Less Time, More Value—the Promise of Microsoft Dynamics ERP RapidStart Services

We’ve all heard the horror stories - ERP implementations are difficult, they take forever and are rife with errors. Could there be a light at the end of this tunnel? There is! And that light is coming through the cloud.

It has been no secret that in designing our upcoming release of Microsoft Dynamics AX2012 we’ve intently focused our efforts on driving simplicity. For us that means even more than making the applications easy to use, it means looking at how we can deliver on this promise across the application life-cycle, spanning the discoverability phase through system optimization.

Last week at Microsoft’s World Wide Partner Conference in Los Angeles CA, we unveiled Microsoft Dynamics ERP RapidStart Services. Built on the Windows Azure platform, this service is designed to decrease the time-to-value of ERP deployments by simplifying the configuration of Microsoft Dynamics ERP solutions to meet customer requirements. So why do I believe this new service will be vital to improve the ERP implementation experience?

Fewer mistakes

ERP setup can be a quite intricate process with parameters, reference data, chart of accounts structures, etc.—mistakes can be easily made. And if those mistakes are not caught during the test phase, they can have significant consequences. Using the RapidStart tool makes errors much less likely because it utilizes a questionnaire based approach to guide people through the setup of the system. Rather than going through all the different setup screens, parameter, and configuration screens, users simply answer a group of questions and RapidStart manages all the background work to configure the tables in the proper sequence.

During the configuration process, RapidStart also allows for the easy upload of reference data like country information, zip codes, currency, etc. as well as master data like Customer Master, Inventory Master, etc. RapidStart will automatically generate the templates required for these data uploads.

Utilizing Best practices

Out of the box, the questions users can choose to load into their unique setup questionnaire are based on common business processes as well as specific functionality. But, unlike other ERP vendors who provide ‘default’ setups as best practices meaning that implementation choices are essentially pre-defined by the vendor, the questions in RapidStart are interactive. Users can still use best practices template as a starting point from which customers and partners can finesse to get the exact setup that is right for their business.

Support for phased or multiple implementations

Setting up an ERP system is not a one-time event. The initial deployment is important, but instead of going about an implementation in an all or nothing manner, more and more we see customers choose to implement in multiple phases. The initial phase is usually focused on getting the core financial system up and running. And subsequent phases may be planned to rollout the ERP system to the operational units of an organization—like manufacturing plants, warehouse operations, and service departments. RapidStart fully supports a phased implementation because it is additive and allows for repeatability. It is easy to go into an existing questionnaire and add new setups. And enterprise customers will appreciate the ease with which you can manage multiple implementations. Once you configure a process, you can easily deploy it to multiple Microsoft Dynamics AX instances or environments and can re-use those setups anytime and anywhere you want.

Enables success across the implementation lifecycle

From ‘Proof of Concept’ to ‘Go Live’, Rapid Start provides consistency, flexibility and repeatability all in the service of decreasing the time it takes to get real value from the system. Configuration choices made in a ‘Proof-of-Concept’ in the discovery phase can easily be re-produced to create a Test instance and eventually used to configure the Live ERP environment. This saves time and allows customers to fine tune their setup from Discovery through the Go-live phase of the implementation.

Value for our partners

This new cloud service provides clear benefits to our partners, creating a clear win-win situation for both our customers and partners:

  • The RapidStart service offers a structured approach to an important part of the implementation process, the configuration of the solution. Through integrated workflow and reporting, it enables a better collaboration with customers throughout this process
  • It will be easier and faster for partners to setup of demonstrations and ‘Proof of Concepts’ for prospective customers
  • Partners can create repeatable and reusable templates, capturing best practices and allowing for differentiation.
  • Because RapidStart is extensible, partners can easily create an appropriate questionnaire to cover their industry-specific IP.

The first evidence is compelling

We’re currently working closely with customer and partners in a structured Technology Adoption Program (TAP). Results so far show us that scenarios where the configuration steps typically took about 4 to 5 man days, have been reduced to less than 15 minutes!! We plan to make the first release of the RapidStart Service for Microsoft Dynamics AX2012 available to our partners and customers in September of this year, initially focused on the US market. More detailed information about subsequent releases and markets will follow later this calendar year.

The RapidStart Service as an important step in bringing the customer experience of ERP implementation into the ‘Cloud Age’—where customer expectations on time-to-value and simplification of software usage is measured in terms of the same benefits expected from mainstream service like email, productivity software and smartphones.

I would love to hear your thoughts on RapidStart and what benefits you see in this new cloud service.