Microsoft Dynamics App Updates: What's Missing

Microsoft's latest Dynamics AX, GP and CRM upgrades pack plenty of new features, but promised cloud, mobile and marketing options have been delayed.
Microsoft announced Tuesday that it will deliver three significant Dynamics application upgrades this month: Dynamics AX 2012 R2, Dynamics GP 2013 and the December update of Dynamics CRM Online. There's plenty of new functionality to consider with each upgrade, but Microsoft is falling behind on a few capabilities promised earlier this year.

Microsoft stoked expectations for hybrid cloud, cross-mobile-platform and cross-browser capabilities at the Dynamics Convergence Conference in March. But Microsoft executives told InformationWeek on Monday that an anticipated Microsoft Azure public-cloud deployment option for Dynamics NAV and Dynamics GP ERP apps has been pushed back into the second half of next year. And on the mobile front, cross-platform HTML5 capabilities won't show up until 2014, so access on iPad, iPhone and Android devices is limited to Dynamics CRM.

The biggest news with Dynamics AX 2012 R2 is that Microsoft's most scalable ERP system can now support multiple languages, multiple national tax and compliance regimes, and multiple vertical-industry capabilities on a single-instance deployment. According to Microsoft, supporting global needs from a single instance ensures faster deployments and easier and more cost-effective administration than the alternative, which is running separate geography-specific or industry-specific instances.

Global language and regulatory support is common, but it's rarely supported on a single-instance deployment, according to analyst Ray Wang of Constellation Research.

[ Want more on Micrsoft's CRM updates? Read Dynamics CRM Gets Yammer, Skype, iPad Support. ]

"Oracle [E-Business Suite] and SAP address multiple languages, multiple tax jurisdictions and multiple industries in a single instance, but this is news in the [ERP] midmarket," said Wang, a principal with Constellation Research. Most Epicor, Infor, Oracle JD Edwards and Sage ERP deployments are typically site dependent and these vendors have not attempted to support single-instance global deployments for technical reasons, said Wang. The usual pattern is to see one instance for each major country or region.

The AX 2012 R2 upgrade also enhances embedded, role-based business intelligence. AX already supported role-based business intelligence (BI), but with R2 support for Microsoft SQL Server 2012, AX takes advantage of new Power View in-memory data-visualization technology. The upgrade delivers richer data and animated data visualizations that reveal trends, according to Microsoft. To date, role-based visualizations have been developed for CFOs, CIOs, human resources, plant operations managers, retailers and professional services firms, but more role-specific data visualizations are anticipated.

Dynamics GP 2013 will be released December 19, and the big theme is Web and cloud deployment by way of a new Web client and a new Web management console for cloud delivery. Microsoft has also included new development tools said to support rapid deployment, system configuration and migration from simpler financial packages from vendors such as Intuit and Peachtree Accounting.

GP was previously limited to thick-client deployment, so a Web client was essential for cloud-based delivery. But in this case the client is based on Microsoft Silverlight, a cross-platform application development framework that many view as a dead-end because, like Flash, it's not supported by Apple iOS or Android Devices. At the Convergence Conference, Microsoft said its long-term plan is to switch to HTML5, but there's no word as to when that will happen for GP. AX is on track for HTML5 support by 2014. A native app for Windows 8 tablets and phones is expected next year.

At Convergence, Microsoft said Dynamics GP 2013 and Dynamics NAV 2013, released in October, would both be deployable in hybrid-public-cloud, private-cloud and on-premises models, but executives said Monday that the public-cloud option on Microsoft Azure won't be available until sometime in the second half of 2013. Private-cloud hosting is already available through a variety of Microsoft partners.

The third major update coming this month is the December update to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. The upgrade, which will start rolling out midmonth, gives users the option to launch Skype communications and Yammer collaboration sessions directly from within the CRM app.

The CRM update also supports a mix of browsers, including the Windows versions of Firefox and Chrome and the Mac versions of Firefox and Safari (making this the one Dynamics app consumable on an iPad). As with Microsoft's ERP applications, a native mobile app for Windows 8 tablets and phones is expected next year.

Responding to's push into the marketing arena, Microsoft executives said earlier this year that Dynamics CRM would gain social media monitoring capabilities by year end. This development, too, appears to be delayed, but in October Microsoft acquired MarketingPilot , a marketing management software provider, to bulk up cross-channel digital campaign management capabilities.

"The acquisition will accelerate our ability to better meet the needs of CMOs ... and better enable marketers to successfully plan, execute, monitor and optimize customer interactions across digital, social and traditional channels," said Bob Stutz, corporate VP of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, in a recent blog post. Microsoft didn't make any promises, but no doubt the MarketingPilot capabilities will show up in Dynamics CRM sometime next year.