it’s time to find a new angle.

Creating a new task recording

Click on Settings (gear icon) > Task recorder.2016-02-28_18-05-57

Create a new recording.
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Give the recording a name and description. Click OK.
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Step through the process in AX. Each step will show up in the Task recorder window.
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Each step will have default text, but the text can be modified by clicking on the edit icon.
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When finished with the recording, click on the Stop button.
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Save the Task recording. The best option is to save to LCS (I’ll be blogging more about LCS in the future), but for purposes of this example Save to this PC.
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Playing the Task guide

Click on Settings (gear icon) > Task recorder.
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Play recording as guide to step through each step in Dynamics AX.
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Open the Task guide from this PCBrowse for the task recording file. Click on Open task guide then Start task guide.
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Now the cool part! AX will point exactly where to click for each step, and display any additional instructions supplied while recording the guide.
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Bringing back “What’s this?”

Back in the day with Axapta (AX) 2.5 and 3.0 there was a “What’s this?” option as part of the right-click contextual menu. It would bring up the help text for the field you were in. Unfortunately, this feature did not survive to see AX 4 or later versions.

When I started my first book, Dynamics AX 2012 Core Financials, I wanted to use the “What’s this?” concept to give more context to important fields. This provides an additional level of insight into the process.

Why this blog (and why the iPad)?

For years, self-guided learning of Dynamics AX has been difficult. Many implementations begin with consultants walking through the most basic processes, and even after the training users struggle to recall what was taught. AX has excellent tools like the Task Recorder, but those tools don’t provide information in a simple way. I wanted to make it easier for users to learn AX.

In January 2012, Apple announced a tool called iBooks Author. It allows anyone to create great-looking iPad textbooks without using complex software. This is the perfect way to start publishing content to the AX community. Over time the content may expand to other devices as similar tools are made available. Check back for future updates on this topic.

My goal is that all users find it easier to get hands-on in AX with the most commonly used processes – making projects shorter and training more effective. I will use this blog to publish some content from the manuals and link to other information about learning AX.