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Microsoft Delivers Dynamics AX, Deploys In XBox Division

Dynamics AX 4.0 sports new features from radio frequency identification technology to Web services, and the upgrade offers tighter integration and automation with outsourcing partners.

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Dynamics AX 4.0 sports new features from radio frequency identification technology to Web services. The upgrade offers tighter integration and automation with outsourcing partners, such as assembly and contract manufacturers. Companies also can tie into suppliers that source parts for electronic components or textiles.

Enhanced code features, such as double-bit characters that meet requirements for the Asia-Pacific region, are essential to play in the global market. But analysts note the significance of the Microsoft Entertainment and Devices Division choosing Dynamics AX 4.0, vs. enterprise software from SAP AG or Oracle Corp.

The XBox 360 implementation isn't simply about Dynamics AX, rather an example of how Microsoft can provide support across its technology stack, according to Nigel Montgomery, European research director at AMR Research Inc. "Certainly the Xbox team needed real-time visibility of its own facilities, plus manufacturing planning and coordination," he said. "It also needed integration between systems, primarily SAP/R3 and Axapta, and those of other partners in the supply network, including contract manufacturers."

The move fits nicely into Microsoft's enterprise software strategy. That means penetrating subsidiaries at global multibillion dollar corporations that may run an enterprise software package geared toward a smaller company and integrating it with a package geared toward the entire company. "It's all about eating your own dog food," said Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting. "This deployment is highly strategic for Microsoft, and it's a good indication the XBox division has complete confidence in Dynamics."

Tighter integration with assembly and contract manufacturers, such as Flextronics International Ltd., and companies sourcing semiconductors and other electronic components built into the XBox, appears to have sealed XBox division the deal.

Ray Wang senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. said an important piece to the platform for those companies outsourcing manufacturing is the alerts features. "Notifications and triggers are set based on data-collection parameters," he said. "If I have a raw material shipment that is running late, I can get notifications that I didn't have before and back-office personnel can now schedule these."

Microsoft will receive alerts from manufacturing and testing partners throughout the assembly process. As products are finished, for example, the contract manufacturer sends a notification through BizTalk to Microsoft that the XBoxes have shipped to the testing facility, a step in the processes before the consoles reaches retail stores, such as Wal-Mart Store Inc.

Last week, Microsoft laid out a roadmap for BizTalk Server 2006 R2. "The manufacturing processes routes the XBox through fabrication, final assembly and testing," said Mark Jensen, general manager for Microsoft Dynamics AX. "When it gets to a step in the routing process outside the company it triggers communication over BizTalk and routing instructions are sent, and then feedback on the delivery status is received back into Dynamics AX."

Microsoft also wanted to give customers an easy method to upgrade the application, so they built in a three-tier architecture model based on Web-services. The platform offers a service-oriented architecture (SOA) through an object-oriented model companies can customize.

Contextual analytics through SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services allows users to perform ad hoc reporting and data analysis. Jensen said Microsoft's AX V3 report writer didn't get high marks from users. So, now the entire Dynamics AX data dictionary maps into the SQL Server bundle, replacing the custom reporting application in the prior version.

Finally, Web services will allow companies to customize the application, including the ability to create real simple syndication (RSS) feeds that push time-sensitive information to those making decisions.

Microsoft Dynamics AX 4.0 is available in North America now. The product will become available Aug. 1 in parts of Europe, with the remainder coming on board later this year, along with China and Brazil. Japan will follow in 2007.

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