What do we still manufacture in the UK?

Pop stars? Possibly. But Technology Management’s long list of Manufacturing customers is testament to the fact that Manufacturing in the UK is still big business. In fact Manufacturing output accounted for nearly 12% of GDP according to the office for national statistics in 2010, making it the third largest sector in the UK economy.

Manufacturing is of course a global enterprise but Technology Management’s home, the West Midlands was once known as “the Workshop of the World.” In the late 18th century the industrial revolution began in the UK and subsequently spread through Western Europe, North America, Japan and eventually the globe.

But just because we were there first doesn’t mean we’re the most successful. In 2011, the UN ranked the UK’s manufacturing output at number six, behind the US, China, Japan, Germany and Italy. As new economies grow, this position will slip and the UK won’t hold back the tide forever.

To compete on a global scale we have to do more with less, using finite resources intelligently and economically. Technology Management share this goal with our customers throughout the project lifecycle. The product I work with, Dynamics AX, has expanded its industry focus in recent years, but it has always had a deserved solid reputation in Manufacturing. Manufacturing capability was woven into the DNA of Dynamics AX from the beginning, but customers (and indeed consultants!) are often daunted by the breadth and depth of functionality on offer.

Over the coming weeks and months I will help the readers of this blog understand Dynamics AX manufacturing from end to end, covering the various approaches- Discrete, Process and LEAN and, the depth of functionality that is available with Dynamics AX2012. We’ll start with the basics, but I’ll move on to advanced setup pretty quickly- as that’s where Dynamics AX can help you manage your finite resources most effectively.

The aim of this series of posts is to show our customers the power and agility of AX and stimulate an informed conversation on applying AX to your business. Every manufacturing customer shares a few common processes, but all customers (and Dynamics implementations) are unique.  With this in mind you can always discuss specific applications by contacting us directly- where we can help you do more with less, using Dynamics AX.

Next week we’ll start with the fundamental building blocks (literally) of manufacturing- Bills of Materials, or BoMs.

DO MORE WITH LESS with Dynamics AX2012

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For those of you who haven't yet had the chance to see Microsoft Dynamics AX2012 in action, we're holding a "Do more with Less" event at our offices on Wednesday 14th December.

The session will cover the most significant new features in Dynamics AX2012 that will help you simplify your processes, manage compliance and boost your profits.

We'll squeeze in the following topics for this half-day event, but you'll also have the opportunity to ask us anything relating to Dynamics AX:

  • AX2012 – what's new?
  • Order processing
  • Suply chain management
  • Business intelligence & Reporting
  • Discussion topics:
    •  Upgrading to AX2012
    •  The new AX2012 licensing model

To register for the event, click here to be taken to our events website.

Our AX2012 top ten features #4: Case Management

With Dynamics AX2012, Microsoft are unveiling a simple and powerful new feature known as Case Management. Read about this in entry #4 of our top 10 features in AX2012.

AX2012

Now we’re down to the last four in our Dynamics AX top 10 and although AX2012 is now available, our countdown will coincide the AX2012 virtual launch on the 8th September.

With AX2012, Microsoft are unveiling a new feature known as Case Management.

A “Case” can be thought of as an issue that requires a resolution and almost all businesses can benefit from using Case Management in one way or another. Off the top of my head, here’s a few ideas:

  • Customer product inquiries
  • An internal IT support desk, where employees log issues with IT admin.
  • Customer’s reporting issues with your website
  • Expense audits
  • HRM processes such as onboarding, grievances and discipline
  • Health and Safety- accident reporting
  • Product quality control

Cases can be linked to customers, vendors and employees and are therefore located in the Home ‘module’ although they can also be created in the Enterprise portal. Once a case is created, a service level agreement (SLA) can be assigned. The case creator can then search through a list of existing knowledge articles to see if a similar case has already occurred. Each of the similar knowledge articles can be marked as helpful in resolving a problem.

Cases can be elevated to other employees and activities can be automatically created to follow up on the case until the case is resolved and closed. Before doing this however, a new knowledge article can be created to help with the resolution of future cases.

Using case management strategically in your business will help drive down costs through faster, simpler processes and will help you manage compliance and you may have notice that these are becoming central themes with Dynamics AX2012.

To see Case management in action, or to discuss how Case management can be used in your business please contact us via www.tecman.co.uk

 

Our AX2012 top ten features: #5 – Workflow

As part of Microsoft’s continued push to integrate Dynamics AX with other Microsoft products, AX2012 now includes a fully integrated, graphical workflow tool based on .NET Windows Workflow foundation.

AX2012 
 

As part of Microsoft's continued push to integrate Dynamics AX with their other products, AX2012 now includes a fully integrated, graphical workflow tool based on  Microsoft's .NET Windows Workflow foundation.  

