has announced updates to various versions of its Microsoft Dynamics family. The updated ERP solution, Dynamics AX 2012 R3, includes a new end-to-end apps and services framework and a do-it-yourself apps creation tool.
The announcements are being made at the Microsoft Dynamics Convergence 2014 conference taking place this week in Atlanta. The AX release is schedule for May 1 in both the on-premises and Azure versions.
The end-to-end, free apps and services framework will allow enterprises to create and distribute Dynamics-supported apps for devices and specific use cases. It allows companies to securely connect custom apps beyond the firewall using Dynamics AX, Windows Azure as the cloud and identity provider Microsoft ADFS. Separate middleware is not required.
As an example of new touch-based apps for Dynamics, the company announced it is releasing a special-case app that allows machine operators to report progress on production jobs with any touch-enabled Windows device. A Dynamics-connected app allowing truck drivers to optimize their routes and stops is expected to be shown at the conference, and an app presenting pay-stub info for Windows Phone devices will become available soon.
Microsoft is also introducing and demonstrating a beta version of its Project Siena framework. On its Inside Microsoft Dynamics AX blog, the company's Jaci Robbins posted Tuesday that the downloadable Siena app "is for business experts, business analysts, consultants and other business users to conceive apps for today's mobile devices -- no coding required."
Robbins said that users, with nothing more than PowerPoint- and Excel-level skills, can create powerful new apps in minutes. Data sources can include Excel files, Representational State Transfer (REST), RSS feeds, SharePoint and Azure Mobile services.
The updated Dynamics Lifecycle Services, as part of maintenance plans, will provide new options for servicing and supporting organizations in various environments, including new capabilities for monitoring the performance of systems.
Microsoft also announced new marketing automation capabilities, as well as Social Listening and a Unified Service Desk for customer care, in the coming release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, scheduled for second quarter. These new functions will draw on the capabilities Microsoft acquired when it bought MarketingPilot, Parature and NetBreeze.
The coming release of the mid-market resource planning package Dynamics GP, also expected in second quarter, will have new identity management and workflow functions, and the updated Dynamics NAV, out in fourth quarter, will have new mobile capabilities.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, told us Microsoft "is providing more granular capabilities at the same time it's offering more management capabilities." She also pointed to the need for ease-of-use even as functions expand, such as what the company is promising for Project Siena.
Some Microsoft-watchers are noting that Dynamics products have often been customized for customer needs through channel partners, and these new steps mean that Microsoft will now be more involved in providing tools for customization.