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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Interview with Microsoft's Kees Hertogh

While at Convergence 2010 this year, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Kees Hertogh, Director, Product Management, Microsoft Dynamics AX, and talk about a lot of different topics around AX that are important to the Customer and Partner level.

The following is the result of that interview.:

Q: In your position Kees, how is Microsoft research and innovation across the rest of the stack evaluated for use to help solve business domain issues in the Dynamics AX product?

Kees: “When we look at the innovation and research being done across the Microsoft stack, as a whole, we look at technologies, to see what makes sense for solving business issues.

Take unified communications for example. If you look at UC separately, the parts that make up UC, like IM, presence, social aspects, etc. These are all interesting technologies, but when some businesses look at these separately they could be considered, or have been considered distractions.

If we bring these technologies, this unified communications umbrella, into the realm of Dynamics AX, then we can start to see how these separate technologies form a valid use for increasing productivity, they become productive elements, for the context of a given users work.

We can see how these technologies then enable true collaboration, in the context of work, and help drive context aware business software.

Moving on to the stack level, let’s look at the SQL Team for example. We, the Dynamics AX team at Microsoft, are an internal customer to the SQL Team. They treat us as such, and therefore we work closely with them to help make SQL Server tuned specifically for the needs of the Dynamics ERP line, including Dynamics AX. Because of this close relationship we have, the leveraged research done on SQL Server is used to help push Dynamics AX to a better product overall.

This is true, as well for the rest of the stack, including .NET Teams, Office Teams., etc. Since we can work this close, all the research that goes into these other stack products, can be leveraged, down to the Windows OS level, and all the way back up the stack.

Something that helps enable this, are people like Microsoft Distinguished Engineer, Mike Ehrenberg. In his role, he helps facilitate and ensure products like Dynamics AX are leveraging and making use of the other Microsoft products, so that customers get the full benefits of what all those other technologies can do to help Dynamics AX continue to be a market leader in the ERP space.”

Q: Continuing on this topic, how does your team stay focused on current AX Technology, while also focusing on the need for ramp up of skills sets for upcoming technology? Also what you recommend for customers and partners to help balance this need as well? For execution, planning and vision?

Kees: “The way our team stays focused is by investing in readiness and documentation for customers and partners. The output of this, is how our team trains, and also will be how customers and partners alike will gain needed information. The medium for delivery of content targeted at the Developer community is the AX Developers center on MSDN. We are investing a lot of time on documentation.

We saw this effort really starting in Dynamics AX 4.0, and now in Dynamics AX 2009, a wealth of information exists on MSDN. With Dynamics AX ‘6’, and beyond, documentation, along with video’s, walk-through’s, etc. will exist and be delivered on a timely manner, targeted in a role specific way.

For example ISV’s need specific access to early documentation that is different than other types of Microsoft Partners. Also, on the role specific focus of training and documentation, there were no longer be a sense of second and first class citizens. Product Information, both functional and technical, will be published to MSDN and CustomerSource. Now, still there will be specific marketing information targeted to Partner Roles that will only be available on PartnerSoruce, that do not apply to customer roles. Again role specific being the focus and target of information, delivered in a timely fashion.

Moving forward with this, and looking at vision, the statement of direction (SOD) for Dynamics AX is the best place to keep current on soon to be released technical aspects, as well as future looking vision. This is not a marketing tool, but a true guideline that we follow. It’s updated every six months, and the six months timeline is the most concrete set of times and delivery around technology, functionality and use. The further out you look with the SOD, the higher the level of focus gets. As time passes, those area’s that were listed with general information, start to get filled in with more and more specifics.”

Q: For Dynamics AX vNext, and beyond what are some important skill sets that customers and partners should be investing in, to best align themselves with Microsoft’s vision for Dynamics AX ?

Kees: “As talked about at Convergence, ‘The Cloud’ is going to be a big focus now and in the not to distant future. Look at the example for product compliance, where our partner Atrion will offer content for global product compliancy in regulated environments through ‘the cloud’ and integrate directly with a customer MS Dynamics AX implementation. In this we show off how the cloud is solving a problem that is hard to solve otherwise, providing compliancy information which is subject to frequent change aggregated through the cloud and delivered in a more timely manner, directly integrated in the customers’ business processes. That’s the point of how the cloud has focus for a skill set that should be invested in by both customers and partners.

The idea of the cloud is not just about the technology, but the business case of why? What business domain problem does it solve, or can it solve? That’s the driving factors for what the current cloud offerings are, and the driving force for the cloud offerings in the future.

