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Windows Azure – What it means to Microsoft Dynamics users and customers?

November 22nd, 2009 Pankaj Kumar No comments

I attended PDC 2009 last week and enjoyed every moment of it. Things seem to be changing for Microsoft with far too fast changing competitive landscape. And Microsoft has an interesting challenge to play catch up or be thought leaders in computing technology. They seem to be doing both and trying hard to be thought leaders. The significant theme in this PDC was Windows Azure – a platform meant for cloud computing. And there are some interesting bits about the platform in terms of how Microsoft is approaching it.

There is a much different strategy to Azure if you compare it with Amazon EC2 and there are similarities with Google App Engine. Azure is a computing platform and is not meant to be used as a server bank with on demand elastic availability unlike EC2. To Microsoft credit, that is a very attractive idea in .NET world and has merits in a number of scenarios – as an example avoid human dependence for server/application management. Azure seems to be the next biggest bet that Microsoft is taking and so far I think they are on the right track. There were some very interesting talks from Azure team, an outstanding presentation by Manuvir Das that explained Azure’s past and talked about it’s future. One of the key differences in Microsoft offering though is - SQL Azure. There is nothing from Amazon or Google that really comes close to SQL Azure. With a very well crafted scale out strategy, SQL Azure may be the the key winner for Microsoft. But due to scale out nature, it has limited application to existing applications unless re-architected.

So what does all this mean to mid size customers running Dynamics ERP, CRM, Sharepoint, Exchange and custom written .NET applications or plumbing. This question has two different answers for home grown or otherwise written .NET applications and non .NET applications from Microsoft Dynamics stable

For .NET applications, there are two key areas where all CIOs in these mid size organizations should consider Azure. Azure would also significantly change how mid size IT operations would be run in future:

  1. Cost Saving – I am calling this out first given the current economic scenario and the continual pressure to fulfill customer demands while reducing the cost at the same time. Setting up Development, Test & Staging environments and providing global access has been a friction factor for launching many application initiatives. With Azure, that problem is pretty much gone. You can fund a new project with a very minimal upfront cost in infrastructure or time. The billing model for Azure when running in Production is likely to be much lower than what it would cost internally or with a hosting company. Our recommendation for new applications is to evaluate Azure as the first platform option for all future .NET initiatives. A natural question would be about existing infrastructure – right now Windows Azure has limitations on what all you can deploy and you might end up doing expensive evaluation or trial and error. There are offerings on the card that would make EC2 like fully controlled Windows instances a reality on Azure. Our recommendation for existing applications is to wait till 3rd quarter of 2010 before moving existing applications to Azure. 
  2. Enterprise like scale up and fault tolerance capability – This would be my number 1 reason had the economic condition been different. With Windows Azure and the deep investment behind this, there are significant gains for mid size companies to get enterprise like scale up and fault tolerance capabilities at zero upfront cost and very reasonable operating cost. Capability to launch additional instances of web servers (called Web Roles in Azure world) on demand is extremely attractive.

Does Azure change the way I run Dynamics ERP and CRM software today or how I would run it tomorrow? – Official Microsoft word is that yes, some day all Microsoft Products would transition to Azure. My personal opinion is that this is unlikely to happen – there would be changes in the way Microsoft would offer these products to end customer but moving to Azure may be far fetched given the current technology platform and existing customer base. Dynamics CRM is already offered via Microsoft Online Services. Other Dynamics Offerings would be either coming from Microsoft or other partners.

So get Azured and start preparing for the next generation always available apps!

Pankaj Kumar is the CTO of Ignify. Ignify is a technology provider of ERP, CRM, and eCommerce software solutions to businesses and public sector organizations. . Ignify is a Microsoft Dynamics Inner Circle Partner  and ranked in the top 18 Microsoft Dynamics partners. Ignify has been included as the fastest growing business in North America for 3 years in a row by Deloitte, Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine.

World Vision Selects Dynamics ERP for eProcurement and Global Supply chain Management

October 7th, 2009 Sandeep Walia No comments

The World Vision International (WVI) organization includes 40,000 staff members (including part time, temporary staff, and employees) whose mission is to provide healthcare, education, clean water, emergency food, tools, shelter and technical know-how to millions of the world’s poorest inhabitants.

