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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Interview with Microsoft's Lachlan Cash on his new role, AX 2012 and more

While at Conv11 I had the chance to sit down with Microsoft's Lachlan Cash. You may recall Lachlan, as he is very active while at Convergence, helping with the keynotes, doing demo's, and also has been on my blog a few times before. (Interview with Microsoft's Lachlan Cash about Dynamics AX Technical Conference)

This time, I sat down with Lachlan to review a lot of different things, including is move from the Microsoft Dynamics AX Product Team, to becoming a AX Solution Architect working with Sri and Hal Howards R&D teams.

The following is the result of that interview.:

Q1: Lachlan, you recently moved from the AX Product team, to Hal Howards Dynamics Research group. Can you tell us a little bit about this new position, and your influence over AX in this new role?

Lachlan: "Making the move from the Product team, to Hal Howards group, and specifically Sri’s Solutions Architect team, put my focus more on the sales process, as well with implementations for Microsoft Dynamics AX.

In this new role, I will focus on helping fill a need that has been identified with helping with sales support questions from a total Solutions Architecture point of view. This includes working with larger implementations of AX, and driving value helping the total solution for a customer scale.

One of the business values, from this new role, and how that influences AX in general will be around creating lessons learned, which in turn help with the partner channel around readiness efforts.

In my new role then, I focus on more of the execution side for helping deliver Microsoft Dynamics AX implementations, through our Partner Channel, and how the functional depth and use of AX fits into the overall total solution package for a given customer.

As part of this, the R&D team can also take what we learn through helping with customers scale and complete their total solution, and if you will – drive backwards through the R&D, and therefore product development to help shape a better and better ERP platform that is Microsoft Dynamics AX."

Q2: Now that Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 is in public beta, can you talk to the power of things, like the workflow engine & designer, and it’s impact on such ERP project task, like business process modeling?

Lachlan: "The goal with such items, as the workflow engine is to address the need to bridge the gap between development vs. business process modeling. To take and drive true BP workflows, down to the end user level.

With this in mind, Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 is really the first true step in this direction. We started the foundation for this concept in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009, but really built upon on it AX 2012. Now that we host the Microsoft .Net Workflow engine, and Visual Studio Workflow designer, the gap between the developer world and business process modeling world has gotten a lot smaller.

Take for example, now with workflow in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, you can nest workflows, and have workflow logic that calls upon other workflows. This is truly an empowering step towards a business process modeling world, that leads to a more dynamic and agile ERP platform.

Looking at this from a long term view, the idea would be eventually to drive system configuration away from so much code and parameters, and to more domain specific design, and even language to complete the configuration of a Dynamics AX instance.

The underlying design theme, then is taking and setting up AX, so that this move to decouple modules and sequential code, into more business model concepts then enables in the future the ability to have this ‘lego block’ approach to deploying and even customizing Microsoft Dynamics AX.

Lets look at a real world example, of this decoupling that has already taking a positive affect in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012. If you look at the new structure and design for the infinite financial dimensions, we have a great story here. In Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 and before, some code and parameters had to be adjust in order to add a new financial dimension. Now in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, no code or parameters are needed. You model your financial dimensions as needed, and the work load is a business user, vs a technical need.

Another great example of this same decoupling, or abstraction that we are doing is the separation of the Inventory dimensions. Before Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, we had a very tightly created design around inventory dimensions that mixed item attributes along with storage and tracking information. Now we have split these, decoupled them, in a fashion to where the Item Attributes, live abstract from the tracking dimensions, which also both live in an abstract manor, separate from storage dimension.

As we move forward with the development of Microsoft Dynamics AX, more and more of this decoupling will take place, which will help empower and enable customers that choose it as their ERP platform."

Q3: Lachlan, with this new vision, for performing business process modeling via the workflow designer, how much ISV development and also AX 2012 out-of-the-box will be setup using this new approach?

Lachlan: "Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 represents the first step in this direction. With that, we are still not completely at the point in which true business modeling is mostly done with the workflow designer, and with domain specific components.

For ISV’s, there exists however a new place in which they can deliver their vertical specific expertise through the creation of workflows, and business modeling elements in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012. In doing so, they would be setting themselves for future releases of Microsoft Dynamics that will use this approach.

For Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, out-of-the-box business process modeling workflows still reside mostly around the procurement, and procurement templates. However, these are great examples, and a lot more depth than what came out of the box in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009. From these templates, a customer, or ISV can use, to help them create their own templates that govern other processes.

With regard to the out-of-the-box nature, for business process workflow templates, Microsoft’s focus is and will be around the horizontal needs, which include the five focused industry sectors that will be apart of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 and beyond. This means, as I stated earlier, that there is a lot of room for ISV’s to bring their vertical expertise to the table with what now exists in the workflow elements."

Q4: Lachlan, as part of the Microsoft Convergence 2011 keynote, Kiril made the official announcement for Microsoft Dynamics ERP Online. As part of that announcement, it was officially released that Microsoft Dynamics AX version 7 will be built for the cloud first. For the Azure PaaS offering. Care to give a little insight on this?

Lachlan: "When looking at the cloud offering, what Microsoft Dynamics AX version 7, or vNext, will offer is around scale as well as flexibility. The idea that is driven us, is around that enabling flexibility and choice to our customers.

Some customers will want to be 100% cloud based, however what we are seeing mostly is customers that will want to live in a hybrid cloud mode. Where parts of their solution will exists in the cloud, while other parts will still exists on-premise.

The architectural changes you now see in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, with the decoupling, unified natural models, abstraction, the move to more .Net all help line up Microsoft Dynamics AX to help offer this eventual true choice for customers.

It is true, that Microsoft Dynamics AX version 7 is being built for the cloud first, however the same code base and offering can still run 100% on-premise, or in a hybrid mode, as well as the partner hosted model that we see geared up now for the Microsoft Dynamics AX cloud story.

The choice is what separates Microsoft Dynamics from the rest of the pack in this regard."

Well I would like to take the time and thank Lachlan for sitting down with me. It's always a pleasure!

As you can see, Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 represent true generational shift in the ERP landscape. This includes Microsoft Dynamics Cloud ERP offering, and driving to Microsoft Dynamics AX 7, which will be built for the cloud first.

I agree with Lachlan, that, Microsoft Dynamics flexbility and being designed so the customer has a choice in how and what is running in the cloud and not, helps separate it from the rest of the pack! You can read more on my take for Microsoft Dynamics Cloud Vision here: A Guide to Microsft Dynamics Cloud ERP - Dynamics AX

That's all for now, but check back soon as more to come. Till next time!

"Visit the Dynamics AX Community Page today!"

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Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this! Always interested in Lachlan's insights.

2:47 PM  

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