The New Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail: Streamlined Deployment, Richer Multichannel Experience

June 3 2016

Retailers will find that the new Microsoft Dynamics AX features a number of changes and improvements over Dynamics AX 2012 that are of specific interest to them.

Rachel Profitt, director of the RSM Technology Academy with RSM US, a provider of audit, tax and consulting services for middle market organizations, provided an in-depth overview of those changes in a recent webinar, What's New in the New AX: What's New Retail for AXUG. She also spoke with MSDynamicsWorld.com.

Some of the changes introduced with the new Dynamics AX occur within the AX Retail and Commerce Module, while others involve the architecture and topology of AX (see figure). "Dynamics AX is now cloud-based, and hosted and deployed through Azure using the Lifecycle Services (LCS) tool set," Profitt says. That streamlines many functions, including a number of specific to retailing.

The previous version, Dynamics AX 2012, had "a lot more components, pieces, parts and connections," Profitt says. Each store location required a physical server connecting it to the company's headquarters.

With the new Dynamics AX, retailers no longer need to install a server at each site. Instead, a retail server communicates across a chain of stores. "It's much easier to get new stores up and running," Profitt says.

Another shift is the move to a single database. It used to be that each store within a chain would have its own retail database, along with a database at the company's headquarters. "Now, all stores feed one database," Profitt says.

Contained within the database are sets of tables for back office functions, as well as one for each of the stores. These will show the registers, loyalty programs, and other information associated with that location.

The streamlined setup boosts performance, Profitt says. The large amounts of data that used to have to move back and forth between the stores and headquarters under the old configuration dramatically slowed run time.

A mature, native multichannel experience

Another shift involves Dynamics AX's accommodations for multi-channel retailers. While Microsoft began to address the needs of multichannel retailers with Dynamics AX 2012 R3, they've added more features to the new Dynamics AX, Profitt says. For instance, it's easier to manage loyalty programs across channels. Customers can sign up for programs in the store and then use them online. "Because everything is done in one database," Profitt says, "customers get the same experience in all channels." And retailers don't have to worry about multiple integrations.

Another improvement concerns gift certificates, which are now applied in real time, cutting the risk that a customer can use a certificate online and then immediately submit the same for a brick-and-mortar store.

The role centers previously used are gone, and have been replaced with workspaces for the following functions:

  • Category and product management
  • Price and discount management
  • Catalog management
  • Channel deployment
  • Retail store management
  • Retail store financials
  • Retail IT

The workspaces are easier to deploy than the role centers were. "You don't have to install a lot of extra stuff to make them available," Profitt says. They also contain greater functionality; for example, a user working in the AP invoices space can click a button to create an invoice. In the previous setup, creating an invoice would have required moving to other screens. "The previous role centers were more like inquiry screens," she says.

The process of migrating data from other systems to AX also has been streamlined and automated, Profitt says. "It's more user-friendly and easier for developers to modify the templates." The templates can be used to import files and bring up new stores, previously a more manual process.

Dynamics AX's reporting capabilities have been beefed up, Profitt notes, and it now offers more than 30 back-office reports and 10 channel-side reports. Reports also are easier to develop and create, she adds. "A business analyst who can build pivot tables can easily use it."

The new Dynamics AX has an online marketplace - essentially an app store - that's accessible from inside the Lifecycle Services. As of late May, it had several dozen ISV solutions available, including ones for EDI and sales taxes. 

Down the Road

Because the new Dynamics AX was released within the past several months, some of its features are yet to come, Profitt says, including private cloud setups as well as an on-premise solution. These should address some companies' concerns about using public clouds for sensitive transactions and information. 

An upgrade tool set also will be available later. Without this, customers currently running Dynamics AX 2012 can only manually upgrade to the new Dynamics AX. "It doesn't mean you can't upgrade to now, but you can't do it automatically," Profitt says. 

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About Karen Kroll

Karen Kroll is a freelance writer and editor, focusing on money and business, along with corporate and consumer finance. 

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