GP Airlift 2013 - Day 3 - Part 2 of 2

This is the continuation of my first article: Part 1 where the Town Hall and Pricing sessions were described.

I attempted to write this part in the Fargo airport where the wifi proved to be a little sketchy!  The first part posted through fine, but this second part? Not so much!

The WOW Session

Speaking of not knowing where to begin, this session contained a lot of information. I was trying to capture notes as the speakers presented but I’m sure some of it is a little lost in translation.  This is the high level only.

The session will be repeated as a webinar later for those that had to leave early to catch flights, and for those who were there to see it again and share it with their staff.  No timeline on when that will happen, but I would stay tuned to the GP team blogs.

  • All of the demos we saw this week were on Windows Azure and in Office 365 where Office was in the mix. That’s pretty cool!
  • On the roadmap side of things, all of the Web Client functionality was well ahead of schedule, from where it was planned out last year at this time. A year ago during this conference, the beta version was introduced! That’s impressive!
  • SP2 completes the Web Client wave releases, adds a lot of new functionality & has an update for Business Analyzer. Some of the new functionality is Doc Attach 2.0, Smartlist Designer, adding the Smartlist Splitter, adding some Modifier & Combiner features from PSTL into the product.
  • First half of FY2014 has 4 “big rocks” which I’ll go through in more detail below: Requisitions, Workflow, Procurement App and Identity Management.
  • Some of the smaller items they hope to get in (but the focus is the big rocks): copy/paste from Excel, assigning items to multiple sites, time & attendance.
  • Workflow will be focusing on requisition and purchasing for SP3 then further work from there, phased approach.
  • Second half of FY2014 has 3 big rocks: Service based architecture for the cloud, Business Portal replacement and additional apps.

The “big rocks” concept is really about the focus points for the next releases. If you haven’t heard the story/analogy on prioritization, search for it and read it: it’s well worth the time!  In Microsoft’s case, they use it in the same sense, these 4 things are the priorities even if that means the other small things on the planned list don’t get done for the next release.

PS: I’m not sure the order is important, these happen to be the order in which they were presented…

Big Rock #1: Requisitions

Theresa Nistler presented this section and the demo looked fantastic, a live demo in GP of pending new functionality. Awesome!

The goals for this rock are:

  • To continue to have/offer Requisition functionality
  • To add additional features
  • To make it available for all users
  • To remove the dependency on Business Portal.

Theresa talked about all of the various integration points with Requisitions today - BI, MDA, Encumbrance Management, Fixed Assets, Project Accounting, Manufacturing, Analytical Accounting etc., and said the first release is unlikely to get to all of these touchpoints. So, don’t get your hopes up yet to replace functionality for all clients using this yet.

I was busy taking notes for these sessions so I didn’t get any screen shots, but once again, if you search Twitter for the hashtag #GPAirlift13 you will find several references and pictures of the demo.

The functionality as demo’d (subject to change of course), is on the Purchasing page, and it’s a new item in the Transactions menu group.  In the Purchase Order Processing setup window there are new fields added for Requisition Next Number etc. and typical fields related to it, along with a Requisition button with setup specific to Requisitions.

The Requistion Entry window itself looked in many ways like a Purchase Order entry window with some big differences:

  • The only required fields are Requisition Number (automatically populated anyway) and Date.
  • The ’line items’ section, while having Item Number and Vendor fields, are not validated back to the item master or vendor master.  They have acknowledged that the reason for this is at the Requisition stage, often the Item is not known or the user is not expected to know the item list to pick accurately; and the Vendor is often also not known or may not exist in the system depending on the request.  Obviously this does need to be validated before the Requisition can be converted to a Purchase Order.
  • The window has both a Save and a Submit button. Save is literally saving it but not submitting for approval yet. The Submit is when you’re ready for approval.
  • This window will know the roles and the difference between someone who should only see their requisitions vs. someone who needs to see all the requisistions.
  • There will be a navigation list to show requisitions, allowing multi-select to create POs for the requisition administrator or purchaser.

Big Rock #2: Workflow

This part of the session was presented by Jared Hall.  Some of the goals for this rock were:

  • Remove SharePoint dependency
  • Make it available/compatible with the Web Client
  • Imrpove the workflow design experience (creating workflows)
  • Increase the flexibility

The demo portion showed a new Workflow Maintenance window, where you would set up workflow types, set up the actual workflows for those types, and then define the steps and actions from there.  I didn’t get a good look at the window as I was heads-down in my notes at the time, but what I did see looked very simple to use and well laid out.

Jared then showed a Customer Maintenance window that might have a workflow associated with it, and the presence of a new Dex control called an InfoBar.  If an InfoBar is present, the toolbar on a window would move downwards by the size (height) of the InfoBar automatically (that’s what it sounded like to me anyway).  It would always be at the top of a window. This new control would be available to anyone in Dex.  The purpose of the InfoBar was to display statuses, in this case, what the status of the workflow was for the object or record you are looking at.