At first glance, the main improvement users will notice is the incorporation of the workflow Designer.

Wf4 
 
  

This Visio- style workflow designer provides the user with a canvas onto which the workflow elements from a pre-defined template can be dragged and dropped. The properties of these elements can then be modified by business users to reflect the requirements of your real-world business process. For example, automatic actions, conditional and manual decisions, escalations, delegations, sub-workflows and much more can be defined in this simple, user-friendly interface.

Each user modification creates a new workflow version that can be activated and deactivated as required. These workflows can be copied, imported, exported and applied with different rules to different parts of the organisation.

 

So what's the business benefit?

Business processes evolve and change over time, and users can now make changes to workflows without requiring a developer. Workflow enables your users to prioritise their work and follow more consistent business processes.

The ability to model and apply consistent processes while prioritising work with lower development costs enables your business do more- with less. 

To learn more about AX2012 workflow, its technical capabilities and how we can help you build these for your business, click here to contact us.

 

 

 

Our AX2012 top ten features: #6 Excel data upload

A significant portion of Microsoft’s annual $9bn R&D spend goes into integrating their products. In post number 6 of our AX2012 top ten, see how easy it is to import data directly into Microsoft Dynamics AX using Microsoft Office Excel.

So what's new about using Excel to import data into AX? Haven't we had this option since the Axapta days?

Yes, but this involved the creation of templates in AX first, and importing anything remotely sizeable or complex typically required the writing of scripts.

Now this process is much simpler and definitely warrants an entry in our top ten.

As mentioned in entry number 9, of our AX2012 top ten, it is possible to pull AX data directly into Excel.

To push data back the other way- it's as simple as this:

1.    Open up Excel and click on the Microsoft Dynamics AX tab. Click "Connection" and check the legal entity you are connected to. Use the dropdown to change this if you wish.

Image 1 

2.    Click Add Data, select Tables and in the filter box, type the name of the table you want to populate. In this example we'll add a couple of customer groups by selecting the CustGroup table.

Image 3 

3. Drag and drop any other Customer group fields you wish to populate.

Image 4 

 4. Click the Design Mode button, to exit the design mode. Then click refresh if you wish to view existing data.

5. Enter data into the table, optionally using the Field Lookup button to view existing data in lookup tables. In this example, I've added customer group 50 and 60.

6. Click Publish Data to send this data to Dynamics AX.

Image 5 

 

 

 Image 6 

 

7. Let's switch over to AX to view the results

Image 7 
 

 Simples!

 

 

   

Our AX2012 top ten features: #7 Mutli-mode manufacturing

We continue the rundown of our favourite features in AX2012 with an overview of Manufacturing functionality.

AX2012 
 

Dynamics AX has always provided a powerful and flexible set of manufacturing features for customers who run a discrete manufacturing operation.

Manufacturing could be configured to manage something as simple as kitting a BoM with no routes, right through to advanced setups such as creating route networks and selecting work centres based on finite capacity, finite properties (e.g. red paint, blue paint) and even requirement based capabilities (e.g the CNC machine can perform a basic milling operation, but preferably use a lathe as it's cheaper).

These kind of features have always been great for Discrete manaufacturers. However Dynamics AX wasn't especially well regarded for its out of the box Process manufacturing capabilities. It is true that many "process type" manufacturing operations could be managed in a discrete solution by running a manufacturing process as a large batch, but customers with fairly simple requirements such as Catch weights, Reverse BoMs and a requirement to manage co- and by-products always had to find workarounds. 

In recent years, an excellent process manufacturing add-on solution came to market which solved many of these problems, but this came with additional costs, complexities and an increased time to ROI. In addition, if the company had adopted LEAN principles and wanted to use Dynamics AX to manage Kanbans for example, then a further add-on solution would be required.

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AX2012 Kanban scheduling 

In Dynamics AX2012 it is now possible to run discrete and process manufacturing in a single installation and in combination with LEAN manufacturing. Customers won't find themselves having to compromise on functionality and shoehorn themselves into a manufacturing ERP solution that provides most, but not all of their needs.

So regardless of the products you manufacture (or however you make them), you now have a solution in the form of the powerful simplicity of Dynamics AX and the Manufacturing knowledge and experience of Technology management.

 

 

 

Our AX2012 top ten new features: #8 AX via the web

We continue the tour of our favourite features in Dynamics  AX2012 with the Enterprise Portal.

For those of you that aren't familiar with Dynamics AX, Enterprise portal allows business data and logic to be accessed by users via a web browser.

For those of you that are familiar with AX, you may be thinking: "Hang on- is this really new? Hasn't this funcationality been a part of in AX in various guises since the year 2000?"

