New framework will let customers connect apps to suite’s back end

ATLANTA – Microsoft Corp. says its upcoming Dynamics AX 2012 R3 release will have new mobile-friendly capabilities.

Following an early morning wakeup for attendees at its Convergence conference here by the Spirit of Atlanta Drum & Bugle Corps., Microsoft demonstrated the software it plans to make generally available May 1.

Kirill Tatarinov, executive vice-president for Microsoft Business Solutions, says the ERP solution continues to rise in number of users each quarter.

“There’s a thought process behind business leaders that the world is rapidly moving toward digital business,” he says. “They’ve realized that for them to stay competitive, they have to change their business and that’s where we come along.”

The new apps and services framework for Microsoft Dynamics AX will let customers connect custom-built mobile apps – inside or outside the company firewall – to the suite’s back end. Microsoft’s cloud platform, Windows Azure, sits in the middle between the mobile app and Dynamics AX to facilitate the communication. A white paper is available to developers interested in creating the connection in their app.

Further support for businesses looking to deploy custom mobile apps comes in the form of beta-mode Project Siena, a code-free platform for business managers to use to create apps that pulls from multiple databases in the Microsoft stack, including Excel files, RSS feeds, SharePoint, and Azure Mobile services.

Delta Air Lines showcased how it’s using custom apps on Nokia Lumia devices running Windows Phone 8. Delta’s flight attendants now take in-flight food orders using Lumia 820 smart phones, but will soon be upgrading to larger-screen Lumia 1520 devices.

Delta-Keynote-mobile_demo
Delta flight attendants demonstrate a custom mobile app built on Dynamics AX backend at Convergence 2014.

Using the smartphones — or “phablets” as smartphones that exceed six-inches in screen size are sometimes called — flight attendants can also sell seat upgrades available on the flight, says Darrell Haskin, the director of IT for the airline. While Delta uses SAP for its corporate ERP system, it will be relying on Dynamics AX for its retail operations. It adopted Microsoft’s software about 18 months ago.

“Although we sell seats to passengers, we never really considered ourselves to be in the retail space until recently,” he says.

Delta-Nokia-smartphones
On the left, the Nokia Lumia 820 running Delta’s custom retail app. On the right is the new Lumia 1520.

The mobile devices used by Delta’s workers are connected to the ground thanks to Ku-band satellite Internet provided by Gogo Inc. A secure Wi-Fi network means credit card payments, accepted via a phone attachment, can now be checked in real time instead of after a flight touches down.

“We weren’t telling customers we weren’t doing that. So we’d just swipe the card and you’d get your treat, and only later would we find out if that was a good card or not,” he says. “So there was a lot of loss that way.”

Delta can accept credit card payments using a smartphone attachment during flights.
Delta can accept credit card payments using a smartphone attachment during flights.

Microsoft is showing its customers that its easy to build out mobile solutions on its Azure cloud platform, says Ray Wang, the founder of Constellation Research. If you’ve got .Net developers in house, then you can already build on Azure. That should send the message that for an ERP system, the implementation pain on Dynamics AX is minimal.

Also by showcasing an enterprise client like Delta, Microsoft is demonstrating that its Dynamics line has graduated from the small to mid-market and is a valid alternative for large businesses, he says.

“You’re seeing people say ‘I trust Microsoft. They’re not the evil empire anymore,'” Wang says. “They’re starting to be seen as an enterprise play.”

Later this year Microsoft will update its other Dynamics products. Dynamics GP (an ERP suite for small and mid-sized firms that need an accounting system) is expected to see a release this quarter to include identity management, workflow, and self-service apps. NAV (for mid-sized companies) will see an update in Q4 of 2014.

 

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