One funny part of this demo was a magical “Do Stuff” button that they had on the InfoBar, which showed a few other options of things to do related to the InfoBar (in this case Recall and Show History).  Unfortunately they don’t think “Do Stuff” will remain as the official name of this button when it’s released!

Big Rock #3: Procurement

Jen Ranz demonstrated this part of the presentation, and it is a Windows 8 web application that would be available in the App Store (cool!), running standalone. It wouldn’t need to be on a computer that already had Dynamics GP installed for instance.

The app would be HTML5 & Javascript, on top of that would be a procurement service and web services to bring information back and forth to GP and the application.

The demonstration of the app was a more-or-less fully functioning application with a panoramic landing page kind of like the Windows 8 App Store (scroll left and right for more categories of apps, in this case scroll left and right for more information on requisitions). The key pieces of the screen were sections like Top Items, a Catalog by category, a list of requisitions already open and their statuses etc.  It looked very cool.

If you swiped down on the window, you get a navigation bar at the top and an action bar at the bottom for additional actions. Clicking on an item gets you product details, specs, reviews etc. and you can add it to your “cart” for making a requisition.  The requisition asks you to fill out things like the Required Date, Ship To Address and Comments.

Big Rock #4: Identity Management

The last of the big rocks portion of the WOW session was on Identity Management and presented by Kevin Racer.  Some of the goals of this rock are:

  • Improve the GP web client login experience
  • Reduce effort and burden of maintaining identities and logins
  • Support companion apps and web service scenarios
  • Support efforts on Office 365 integration

Their initial thinking was that this is a very complicated concept, no easy fixes. The Desktop client would remain mostly the same, GP security will not be re-written. They want to reduce the credentialling with web client and next generation apps, and support on-domain scenarios with single sign on. (Hint: domains only).

The current integration right now is primarily starting with a GP user who is on a domain, they have an Active Directory login, and a GP (SQL) login. They log in with windows authentication and with SQL logins to GP Web Client, they select a company, they get to their home page.  SSRS reporting is usually fine, as it works on their windows user account but if you decide in an interaction with GP that you want to send mail you might potentially have to log into Exchange with yet more credentials (depending on how your email is set up).

Phase 1’s vision is to get rid of the SQL authentication step and company selection (in a one company scenario) so you can log right into GP to your home page. You may still have to log into Exchange for email.

Phase 2’s vision is to skip the Windows authentication and exchange logins, just open the app and with single sign on, go to your GP homepage.  I may not have this part of the presentation described accurately, but he spoke of IIS logins, where you might have to log into SSRS but in both places, the default login boxes have a place to “remember my credentials” meaning yes, you have to log in, but you might only have to do it when your passwords change, based on group policy. (I may have misunderstood this but this is how they envision Identity Management in the future).

GP “14”

The next big rocks for the next version of Dynamics GP were the following:

  • Service based architecture for the cloud
  • Business Portal replacement
  • Additional companion apps

The biggest focus is how to open GP us as a service to build apps that tie into GP, without using the current Web Services and eConnect.  The evolution of these changes started with GP2013 with the web client, leveraging existing functionality investments as well as creating innovation for displaying and using GP in a new way. What they are calling this next part is “Dex Next”, architecture for the cloud, exposing sanScript logic in service calls, enhancing .Net capability and the alignment with Azure. GP Next entails:

  • GP service bus
  • GP core services
  • UI services and rendering
  • Other services

Dex Next services interaction is dex dictionary resources feeding the desktop client, the web client, and GP Services. They want ALL functionality to be exposed as a service. They anticipate a Developer Preview to be available around the time SP3 timeframe for GP2013, prior to the GP14 release, for ISVs and Partners to work with it.

The most impressive part of the demo was a live demo of how this could work with a simple Inventory Item application.

  • First, Kevin demo’d a Windows 8 application, showing the items in the TWO database. He added an item via the web app and saved it.
  • He went into the GP web client, and into Transaction Entry to show that the item existed and he could create a transaction with it.
  • He then showed his Windows 8 phone and using a web application, showed the new item is appearing in his mobile application.  Pretty cool.
  • THEN, he used an Android mobile phone, and went to a similar web app there and showed that this is device-agnostic, not just “Windows 8 Phone only” stuff.
  • Lastly he attempted to show the same from Theresa Nistler’s iPad but couldn’t get to the web app, but by that point, the point was made…

At this point, my laptop battery died and I was unable to take further notes although the presentation was pretty close to wrapping up anyway.

There was a lot of stuff there, I’m not sure I’ve “documented” it fully/properly here to take this with a grain of salt and stay tuned to Microsoft official team blogs and Partner events for more details as they become available.

It was exciting to be there to see this, particularly since most of the “future” vision was live demonstrated, or pretty close to live, indicating it’s not just vaporware or dreams on paper. Next time you hear someone say Dynamics GP is dying, this is another indication that is no where near the truth!

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