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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Creating a BI Solution for your company with Microsoft Dynamics AX

With the release of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009, the BI capabilities of Dynamics AX really jumped in way of ahead of what you could do before the release. With AX 6.0 coming out next year, this is going to only be expanded upon. With that, you can use Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 now to create compiling BI solutions for your company.

With Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009, the driving factor of BI is actually focused around Role Centers. I think it’s important to understand Microsoft’s vision for Role Centers, and it’s purpose in Dynamics AX, so that you can truly build your company’s BI experience.

Role Centers for Dynamics AX are meant to be the delivery method for the user experience. The idea, is that Role Centers deliver to a given user type or “role” the needed reports, information and links to common forms that help the given user type complete their task(s) within the scope contained of your company’s Dynamics AX investment.

Now I think it’s really important to understand the word usage here. It’s meant to “deliver” a given roles needs from within Dynamics AX. Before, with earlier versions, the workflow for tasks was for a given user to launch Dynamics AX, go to the needed menu, navigate to the forms, reports, etc. to do their given task.

So in versions before Dynamics AX 2009, a user would “go to” the given reports, forms, and other elements within Dynamics AX. This is key to understanding Microsoft’s vision for BI and Role Centers inside Dynamics AX.

Role Centers then, are meant to be how the user experience is delivered to a given role. This, by nature, helps increase productivity and efficiency of a given user role, for performing their needed task, or acting on displayed data for important business decisions.

Now that we have this base understand of the vision and purpose of Role Centers, lets bring back into focus the title of this post, ‘creating a BI solution for your company with Microsoft Dynamics AX’.

With Role Centers as the focused delivery method for delivering the user experience, and keeping with this same thoughts process, then BI elements should be developed and made a part of the roles that make up your companies Role Centers.

So how do you go about doing this? Well like any other module in Dynamics AX, Role Centers should first be setup, configured, deployed. Then from this point, discovery and gap analysis should be performed to determine which roles your company has.

From there, each role should go through its own discovery and gap analysis process, where each role for your company is compared to the ‘out of the box’ role that closely matches the role at hand. The outcome, or deliverable, for this process should be the creation of a scope document(s). These documents should lay out the BI elements needed to enable the role to be a valid, productive, user experience that delivers the roles needs to those assigned to it within Dynamics AX.
Once these scope documents are created, tasks can start being assigned. At this point, you have a lot of options to achieve the scope items for creating the roles for your company.

You can use the Dynamics Reporting Template for Visual Studio 2008 to create SSRS reports that are targeted and used in web parts for display transactional or analytical data. You can create pie, bar or line graphs used to show key metrics. You can use OLAP cube properties like KPI, to delivery dimension based data for viewing and working from. Task list, Cues, Links, and enterprise portal forms to deliver a complete role user experience.

This is all focusing on the platform delivered options for creating roles, and delivering a company BI solution, that pushes information to your users, vs. your users having to go and find the information.

There is also a lot more that can be done from the role center development aspect. This includes having MOSS, or Microsoft Office SharePoint Server. Keep in mind; this is different than the free WSS, or Windows SharePoint Services offerings that can be used.

When MOSS is used, this opens up the possibility for having Excel Services, and Excel Web Parts to exists as BI elements for your Role Center pages. You can also take advantage of PerformancePoint Services for SharePoint to create dashboards, which make use of Dynamics AX data, and are loaded as part of Role Center experiences.

Going beyond MOSS, you may even take advantage of RIA, or Rich Interactive Application Web Parts built with Silverlight or Flash. This can deliver high end, dynamic web parts that feed from multiple locations into published services that expose Dynamics AX business logic and data.

Moving beyond this, you also have the option to work with one of the many different ISV offerings for BI, like TARGIT BI Suite, iQ4biz, Atlas, etc. Basically any ISV BI offering that can connect to Dynamics AX through the Application Layer or that Dynamics AX can push data to, and that can publish it’s elements as SharePoint web parts for rendering on a Role Center page.

When looking at building a BI solution for your company, with Dynamics AX as your ERP platform, BI is no longer a separate project that happens as a later phase. Now BI is very much a part of a given Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP implementation project, and should be considered as such.

With Microsoft’s continued efforts, and vision for delivering needed BI elements to users, your investment with Microsoft Dynamics AX can help you and your company be more productive, more efficient, and more Dynamic!

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