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"SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 Boost Microsoft Dynamics Ease-of-Use, Corporate Reach"


Dynamics users have a lot to gain from the Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 applications launched this week.

According to Rob Helm, managing vice president research with Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft, the two new applications will make it easier for Dynamics users to perform certain tasks and also will broaden Dynamics' exposure among the office workforce. And it's all part of Microsoft's overall strategy and ongoing initiatives to improve integration between Office and Dynamics applications.

"There's nothing specific about Dynamics in (these SharePoint and Office applications) but Dynamics is the authoritative source for sales and inventory data and the basic information used to run a business," Helm said. "And these new tools creates an easier way to build reports than users can currently do in Dynamics."

Dynamics AX and NAV, for example, have the heavy-duty ERP infrastructure to perform business intelligence inquiries on large data sets, but they often require additional code or/or an Excel guru to execute, Helm said.

Now, however, typical AX and NAV users can simply identify the data they want to analyze, assemble it into a data set and build Excel PowerPivot tables (extracting data in real time) without extensive expertise, he said. Then they simply publish the data in SharePoint and colleagues without Dynamics on their desktops can view the results using a browser, he said.

According to Helm's new report on the twin 2010 releases, SharePoint 2010's Business Connectivity feature makes Dynamics data more accessible and importable, a feature that he anticipates Microsoft and/or partner developers "will jump to exploit," he predicted. The new Business Connectivity feature also makes it easier to push data out to clients, reinforcing the self-service trend by enabling employees to update information themselves, he added.

In addition, the improve integration of Office and Dynamics will enable Dynamics GP users, for example, to use Word report templates for invoicing and other tasks, which is easier than GP's own Report Writer, Helm said. Similarly, Dynamics users can attach Word documents to Outlook.

"There's nothing specifically in SharePoint that Dynamics users couldn't do before," Helm said. "But with SharePoint portals embedding into SharePoint now," the way for employees without Dynamics client (except CRM) to Dynamics data is through SharePoint, he said. "This will open Dynamics into the wider organization," he said.

New Excel features that will also help Dynamics users include Slicers, that gives users more flexibility in defining data they want to retrieve, and Sparklines, which make the data more visual.

Are the two 2010 versions worth the upgrade? For smaller organizations, especially those already on 2007 versions, it might not be urgent to upgrade because they don't need SharePoint's self-service portal, Helm said.

But larger organizations with Dynamics clearly will benefit by making the move to the new versions because more users will be able to see and interact with the data, he said. Office 2010 has a lot of attractive features, none essential across the board but probably one in every application that at least one user would want, he said.

There may be some issues with compatibility with the upgrades, especially when the existing versions have been customized, so this isn't a decision to be made lightly, Helm cautioned. However, Microsoft has some good tools for locating customizations and their impacts on upgrades that are worth checking out, he said.

Nick Bird, of Ladybird Internet Ltd., a British Web hosting company and site developer, rushed to download the new Office and SharePoint applications at the earliest opportunity on Wednesday and couldn't wait to get its hands around all the "shiny new Office software," according to his blog. The shiny new software includes the Dynamics CRM Workgroup Server.

The firm, which expects to grow significantly this year, hopes that Dynamics CRM will be a good vehicle for distributing the leads it has gathered from multiple sources to its sales team, Bird said.

By inputting the leads into Outlook and the rest of the Office suite, Ladybird hopes to be able to distribute information much better to its resellers, he said. If so, Ladybird plans to add more workspaces to SharePoint to assign work to developers and designers and track the status on task lists, he said.

"I've used all these technologies for many years in pieces with different clients," Bird wrote. "I'm hoping that the hype around SP2010 and Office 2010 is true and that this will finally be the integrated solution for customers and staff that our business will need."

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