Microsoft (news, site) has finally given businesses a look at its enterprise resource planning software (ERP) Dynamics AX 2012 -- due for beta release later this month and for general release in August -- and has made some vague commitments to enabling access to it in the cloud, although when and how was not explained.

The new release, which was displayed at the ongoing Convergence 2011, will replace the current AX 2009, and has all the appearance of an application that is trying to be all things to all verticals, coming with pre-built capabilities for five industries: Manufacturing, distribution, public sector, professional services and retail.

The conference also heard that enterprises will be able to adopt these according to the vertical they are working in, with a limited ability to pick-and-mix according to needs.

Dynamics AX 2012.jpg

Dynamics AX 2012

Dynamics AX 2012

Generally, though, three main issues were identified.

1. Agile ERP?

The idea behind it, Microsoft Technical Fellow Mike Ehrenberg says, is to meet the dual challenge of providing software for real-world business situations, and the need to provide adaptable applications that can be manipulated to reflect changing business conditions.

If this sounds familiar, it might be because it resonates with “agile software development," which we have explored in detail. Certainly the outline that was given does smack of agile ERP, except Microsoft is describing it as software “fidelity," a situation where software either reflects business realities, or can be adapted very quickly.

Needless to say, Microsoft is describing the upcoming release as a “breakthrough” application and has focused on the fact that it caters for five industries at once with some of the components applicable across two or more of those industries.

Most industry-specific solutions only cater to that industry…Offering five in one answers a real need that customers have to integrate solutions across industries. It gets organizations up and running faster, saves integration costs, and it supports greater accuracy across the application — meaning users get a single version of the truth,” Ehrenberg said.

2. Central Data Access

One of the other major points of interest here is the possibility of access to data through a central system. Dynamics AX 2012 provides that by using Microsoft SQL Server as the default information management system throughout the application.

This extends the embedded business intelligence that came with the 2009 version, but pulls all data into one place, which will make it easier to identify trends and patterns within information that can precipitate changes in business practices.

This is supplemented by automated workflows that offer the user relevant information through a central task panel.

3. ‘Commitment to Simplicity’

The third element worth a look is what Microsoft describes as its “commitment to simplicity," at least in this application.

According to Ehernberg, Microsoft set out in this release to make every aspect of the application as simple as possible, from deployment to customization to upgrades. The objective, he says, was to make Dynamics AX 2012 as easy to learn as possible and to cut the learning curve for users that are not involved, or even interested, in IT.

With this in mind, processes were redesigned to cut out as many steps as possible and close, as far as possible, the window for error.

One of the key aspects of this is the creation of Role Tailored enhancements that provide role centers, and self-service business intelligence and reporting as well as interconnectivity with other Microsoft applications such as Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 and Microsoft Lync.

The only thing that was missing was any details on Microsoft’s plans for ERP and cloud computing -- although the company does seem to have plans, even if it's not sharing them with anyone at the moment.

While Microsoft’s Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president for Microsoft Business Solution, did say that it would run on a combination of SQL Azure, Office 365, and Windows Azure, details as to when and what products would be available were not given. More on this as it happens.