Well, yes- but now this funcationality has come of age, and definitely merits a mention in our AX2012 top 10

In ealier versions of AX, the enterprise portal only provided a lighweight method of accessing business data. The look and feel of the web interface was at odds with the user experience on the rich client. The benefit of mobile and remote access to AX had corresponding cost in terms of speed and usability.

Now with the Model driven layered architecture (MDLA) in AX2012, list pages of data (e.g. the Customer form) have an almost seamless look and feel whether the user is at their desk in the rich client or working with AX on the road via the web on a tablet.

To demonstrate this, view the two screenshots below- one is a view of the customer form in the rich client, the other is via the web.

So_ep 

So_rc 

I deliberately didn't label the images above- you can work out which is which for yourselves. You'll notice that the UI is amost the same. Users who work in the rich client can work with the web version in the same way (and vice-versa) without any additional training.

Any new list pages a can be built declaratively without writing new code, with the same model allowing the rendering of those pages via the rich client or the enterprise portal.

This means that any custom forms created forthe rich client can be deployed to the web with just a single click.

 

 

#9 of our AX2012 Top Ten: “DIY BI”

We contiune our countdown to general availability of AX2012 with a look at “self service business intelligence”.

AX2012 
 

We’ll continue Technology Management's countdown to the launch of AX2012 with a question:

    What’s the world’s favourite BI tool?

    Clue: Hit the windows key, type “exc” and hit enter.

Chances are that you’re already familiar with it, and have been for years. Your colleagues know it, and you can be fairly certain that anyone joining your business- even a school leaver is likely to be proficient.

So wouldn’t it be great if you could directly access your live ERP data from a Microsoft office Excel spreadsheet?

It's easy if your ERP system also happens to be from Microsoft. In a matter of seconds you can pull live data from AX into Excel and view, analyse and update information in AX without ever leaving your favourite BI tool.

Providing you have the necessary authority, you can help yourself to transactional data and use tools such as Powerpivot to drill down to what’s important.

You can then save the spreadsheet locally and because the link with Dynamics AX tables in maintained, you can refresh it with up to the minute data at any point in the future.

Microsoft even have a catchy, Monday morning friendly phrase for it: “Pervasive interoperability”. Meaning Microsoft software is already pervasive within your business, so perhaps a highly integrated (interoperable) Microsoft ERP system is the next logical step.

To see "DIY BI" in action, register for our AX2012 preview event on the 20th July.

 

Will it cost more to license AX2012 than earlier versions?

Will it cost more to license AX2012 than earlier versions? If it does cost more, should you be preoccupied with a figure that comprises just one part of your overall ERP budget?

AX2012 
That is the question we’re all asking at the moment. We won’t have a definitive answer until later in July when Microsoft release their new pricing information. Anyone claiming to know the answer is either speculating, or breaking an NDA they've signed- both of which are ill advised.

Yet it would be reasonable to assume that the most powerful and usable release of AX to date (with over 1,200 new features) will come at a premium over previous releases.

However licensing only comprises a portion of the overall cost of an ERP system and one should consider the total costs of ownership when comparing AX2012 with AX2009- or the upper mid-market competition.

Microsoft have invested a significant amount of their vast R&D budget into scrutinising and simplifying business processes, overhauling the installation process and lowering development costs and risk- thereby reducing the “time to value”- i.e. the time when your investment in Microsoft Dynamics AX starts to pay for itself. With this in mind Dynamics AX2012 will be more cost effective than ever- despite our predictions about increasing licence cost.

However some of the wiliest customers may wish to have their cake and eat it: Taking advantage of a late deal on an AX2009 license, with a view to making an “upgrade” to AX2012 may prove to be a very shrewd decision.

 

Our top ten new features in Dynamics AX2012: #10 Date effectivity.

With approximately ten weeks to go until Dynamics AX 2012 becomes generally available, we’ll countdown our top 10 new features from the 1,200 exciting enhancements available in AX 2012. We’ve had some difficulty in boiling down such a huge list of features to the ones we think will benefit our customers the most, but I’ll kick things off at number 10 with a very powerful feature known as date effectivity.

Wouldn’t it be great to travel backwards (and forwards) in time through your business data? Tracking revisions and corrections to pricing, customer information, machine capacity, safety stock, emergency contact information and almost anything you can think of?

 Back-to-the-future

Great Scott!

Although there were isolated examples of date effective tables and forms in AX2009 and earlier versions, AX developers didn’t have the facility of a consistent, system wide approach when modelling date effectivity. Dynamics AX2012 now allows almost any table and form to be configured with date effective properties; whether this results in the tracking of a single piece of reference data, a collection of data, or a changing relationship between two data entities, for example an employee’s promotion history through various positions in your organisation.

In summary, date effectivity provides a powerful new framework for modelling changes to your data through time.

Continued