For Partners, along with staying up on the latest technology trends, the focus should actually be to have industry focus. Be experts in specific verticals, and do not try to be a generalist. Focusing in on, for example Retail, which is a very vertically focused area. Doing such investments will be of great benefit for partners, and help the Dynamics AX partners fit with the Vision Microsoft has of the future with Dynamics AX.”

Q: How much of an impact will model driven development, with SQL Server Modeling and WF Designer, have on future releases of Microsoft Dynamics AX?

Kees: “ When we speak in terms of models, for Dynamics AX there will be two focuses. One the aspect of Model Driven Development, in which SQL Server Modeling will serve a key role in enabling. This is focused around the development of custom code, and modules, and therefore focused more at the technical side of things.

The second area of model development, is business process models. This is driven with WF, and the WF designer within Dynamics AX of the future. This is a quest a lot of people have been at for years. For business software, like Dynamics AX, it’s never really been successfully deployed. The way we are going about model driven development, we realize that you can’t ever get rid of the need for code creation.

The idea is going to be, for empowering businesses, partners and users to map the workflows of their business process, and in the creation of those maps, actually build out the execution of the processes themselves.

Therefore, model driven development and business process modeling, are not an end points we are trying to reach. It is a continuum that will grow and grow as more and more releases of Dynamics AX take place. Also, this is not going to be a big flip of the switch either. The next versions of Dynamics AX will be planned steps into enabling model driven development & business process modeling, for allowing businesses to speak in their own domain specific languages, to address their business domain problems.

The focus for the upcoming versions of AX, in the business process modeling area will be around putting methodology into business workflows, and mapping workflows to actual business processes. For sure I want to make it should be clearly understood that this is a gradual move, with the idea of enabling flexibility, to increase the speed of go lives, to decrease upgrade headaches, and to help enable our customers to be truly dynamic.”

Q: If you could talk with customers and partners about one trend with technology that will offer a vast improvement in AX of the future, what would that be?

Kees: “There are many great things taking place for the future of Dynamics AX, but one area I think will help really improve productivity, therefore offer a vast improvement in the sense of the question, will be around context aware BI.

When you think about traditional BI, what we have seen is a handful of people at a given company having access to BI base data and reporting. With context aware BI, we will enable the software to become more task aware, in the context of the user and their role in the system. That means, for the purchaser, or shop floor manager, the information that they need, will start coming to them, instead of them having to find it.

You can take the example done during the keynote speech for Convergence this year, showing off how UC, works with Dynamics ERP. In that demo, we saw a quality control issue. A company purchaser was made aware of the quality issue, saw through presence that the vendor for that given issue was online. He then started a video chat session from within Dynamics, to find out more information. While looking at the options for that vendor the most common functions done typically for that vendor, by the given user showed up. The top function, or creating a return order was highlighted and used."

This is a good example of context aware being used to help productivity, and context aware data, or BI focuses for the future.”

Closing Statement from Kees Hertogh.:
"Microsoft will continue to invest in delivering innovation for our customers and partners through the execution of our roadmap. However, since the launch of MS Dynamics AX 2009, I’ve seen a slew of examples where customers implementing this release where able to achieve concrete business benefit by increasing their ERP footprint in their organization and dramatic growth in productivity. I would urge our customers to continue to look at opportunities available today with MS Dynamics AX2009 to help them achieve their business goals."

I would like to thank Mr. Kees Hertogh for taking the time to sit down and talk about Dynamics AX, including Dynamics AX of the future. I look forward to future interviews with Kees, and the rest of his team at Microsoft!

That's all for now, and I will leave you with Kees' bio.:

Kees Hertogh is a director for Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS). He leads the Microsoft Dynamics AX Global Product Management team. In his current role, Hertogh is responsible for developing and driving global product strategy for Microsoft Dynamics AX.

In 1999, Hertogh joined Navision a/s, which was later acquired by Microsoft Corp. Before leading the product management for Microsoft Dynamics AX, he worked in the Microsoft Business Solutions marketing strategy group as director of the group’s competitive strategy, and before that he was a group product manager on Project Green. Before joining Microsoft, he held the position of product director on the MBS management team at Microsoft Netherlands, and was responsible for local product strategy and the local product management and development teams.

Hertogh has a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus on management accounting from Haarlem Business School in the Netherlands. He also achieved Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) status from the Association for Operations Management (APICS).

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Anonymous Dilip said...

Hey Brandon, Great post!! I have pasted the highlights of the interview on my blog http://daxdilip.blogspot.com/2010/06/peek-into-future-of-dynamics-ax-with.html

11:12 PM  

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