Computeration

Microsoft Dynamics® GP versus Microsoft Dynamics AX

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Both products provide similar functionality, competing frequently for the same business. AX is positioned for larger companies, but GP has been used by numerous large companies for years—the positioning is more a matter of “what the market will bear” in cost and a need for custom functionality. So let’s get down to functionality comparisons.

Network Servers

  • GP is most commonly installed on a single Windows Server configured with Microsoft SQL Server.
  • In the recommended production configuration, Microsoft Dynamics AX components are installed on multiple servers (such as the AOS server, the database server, and the Enterprise Portal server). In a configuration with multiple Microsoft Dynamics AX servers, the domain must use Kerberos authentication.

Integration

For third-party products, custom products or Excel worksheets, GP has a tool that meets every purpose:

  • The preferred tool is eConnect with Web Services. Two-way integrations can be setup to connect to any table within GP.
  • Integration Manager is a Visual Basic tool users can learn to use. It writes into most GP master records and transaction work tables. VB scripts can be appended to Integration Manager before, during, and after the routine to perform data cleaning, if/then integrations, and even posting of work batches after the import.
  • Because GP is based on Microsoft SQL, integrations can be written directly to tables. Generally, only an experienced developer will write directly to tables as a full understanding of table groups and field data types is required.
  • An older tool, the Import Utility, is available to write into any table, but is seldom used now.
  • Integration Overview, a full discussion of Microsoft Dynamics GP development tools.

Development Environment

  • GP’s code dates back to the mid 1990’s when its business processes were optimized for Microsoft SQL. GP utilizes a combination of programming languages, primarily a Visual Basic-like tool called Dexterity. But components of it now utilize C# and Visual Studio.NET. Positioning against it, competitors will point out that GP is difficult to modify. The truth is, with its huge base of third-party products and the latest .NET technology, it’s straightforward to replace or add on to its functionality when customization is needed. Most customizations today are developed with .NET programming—the most popular development technology in history.
  • GP has a strong connection to all Microsoft Office, MOSS and SharePoint technologies—the Microsoft Stack—because it was originally written to be a core financial application integrated to vertical products. So a key difference between GP and AX is that GP was designed to integrate to third-party products. AX was designed for development of the vertical functionality within the product itself. Cost is the kingpin.
  • AX uses an IDE (integrated development environment) called the MorphX Development Suite. Once you know the tool, it’s easy to use.

As a 30-year veteran of system installation, contrary to many of my peers, I prefer to first use software out of the box. As soon as a client starts tweaking functionality, costs and instability skyrocket. That’s why installers from the development side of the industry love AX. It immediately requires extensive testing, prototyping, documentation, and development hours.

If a client needs functionality outside of GP, I prefer to find a well-supported third-party product with a large base of users. Let someone else work through the integration problems, provide regular updates to keep up with GP’s updates, and rely on a base of users of more than 1 to fund the development of additional functionality.

With AX, it rarely is installed straight out of the box. It will take a company much longer to design and develop AX, much higher costs to maintain it. This is the primary area where you’ll decide how big of a driver cost is with your decision. AX’s base of third-party products is tiny compared to GP’s.

Application Functionality

Critics of GP will pounce on the fact that its application functionality dates back to the mid 1990’s. The truth is, GP’s age is a strength; it takes decades to develop all the rich and various functionality niches of a complex ERP product.

  • GP has a more complex financial series than AX, including the general ledger, bank reconciliation, fixed assets, multicurrency, and Excel-based budgeting. GP allows for a user-defined chart of accounts with up to 10 segments and 66 characters with user-defined sorting. AX, because of its European origins, has stronger multi-currency and multi-language capability, but GP is a better fit for U.S. companies.
  • GP has integration to Microsoft Dynamics CRM while AX has its own CRM module; however, AX CRM is not as powerful and it’s unlikely Microsoft will continue its development competing with the popular Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
  • GP manufacturing is a good fit for discrete manufacturing environments, while AX, with customization, works well in either discrete or process control manufacturing. This is the primary area where cost heavily influences your decision.
  • GP manufacturing works in a simple assembly environment or with out-sourced manufacturing.
  • GP’s purchasing, inventory, and sales order processing modules are a good balance of complexity and ease of use—out-of-the-box functionality that is quick and easy to configure and use.

Support

Because of its time in the market, huge installed base, and legacy of excellent support services, GP has a significant advantage over every other Microsoft Dynamics product.  In the 1990’s, Great Plains Software shared its technical database with resellers.  Once a week, resellers had the opportunity to synchronize the database with updates.  Fast forward to the Internet, fast forward from Great Plains Software to Dynamics, the PartnerSource technical support database was initially one of the largest web sites in the world and continues to be the primary support source for GP partners.

GP’s technical structure stabilizes it, especially in contrast to any ERP product allowing customization to the source.  Several times a year, usually for a client that’s tried “Do It Yourself” without adequate training, we will strip code back to the native GP code then layer reports, modified forms, and third-party products back in until we find the problem.

My Opinions on Future Development

Microsoft has clearly indicated it is putting the majority of its development resources into AX. GP is its cash cow to fund much of that development. Over 60% of GP’s large customer base annually renews their support plan in order to access the online TechKnowledge database articles and webinar training and regularly update payroll tax tables. GP is updated to keep up with Microsoft Windows Server and SQL Server updates. Dexterity reports are being converted to SQL Server reports. Any additional functionality added will likely be through the purchase of third-party modules.

Microsoft will keep its promise to transition GP users to a new product sometime in the next decade. GP users who maintain their annual plan will be rewarded with a credit towards the purchase of that product.

We’re 5 years past the initial estimate of when that product was forecast, but I expect to see it available by 2015 if not sooner. The challenge will be if GP users can afford a product like AX. Microsoft will need to provide a version more easily deployed out of the box if they are to retain their GP customers. Much of the cost challenge will be met by providing a hosted version of the software.

GP 2010 (version 11.0) is the current version. We’ve been advised that versions 12, 13, and 14 are planned. If Microsoft keeps to its plan, we’ll continue to see GP supported until at least 2020. It’s a good, solid product for small and medium-sized companies.

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By Gloria Braunschweig with Computeration, Oregon’s Microsoft Dynamics GP Partner

For over 20 years Computeration® has implemented Microsoft Dynamics® GP and legacy products that recover your investment quickly and move you into the future. Based in Oregon and working throughout the world, our consultants deploy and support wholesale distribution and financial management companies that require seamless integration into web sites, proprietary sales software, and retail management solutions. Computeration’s middle name is “Integration.” We specialize in SQL Server Reporting Services, IFRS implementation, and Financial Statement report design.

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