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in Editorial , Inventory Optimization

Vanguard IBP and Forecasting for Dynamics AX: Making a Great ERP System Better

by Jamie Loeks

From the initial install and configuration to system integration and upgrades, ease of use is perhaps the most highly valued quality of any large enterprise software investment. The easier an application is to operate, the more quickly and completely your people (administrators and users) will make it their own, and the more likely your company will reap the intended rewards of productivity and efficiency gains. Usability has a direct connection to ROI. With that in mind, we’ll get straight to a few useful points.

The first is that luck favors the prepared. Although enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is engineered to execute orders, integrate with systems, and provide a level of up-to-date business intelligence (BI), it remains a reactive system and offers little in the way of providing foresight. What you do on top of this foundation is what distinguishes your preparedness from others. Adding advanced-analytic forecasting and planning capabilities will greatly enhance the value of your ERP investment, enabling truly optimized sales, inventory, and financial planning. With objectively-derived starting values, plus collaborative input, these tools cut through the noise of volatility to detect even the faintest trends and patterns. Advanced automation capabilities will then re-optimize min-max levels and other settings to ensure that you won’t be caught off guard. You’ll be prepared, and make it look easy.

Second, the consensus among experts is that Microsoft Dynamics AX is the easiest to use and among the best overall full-scope ERP systems in market for midsize to large companies. We’ve seen it. Others have said it[1].

Third, people outside of Vanguard assert that Vanguard Forecast Server is the easiest to use[2] and best overall forecasting and planning platform in market. And unlike most competitors, the Forecast Server platform delivers easy, automated, two-way integration with AX in a manner that strictly follows Microsoft certification guidelines. More on this shortly, but let’s take a step back for context.

Demand Forecasting

When Microsoft released Dynamics AX 2012 R3, it debuted a brand new feature: Demand Forecasting. While AX finally had a tool that could generate statistical baseline forecasts, it would remain tough and expensive to set up, limited in functionality, and dependent on personnel familiar with abstruse processes. Also, lacking any interface for data presentation, it would rely on Excel for just about everything else: data visualization, forecast adjustments, etc.

From the beginning, Microsoft has been forthright to point out that its demand forecasting feature “is not best-of-breed forecasting software” and that “it might not be the best fit” for companies in retail, wholesale, warehousing, transportation, or professional services. Good to know – limited function for companies with limited needs. Beyond this, the more fundamental problem with Demand Forecasting and other, third-party forecasting tools is plain inconvenience.

Difficulty for Users

Many knowledge workers, especially the sales people who are often tasked with preparing forecasts, are less than eager to log into any ERP system, much less futz with time-series imports and exports. Yet, this is the reality at companies using ERP and Excel-dependent forecasting and planning applications. This approach is functionally inefficient and distracting, and it doesn’t need to be so.

Sales people are on the phones or out on the road meeting prospects and clients, often unable to break for an intensive desktop session that requires connecting to internal systems. But, they always have mobile devices at hand. This brings us again to ease of use, in this case through anytime, anywhere access.

When supported by the right tool, sales-teams will provide insights that raise forecast accuracy and improve enterprise planning. The better solution is one that enhances sales teams’ ability to see the situation and quantify their collective insight in the familiar, intuitive web-based environment users have come to expect.

Ease of Use by Automation

Vanguard Forecast Server is a powerful, easy-to-use forecasting and planning platform, accessible from any device. A sales manager or demand planner can review the big picture, drill into a fully automated forecast, suggest an override, or update projections in real time and on the fly, with no need to log into AX (or carry an extra seat license). But the real value here is convenience. The changes one makes in Forecast Server feed back into AX – no need to manually adjust forecasts or plans in Excel.

Vanguard’s integration technology automatically updates forecasts, min-max inventory levels and other key data across the two systems. As a result, these data are always current in AX and naturally usable by Master Planning, AX’s materials resource planning (MRP) function. People in operations, finance, or elsewhere have a clear line of sight into customer, competitor and marketplace movements that will directly influence purchasing, inventory and financial planning decisions. And with advanced features such as production smoothing and order schedule optimization, the data we push back into AX are forward-looking and reliable – produced somewhat magically from sophisticated algorithms and proven rationale.

Single-Day Install and Configuration

This is where the whole ease-of-use thing takes off. Best of all for the integration project, Vanguard’s integration with AX works with out-of-the-box master tables – no customization required.

With a bit of help from the experienced AX specialists at Argo Turboserve Corporation (ATC), Vanguard was able to build an AX integration so finely tuned that the entire install and configuration process for pulling your data into Forecast Server can take place in just a few hours. Syncing the two systems so that changes made in Forecast server route back into AX takes just a few days. This is unmatched speed to usability – bar none. Competitors, including AX’s own demand forecasting tool, require at least several days of configuration and testing; most require several weeks.

With one simple data connector, designed using Microsoft’s best practices and built from the ground-up for certification, Vanguard has done the hard work: both in building a best-in-class analytics and forecasting platform, and in making the integration with AX a snap.

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[1] Microsoft Dynamics AX vs SAP; Merit Solutions, September 2015

[2] Technology Value Matrix 2016 – Inventory Optimization; Nucleus Research, February 2016

 

JohnJohn Hayes has 19 years of systems administration, application development, database design, data migration, and systems integration experience. Prior to joining Vanguard Software, John was owner and president of an IT consultancy responsible for building and maintaining high availability network systems and software applications for law firms and other industries. John is an active member of AITP, ISSA, and other professional associations, and holds numerous IT certifications, including: MCSE, MCITP, MCTS, MCSA, LPIC1, CWTS, Sec+, RFID+. John is a former US Marine, a private pilot, and a proud husband and father.

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