Microsoft ERP Release Streamlines Retailing
Dynamics AX 2012 for Retail integrates processes from supply chain to point of sale, spanning in-store, Web, and mobile retailing.
It eliminates data silos by combining point-of-sale (POS), inventory, supply chain, and financials in one application. These are components many retailers cobble together with software from separate vendors.
Given current economic conditions, retailers have to make it as easy as possible for customers to buy, whether that's in stores, online, or via mobile devices, said Kimberly Greenberger, a Morgan Stanley retail analyst who took part in Wednesday's online launch event.
"That means you have to monitor customer buying behaviors and have an ability to manage inventory across channels so you don't have any stranded inventory," Greenberger said.
[ Want more on retail tech trends? Read Social, Mobile Meet Shopping: Retailers Must Scramble. ]
AX 2012 for Retail eliminates the back-end silo problem and provides built-in business intelligence capabilities so you can analyze inventory trends and easily move stock among distribution centers and stores, Microsoft said.
The ERP system also delivers a consistent customer experience, according to Michael Griffiths, global director of retail and distribution for Microsoft Dynamics. For example, many customers would expect to be able to order items online and pick them up in a local store, yet many retailers can't offer this option "because their systems lack visibility and recognition of sales orders across multiple channels," Griffiths said.
AX 2012 for Retail multi-channel management capabilities ensure that promotions delivered through mobile devices or social channels will be recognized and redeemable through the in-store POS system. Similarly, in-store personnel will be able to see transactions that were conducted online, so customers will be able to return merchandise to stores even without the receipt, Griffiths said.
Dynamics AX 2012 for Retail is also global software, available initially in 25 countries, so retailers can support stores and e-commerce activities with support for 23 local languages, local currencies, local tax codes and local measurement standards.
Executives at David's Tea, a 70-store Canadian retailer that took part in the launch event, said AX 2012 For Retail helped it open a store in New York City. They noted the product's support for local tax laws and currencies and POS-system support for weighing and pricing loose tea in pounds and dollars as well as kilograms and Canadian dollars.
From an IT perspective, Dynamics AX 2012--the core ERP platform behind the retail edition--is based on a model-driven architecture that all but eliminates coding, according to Microsoft. Your entire business--distribution centers, sales channels, stores, store formats and so on--is represented in a visual model. When the business structure needs to change, IT can drag and drop objects and otherwise manipulate the model.
"Dynamics does the heavy lifting behind the scenes to apply those changes, so you can move into new markets or add new store formats much more quickly and at a lower cost," Griffiths said.
The architecture also ensures that the model and customizations don't break when there's a software upgrade, Microsoft said. Other attributes of the core Dyanamics AX 2012 platform, which was released in September, include prebuilt, role-based user interfaces--think salespeople, store managers and regional managers in a retail setting. AX 2012 also has embedded business intelligence and analytics capabilities that can be used to deliver dashboards and reports with the aid of Microsoft's SQL Server Reporting Services. The application is Windows-based and runs exclusively on the Microsoft SQL Server database. The vendor does not offer Apple iOS or Android-native apps, but Web-based access is supported on a variety of tablets, Griffiths said.
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