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Microsoft has been busy these past two years. While whole swaths of virtual news space has been focused on Microsoft’s new operating system, tablet devices, and smartphone, the corporation’s business software unit, Microsoft Dynamics (microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics), has been improving its enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems (and customer relationship management system, but that’s another story). Of note to small- to mid-sized manufacturers are the improvements in the latest versions of Dynamics AX, GP, and NAV.
Why consider Dynamics ERP at all? Well, besides the roots of these ERP systems (see “A Microsoft Dynamics ERP Refresher”), there’s also the enticement that Dynamics applications are very Microsoft Office-like. This capability greatly shortens the learning curve. And there’s more.
Pick your cloud.
Microsoft eases the anxiety in moving to cloud computing. Dynamics ERP can be deployed conventionally (on-site/on-premise) or on the cloud (private, software-as-a-service, or public). An enterprise can even deploy a hybrid of both on-site and cloud computing depending on user roles and workloads. For instance, executive management might use the ERP on-site, a remote factory might use the ERP on a private cloud, and supply chain partners might use ERP on a public cloud. In all cases, it’s the same Dynamics ERP applications. Moreover, companies can move their ERP operations to the cloud and, if performance or pricing isn’t up to par, move ERP back on-site.
Up to its most recent version, Dynamics GP (for financial and operational management) had a web client called “Business Portal” for displaying GP information through a secure web portal. The new, eponymously named Web Client is basically the GP client application converted to web pages. It looks more like GP than the Business Portal, and it will work like most web pages from Microsoft—assuming Silverlight, Microsoft’s software platform for interactive Internet applications, is being used. Unfortunately, Silverlight doesn’t work on iPads or iPhones. Web Client will make GP implementation easier and faster because it does not require additional application software on users’ desktop computers.
Easier to use
Here’s an obvious change: The ribbon interface in Office 2010, with commands arranged in tabs and groups, replaces the Dynamics NAV Action Pane. (Users can customize the ribbon.) Other enhancements include the ability to attach documents relevant to specific transactions and master records, assign reason codes for stock movement, get updates when inventory is moved from bin to bin, and track serial and lot numbers for drop-ship purchase orders.
Other tweaks reduce the number of clicks to complete a task. For starters, users can copy rows directly from NAV to Excel—and vice versa. Better, NAV is becoming more Excel-like. For instance, NAV users no longer have to select-copy-paste just the lines on display, page down, then select-copy-paste the next batch of lines on display. Alternatively, they don’t have to press the Shift key while paging down. Instead, users can just click the top-left corner block and enter the range of lines they want selected—just like in Excel. AX 2012 goes further: It has integration with the entire Office 2010 suite.
Some of the new functions
NAV 2013 includes basic management for assembly operations not requiring much manufacturing per se. Users can set up assembly items to be assembled-to-order or to-stock, which typically depends on the amount of customization required to fulfill a customer order. Like production orders, assembly orders are internal orders for managing the assembly process and for connecting sales requirements with warehouse operations. However, assembly orders differ from other order types because they involve both output and consumption when posted.
For inventory management, NAV has three new views of item availability: by event, timeline, and bill of material (BOM) level. The availability-by-event window shows projected inventory figures by demand or supply, and it updates only when these change. The by-timeline window graphically shows an item’s projected inventory based on future supply and demand, including planning suggestions. The by-BOM-level window shows the number of parent items that can be made based on the availability of child items (lower-level items). Any item that has a BOM structure, assembly BOM, or production BOM is shown as a single, collapsed line. Think about the navigation pane in Windows File Explorer: Clicking on this single line expands to show the underlying components and any lower-level subassemblies with their own collapsed BOM structure.
NAV offers new options to control work-in-process (WIP) to supplement the five existing system-defined choices. For example, users can make a user-defined WIP method the default for the organization. Plus, there’s a new dashboard for WIP: Each line in the Job WIP Cockpit contains information about a job, including calculated and posted WIP. The dashboard has two windows: the upper part lets users calculate WIP, post WIP to general ledger, show warnings (with proper authorization, users can make adjustments), and review WIP, WIP general ledger entries, and job ledger entries; the lower part shows details about the calculated WIP for a job.
The pricing structure for GP and NAV is much simpler. The GP Starter Pack costs $5,000 for three users, additional users cost $3,000 each, and additional users with read-only access cost $600 each. For more functionality, there’s the Extended Pack for $10,000 (one-time fee). Then there’s the Customization Pack ($6,000), SmartList Builder Pack ($2,000), and Extended Human Resources & Payroll ($7,000). NAV just has the Starter and Extended packs for the same prices.
There are four ERP products from Microsoft Dynamics. Microsoft Dynamics AX (formerly Axapta) is typically for large, multinational enterprises. AX adds “prebuilt industry capabilities” (manufacturing and distribution are two of the five industries covered) to core ERP functions. Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly Great Plains), NAV (formerly Navision), and SL (formerly Solomon) are typically for small- to mid-sized enterprises. Microsoft Dynamics SL is primarily for the professional services industry. Microsoft Dynamics GP isn’t customizable, so it’s generally faster to implement. The product’s wealth of modules makes it as good as customizable. Microsoft Dynamics NAV is completely customizable, which makes it well suited to growing with an enterprise