Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The X-Files

So why have I been so quiet for the past few weeks? Well, a lot has transpired. We have made the decision to replace our current ERP system with Microsoft's Dynamics AX. My team and I had exactly 14 weeks to implement counting from the day the first consultant walked onto site which was about 10 days ago. So to say that the deadline is tight would be an understatement.

What does this have to do with the X-Files? Well apart from the new product being called AX, I have also been heavily exposed to XML. I would suggest reading the link to get a good understanding of XML but here is a quick description that sums it up for me. XML is an open standard which promotes self describing data to be transferred between points.

Dynamics AX 2009 is the latest release from Microsoft and we have decided to jump right in and skip V4.0. Most techies reading the blog at this point have probably fainted as we all know what new releases from MS can be like, but know this. My team and I did a lot of homework and also attended the Orlando Convergence Conference. We discussed our concerns with some of the team leaders for AX. The consensus was that as we are using only standard core functionality within the application, the risks would be minimal.

One of the main reasons I wanted to go with AX2009 was the new Application Integration Framework (AIF) provided. This framework allows the flow of data to and from other systems in a robust fashion. I attended the session given by Michael Merz (Program Manager) on the AIF and was extremely impressed with the business capabilities. AX2009 ships with a bunch of new web services for data interchange and we are going to take advantage of this as a lot of data that ends up in our ERP system is generated from home written sub systems. The AIF uses XML files in order to receive and send data.

Reading up on the AIF was quite a task and had me up late at night for a week. This exercise lead me to another product from Microsoft called BizTalk Server. AX2009 ships with the BizTalk connectors required to move data in and out of AX. The great thing about this whole "interface" layer (BizTalk and AIF) is that one never compromises the business logic at any point. We are now at a point where we are seriously considering using BizTalk Server to implement our system interfaces and from what I have seen and heard so far we will not be disappointed. One of the things that BizTalk does is allow sets of data to communicate and be converted into formats that can be read by both sides.

Hopefully BizTalk and the AIF will allow us to meet our deadline with some time to spare. Unlike David Duchovny and his large lunged side-kick Gillian Anderson I have taken a bold step for mankind and hired my people based on talent and not good looks.

- Paul Steynberg

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