In 2008 WVI had a budget of $2.6b and served 100m people in 98 countries. Over 3.6 million children benefited from sponsorship, and over 998,000 Orphans & vulnerable children received care and support. The WVI organization consists of a number of Support Offices who manage the funding to over 100 National Offices (NO’s) located around the world. In many countries the NO’s are supported by Local Offices who are supported by the Area Development Programs (ADP) where the majority of the project directives are executed. WVI realized, with over 500,000 Purchase Orders processed worldwide, that a common Global Supply Chain Management (GSCM) system would provide significant benefit. A formal process and evaluation began in May, 2009 to identify Vendors to support an initial pilot project at the Mongolia facility. Budget constraints created an extremely abbreviated, although comprehensive, evaluation by four (4) different solutions. Included were Helios (incumbent in Africa), Spend Map (incumbent at Corporate), Purchase Tracker, and Microsoft Dynamics ERP. Ignify – a Microsoft Dynamics Inner Circle Partner was contacted and conducted a thorough discovery of the GSCM requirements, conducted a series of functional and technical discussions, 3 rounds of demonstrations, provided customer references and was selected for the pilot for Mongolia.

Subject to a successful pilot at Mongolia, WVI has targeted Microsoft Dynamics ERP, and Ignify, to support additional locations to create a centralized system for Global Procurement. Kenya, Ethiopia, Haiti, Bolivia, and at least 1/2 dozen additional NO’s have been identified as future sites throughout 2009-2011. The pilot in Mongolia is for approximately 50 users. The final count of the roll out is estimated to be  500+ users depending on the amount of national offices that sign up for the system.

2, 4, 6, 8… What Does Dynamics GP Integrate?

July 27th, 2009 Tod Heath 1 comment

OK, so I can’t believe I’m running with my wife’s idea of bending an old high school cheer leader football chant into a compelling blog title about data integration.  But really, this question is quite simple.  It’s exciting to know that Microsoft Dynamics GP will integrate with the vast majority of third party and legacy systems so that information can be collaborated and shared effectively. Though GP offers a wide array of integrating modules and third party solutions, there are times when you will definitely gain advantages by creating a custom integration with one of your important systems that may not currently talk to GP. An example is a client of mine that wanted to integrate GP to a warehouse management system (WMS).  The client wanted to turn off the Multi-Bin functionality in GP and let the WMS system do the heavy lifting of managing warehouse movements, tracking and managing of inventory, staging, and fulfillment. Therefore a decision was made to leverage Microsoft’s Developer Toolkit for Microsoft Dynamics GP to create this integration.  Now don’t get me wrong, performing an integration of this magnitude was not easy, but once we finished it, it was well worth it. We utilized these tools to accomplish this integration:

  • eConnect – Lets you automate the integration of fields and data and adds data validation specific to GP.
  • XML files – This is a universal convention for passing data between two different systems.
  • Web Services – A web interface for third party integration applications.  It provides different methods for transmitting different XML payloads between the two systems.
  • Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ) – Provides guaranteed message delivery, efficient routing, security, and priority-based messaging.
  • SQL Stored Procedures – There were a small number of data integration points that were not supported by eConnect so we created stored procedures to update the data.

Steps taken to successfully achieve this integration were as follows:

  1. Reviewed the requirements and agreed upon a design.
  2. Mapped required data between the two systems via Excel mapping tables.
  3. Agreed upon the XML file formats.
  4. Created the Web Services.
  5. Set up MSMQ to facilitate the transfer of data.
  6. Configured the different eConnect integrations.
  7. Worked closely with a couple of developers on the WMS side so that they could accept GP data and GP could accept their data in acceptable XML payload format.

Information passed from GP to the WMS:

  • Sales orders
  • RMA’s – These were sent over to the WMS as a special type of Purchase Order to facilitate receiving of returned parts into the WMS.
  • Purchase Orders
  • Inventory Transfers – Created a PO in the WMS if parts were being transferred into the WMS location and created sales orders if parts were being shipped out to a different location.
  • Items – GP was the owner of the item database and passed new items and updates to the WMS.
  • Vendors

Information passed back from the WMS to GP:

  • Sales Order Fulfillment – Once an order was shipped then the WMS would send back to GP the fulfillment notification and it would automatically update the Quantity Fulfilled on the sales order line item as well as updating the tracking number.  Once a line on a sales order was fulfilled it would then automatically invoice, speeding up revenue recognition.
  • Inventory movements – Though there are several different WMS movement types, we only integrated movements in/out of quarantine locations (unsellable locations).
  • Inventory Adjustments – WMS Cycle counts and standard adjustments updated GP.
  • Purchase Order Receipts – Parts received in the warehouse would automatically create PO Receipts in GP.
  • RMA Receipts – When returned parts were received in the WMS it would create RMA Receipts in GP.

