Microsoft ships new ERP software Dynamics AX 4.0

Microsoft Corp. unveiled Dynamics AX 4.0, the latest version of its high-end ERP (enterprise resource planning) software Monday at its Tech Ed 2006 user conference in Boston.

Available Monday in the U.S. and Canada, the product will soon ship in five additional countries — China, Denmark, France, Germany and the U.K — and then roll out to the rest of the world later in the year.

The software is the first of Microsoft’s ERP offerings to include full Unicode support enabling the display of double-byte characters including Chinese, said Jeff McKee, director of global product management for Microsoft Dynamics AX. The company will use the capability to push the ERP software in three new markets — Brazil, China and Japan, he added. At present, McKee estimated the Dynamics AX installed base at around 6,500 users across 37 countries.

Other Dynamics AX 4.0 features include a new user interface more closely resembling the look-and-feel of Microsoft’s Office 2003 desktop application suite. “When Office 2007 ships, we’ll do a refresh [of Dynamics AX] to look more like that,” McKee said. Dynamics AX 4.0 will ship with roles-based features so that users can gain access to the ERP data relevant to their position within a company.

Also featured is RFID (radio frequency ID) functionality that will integrate with Microsoft’s RFID Server which is currently in beta testing. Microsoft customers and partners will be able to make use of Web services to customize the ERP software, for instance creating RSS feeds to generate system alerts. Dynamics AX 4.0 will include a new service management module to help automate the servicing of machinery.

The new release of the ERP software will have increased integration with Microsoft’s SQL Server database particularly in the areas of reporting and data analysis and make use of the vendor’s SharePoint Web portal to facilitate user collaboration. Dynamics AX 4.0 will come with a global search capability across the whole application.

The June release of Dynamics AX 4.0 is another indication that Microsoft remains on track with its business applications strategy, McKee said. The first wave of that strategy is to release new versions of the major Dynamics ERP and customer relationship management (CRM) products. Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to merge the disparate applications into a single code base beginning in 2008.

Dynamics AX, formerly known as Axapta, was created by Danish software firm Damgaard which was then acquired by Navision in 2000. Microsoft purchased Navision in 2002. Most of the feature functions in Dynamics AX 4.0 were developed in Denmark, while the technical integration between the ERP software and other Microsoft products took place at the software giant’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, McKee said.

While he estimates that the “majority” of the Dynamics AX installed base runs the software on Microsoft’s SQL Server, some users still run the applications on top of Oracle Corp.’s rival offering so Dynamics AX 4.0 includes support for the Oracle 10g database.

While Microsoft has talked up hosting capabilities for its Dynamics CRM 3.0 software of late, the vendor hasn’t been so vocal about hosting for its ERP applications. However, McKee pointed out that Microsoft partners Unisys Corp. and OneNeck IT Services Corp. have been hosting Dynamics AX 3.0 for a number of customers since July.

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