Microsoft previews Dynamics GP 2013 SP3 'Big Rocks' at Airlift
In case you haven't looked up from your 1024x768 CRT monitor recently, the days of 24 to 36 month release cycles for enterprise software are coming to an end. The market doesn't smile on on-premise software vendors that wait years to deliver new capabilities. The Microsoft Dynamics GP team understands this and has embraced its own approach to agile planning that will allow the product to move to something closer to a six month cadence of new releases (both major versions like GP 14 and service packs).
Microsoft program manager Chad Sogge explained that the team's agile development approach has made it easier to determine the right GP 2013 SP3 goals. The release is due in the first half of 2014 and the team is committing to delivering on four key capabilities, a.k.a. the "big rocks," that they revealed earlier this week - requisition, procurement, workflow, and identity management. Any other smaller or non-critical features and enhancements that can also be met in that time frame will ship as well. Others "pebbles" will be pushed back to a later release.
On Friday at the GP Technical Airlift, members of R&D management took attendees through each of the four main enhancements they plan to deliver in GP 2013 SP3. (For another take on what was presented, check out the Kuntz Consulting blog's report on the presentation and demos.)
Requisitions: First steps in phasing out Business Portal
The new requisitions offering represents the first step in phasing out business portal by offering a new option. Whereas Business Portal (BP) has its own requisition processes, the new set of capabilities will be build into the GP core through the desktop and web client. And it will handle more cases like requisition from the manufacturing production line or a distribution environment, according to program manager Theresa Nistler.
The goal with the new features is to continue requisitions "where it makes sense," to add features, and to make it available for all users without the BP dependency.
There will be several integration points for the new capabilities, including into business intelligence, MDA, encumbrance management, fixed assets, project accounting, manufacturing, and analytic accounting.
Requisitions will be a multi-stage rollout, and Microsoft is still determining how much of it will make it into the next service pack. In a demo, the focus was on exposing forms and behaviors in the user interface that aligned with the types of users who actually do requisitions. The interface will tie in navigation lists, and the demo showed both "Save" and "Submit" buttons, allowing the user to hold on to the item before pushing it down the line. For the purchasing agent who needs to finalize requisitions, there will be capabilities for consolidating items for a single vendor and correcting items before they are finalized so that, for example, items can't be purchased without a vendor identified.
Workflow: Breaking away from SharePoint
"We need workflow," Chad Sogge ackowledged to the audience. "We have feedback that we have a good solution with SharePoint, but it causes an increase in cost. And we need to simplify workflow to get the adoption we desire."
To meet those goals, GP 2013 SP3 will begin the roll out of a new native workflow engine that no longer relies on SharePoint.
The new requisition capabilities will be one of the first areas to use the new workflow architecture. The short term goals, according to Microsoft program manager Jared Hall, are to remove the SharePoint dependency, increase flexibility, improve the workflow design experience, and make workflow management possible from the web client (through new Dexterity controls). Longer term, workflow in GP should become a key mechanism for social collaboration and notifications, as well as a source for business intelligence.
Streamlining Security and Identity Management
Logins in Dynamics GP can get complicated quickly, and a new streamlined approach will take at least a few rounds of serious work. As GP senior program manager Kevin Racer explained, authentication in the core GP interface is really taking a single user across different systems - Windows, GP, SQL Server, Exchange - that need to recognize the person and pass him on seamlessly to the next application.
"GP security as you know it is not going to change," Racer told the Airlift audience. "But we need to tackle it from the perspective of the GP user as himself or herself, how to tie [identity] back to something other than SQL, like working with Windows authentication. We have a need for this going forward [that is accentuated with the web client.]"
Kevin Racer explains phase 2 of a planned improvement to web client identity management
Improved identity management will begin with GP 2013 SP3, but future stages will further streamline the process. The goal in SP3 is to improve the web client logon experience, to reduce the sheer amount of identity management that users have to deal with, to support companion apps and web services scenarios, and to move toward Office 365 security integration. Microsoft will first focus on improving the single company scenario for "on domain" users. Those users will no longer need to authenticate separately for SQL. From there they will move on to removing the separate Exchange login, and by Phase 2 (some time beyond GP 2013 SP3) the goal is to have a single sign on solution for single company scenarios where the users is on the domain and can use Windows authentication (though SSRS may continue to require another authentication, at least the first time through). For off-domain scenarios, there could still be an additional login when credentials change, but Racer said the goal is to remember credentials as often as possible and bring the nuisance of authentication way down for all GP users.
"We're going to continue thinking about the security model going forward," Racer said. "We're going to tie it into our GP 'Next' strategy too."
Procurement: New companion app planned
Demo of a future procurement app for Dynamics GP 2013 SP3
A new procurement companion app is coming to GP 2013 SP3. "There is a market for [employees] to enter self-service requests," said Microsoft's Jennifer Ranz. And often those are people who are not GP users and who you wouldn't want touching the traditional client. The plan is to create an app that is available in the Windows store that any employee could easily download and begin using for their procurement needs.