Microsoft announces Dynamics AX to retail midyear

Microsoft unveiled a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution at the National Retail Federation's Annual Convention & Expo, which is happening this week in New York City.

On Monday, the company described "Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail" and how it can help an industry currently reeling from a depressed economy. Microsoft's main selling point to retailers is that Dynamics AX for Retail integrates with the Microsoft solution stack while supporting merchandising, point-of-sale, store management and supply-chain functions for vertical industries.

Dynamics AX for Retail includes intellectual property that Microsoft acquired from LS Retail EHF and To-Increase Denmark A/S, which was announced in September, according to Kees Hertogh, director of product management for Microsoft Dynamics AX. Hertogh also noted that Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail integrates with Microsoft's SharePoint, Office, SQL Server and Windows 7 products.

The native business intelligence capabilities of SQL Server are used directly in Dynamics AX, Hertogh said. Dynamics AX also taps directly into the workflow engines used in Windows 7, he added. In addition, the product offers a familiar user experience through the Office interface.

"Increasingly, the line between Office and ERP and a retail application – from a user experience perspective – is being blurred and it becomes much easier for customers, and specifically users, to be more productive in using these applications," Hertogh explained. Retail data also can be accessed through Excel, he added.

Currently, all Dynamics products work with Windows 7 "as a matter of policy and to the benefit of our customers," according to Crispin Read, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics ERP.

Collaboration is enabled in Dynamics AX due to Microsoft's commitment to support strong unified communications capabilities in the product, Hertogh added. It supports retailers by enabling collaboration with suppliers.

Dynamics AX, which Microsoft markets toward midsize companies, is one of four ERP products offered by Microsoft. Dynamics AX and Dynamics NAV are both available worldwide, while Dynamics GP and Dynamics SL are more focused toward the North American market, according to Read. Microsoft's main Dynamics ERP competitors include Oracle, Sage Software and SAP. For customization to meet vertical integration needs, Microsoft typically relies on the support of its partner community.

Two companies have been using Dynamics AX for Retail so far, although the product hasn't been generally released. Those companies include HDS Retail and U.S.-based retailer Swiss Farm. Microsoft plans to make Dynamics AX for Retail available in 16 countries, including the United States, in "the summer of 2010," according to an announcement issued by Microsoft. Other markets will follow thereafter.

Microsoft offers two services for the retail space that will work with Dynamics AX for Retail. One of them, called "Payment Service," lets users process transactions using payment-processing service providers. That service is currently available. The other service, "Commerce Service," will support shopping cart functionality, linking Dynamics AX for Retail with e-commerce Web sites. Commerce Service is expected to be "generally available in the first half of 2010," according to Microsoft's announcement.

"What we've done with the Commerce Service is that we didn't want to build complete e-commerce solutions for our customers because there are many partners out there who can do that," Read said. "But what we did want to provide is the core infrastructure for that – taking a shopping basket and having it automatically connect back into the ERP system."

Microsoft may charge extra to use those services with Dynamics AX for Retail, but the details haven't been announced yet.

"Pricing [for those services] is going to be announced a bit later – more like June," Read said.

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