The latest version of Microsoft's ERP (enterprise resource planning) software for upper-midmarket customers is now generally available, Microsoft announced Monday.
Major new components of Dynamics AX 2009 include a centralized "compliance center" that Microsoft has characterized as a "one-stop shop" for compliance-related information, and "self-service" BI (business intelligence), which enables users to access KPIs (key performance indicators) directly from the client.
"We're really trying to bring BI to the masses," said Kees Hertogh, director of product management.
Also, a workflow engine allows users to set internal rules around common processes, such as setting the maximum cost of a hotel room reimbursement on an employee's expense sheet, Hertogh explained during a product demo.
In addition, the release features a series of role-based interfaces, which present different views of information depending on a user's job; and support for complying with legal regulations in 36 countries.
Overall, the look and feel of the software -- as well as the rest of the Dynamics line -- evokes Microsoft Office. The company is seeking to blur the line "between the Office and ERP experience," Hertogh said.
But one thing Microsoft is not looking to change, at least for now, is the way it sells the product.
While the company recently launched an on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) application, it has no similar plans to announce for Dynamics AX, and it will continue to be sold through partners, according to Hertogh.
The AX 2009 release will be available in Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the U.K. and the U.S., according to the company.
Notable omissions from the list are the emerging economic superpowers, China and Russia.
Support for those countries and others will come in either a second release wave later this year, or in a third scheduled for early 2009, according to Hertogh.
A recent Forrester Research report on Dynamics called AX "Microsoft's enterprise play for the future," but noted that Microsoft will have to beef up supporting capabilities such as human resources and MDM (master data management) before it can "move to larger enterprises with full-suite requirements."
But in the meantime, there is still opportunity for it to land business in the biggest companies, said Ray Wang, one of the report's authors.
"People are really looking at alternatives right now, especially as they go through this [ERP] upgrade cycle," Wang said. "We've had big oil and gas companies come to us and say, 'Hey, can we run Dynamics in our subsidiaries?' "
However, Microsoft will have to compete for those seats with the likes of Workday, Epicor and a host of other competitors, he noted.