Benefits of the integration:

  • Two separate systems now talk to each other efficiently.
  • The WMS is a real time extension of GP to help manage fulfillment, inventory management and purchasing.
  • Items, vendors and item quantities are synced up between the two systems.
  • Revenue recognition is enhanced.
  • Produced a happy client (most important of all).

Sometimes the thought of integrating GP to another system of yours might seem out of reach, but really it’s not.  It just requires planning, coordination, and possibly some assistance.  Contact Ignify – an Inner Circle 2009 Microsoft Dynamics Partner – as we have real life experience assisting customers with simple and complex integrations.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Crosses 1 Million Users

July 27th, 2009 Sandeep Walia No comments

In a showing of the hyper-growth that Microsoft Dynamics CRM - the defacto recommended CRM software for the Microsoft Dynamics ERP - has had, Microsoft announced at the Worldwide Partner Conference 2009 in New Orleans that the product has crossed the 1 million user mark.

Customers worldwide are taking advantage of the power of choice, and deploying fast, flexible and affordable CRM and xRM solutions across on-premise, partner-hosted and CRM Online deployment models.

In addition, Microsoft Corp. today unveiled new sales and marketing programs for xRM, the new development platform for building sophisticated relationship-tracking applications. With new platform licensing options and close alignment with Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SharePoint technologies and other Microsoft solutions, organizations can now leverage xRM to create mission-critical applications that run on-premise or on-demand, reducing application development time and cost.

“Our fast path to more than 1 million users illustrates our strong market momentum, and shows how our CRM and xRM offerings are driving worldwide customer and partner success,” said Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. “Today, hundreds of Microsoft Dynamics CRM customers are building thousands of xRM applications. We’ve built significant alliances within and across Microsoft to capitalize on these high-growth opportunities, and we’re ready to drive value for our next million customers.”

Organizations such as the Leicester City Football Club, a professional sports organization based in the United Kingdom, have used xRM to develop its Player Management application, a solution for managing players, training schedules, diet and wellness programs, and injury prevention analysis.

“One big area of concern for a football club is the players, and people come to matches because they want to see good football,” said Lee Hoos, chief executive of the Leicester City Football Club. “In the interest of our fans and our players, we’ve used the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform platform to build applications that help flag warning signs by player to help them avoid preventable injuries. The flexibility of Microsoft Dynamics CRM has been invaluable to our business in many ways.”

In an innnovative use of CRM or rather XRM, Ignify deployed Microsoft Dynamics CRM for contract management for contracts with thousands of vendors for AVID Center – a nation-wide non-profit headquartered in San Diego, CA. AVID Center is also a user of Dynamics GP and showcases the convergence that customers are looking for between their ERP and CRM systems. By sticking with a single product family such as Microsoft Dynamics, customers can ensure they get seamless integration between their back office accounting/ inventory systems and front-office customer service and sales force automation systems.

Top Sage Partner Goes Out of Business – Leaves Hundreds in The Lurch

July 27th, 2009 Sandeep Walia No comments

Reflective of  how Sage ERP is doing in the market, the top Sage Partner goes out of business due to its bad financial state of affairs. Posted in CRN Magazine, Dallas-based MIS Group, formally Management Information Services Inc., suddenly ceased all business operations Monday, leaving a message on its Web site blaming the poor economy, tight credit and other “market circumstances” for its demise. “We were not aware that they were going to be ceasing their operations on July 6,” said Dennis Frahmann, Sage vice president of marketing, when asked in an interview whether the vendor had any warning MIS Group would be closing its doors. He acknowledged Sage had “some insight” into the state of MIS Group’s finances, but declined to say more. Makes me wonder – if this could happen to Sage’s largest partner, what about the many many other partners? (And their customers that have bought Sage ERP or plan to buy!)