Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 EP: More Power to the People

We heard from customers and partners that to get a good return on investment, the user interface is a key component. Enterprise Portal (EP) needed to score high on both look-and-feel and usability in this release. To meet and exceed customer and partner expectations, the user interface has gone through a major revision in this release. We built our user experience on the already familiar Office and Windows platforms. User interaction was made intuitive and consistent across the product, information and actions are easily discoverable, and tasks are completed in fewer steps, leading to a reduction in time spent on tasks.

The key capabilities of EP user interface

Action Pane
:  Built along the lines of SharePoint 2007 and Office 2007 successful and well-adopted ribbon interface, EP has Actions Panes in this release.  The toolbars in the list and task pages have been replaced by the Action Pane. The commands are organized into a set of tabs along with relevant icons for visual cue. The tabs on the action pane display the commands that are most relevant for each of the task areas. This improves the discoverability of actions and simplifies accessing and acting on the application features.

Model dialogs: In the previous versions of Enterprise Portal, viewing, editing and creating items in a list page forced the user to navigate to the task page away from the list page. By navigating away, all the user interactions previously completed on the list page—such as filtering, sorting, page navigation, etc.—are all lost when the user navigates back to the list page after completing the task. Since the navigation reloads and refreshes the list page, the user had to start all over again to regain their previous settings. In Microsoft Dynamics AX6 all the task pages are opened as Model dialog boxes on top of the list page instead of navigating away, so the context is preserved. The task page is highlighted on top of the list and when the task page modal dialog is closed, it puts the highlight back on to the list page preserving the setting along with the refreshed data. This makes finding, viewing, creating and modifying data much simpler and consistent across the product. Built on SharePoint 2010 dialog platform, all this is done through meta data setting by developers without the need to write any code.

Fact Box: In Microsoft Dynamics AX6, all list pages have Fact Boxes and a Preview Pane to provide more information from related objects in context for the selected object. This gives users an overview of a given object, enableing them to initiate more actions in context and thereby reduce the need to open additional windows or navigate to other places in the navigation layer. Fact boxes can also act as preview panes at the bottom of the list page. This allows more information to display about the selected object itself in a list page and overcomes the space limitations of the number of columns displayed in the list. 

FastTab : Collapsible and expandable FastTabs replace traditional tabs on task pages in EP. Key fields can be promoted on a summary line that display even when the tab is collapsed. The traditional tabs can display information from one tab only at a time.  But with FastTabs and its auto summary fields, users can get full view of the selected object and all its important data in one shot without the need to navigate between different tabs.

Filters: Enterprise Portal now has a Quick Filter in all the list pages to allow the user to find data quickly. Developers can enable most common filtering fields readily available as Facet Filter at the top of the list page to increase their discoverability. Power users can build complex filtering conditions using the Advanced Filter control which allows multiple filter conditions.

Search: In Microsoft Dynamics AX6, EP makes search seamless by integrating with SharePoint Search through Business Connectivity Services (BCS). Microsoft Dynamics AX queries, Microsoft Dynamics AX Navigation metadata, and document attachments are published as BCS entities through Microsoft Dynamics AX Setup and end users can search for business data, metadata and attachments. For example, a user could search for customers, a link to the report, and any attached documents.

Navigation: In Microsoft Dynamics AX6, the quick launch displays items in a hierarchical view instead of a flat list as in prior versions. This way, related navigational elements are grouped together and are displayed in a familiar Outlook-type navigation control. The information architecture has been revisited in this release with consistent navigation taxonomy. This will help the end users quickly locate and navigate to the correct places to do their tasks.

Actions: Actions on the list page are more discoverable through the Action Pane. Also they can be exposed as hyperlinks on the list columns and as actions in a Fact Box. List Page also supports taking action on multiple items for bulk changes. 

New Controls: In Microsoft Dynamics AX6, we also added a number of new controls for displaying complex data in a usable way such as Account control for financial dimensions, Hierarchical grid view for resource scheduling, and Reference field for displaying composite keys.

Export to Excel: Users can seamlessly export any list into Excel through a command in Action Pane. This brings the power of Excel to the fingertips of EP users for analyzing and comprehending large amounts of data from a list page. With the Microsoft Dynamics AX Office Add-in, data could be refreshed at a later time directly from Excel to get the latest information.

LookUps: For quick data entry, lookups with a fewer number of rows (under 50 rows for example) could be made to render in-client instead of on the server. This reduces the wait time for the lookup to load tremendously improving the user experience and reducing the time it takes to enter data.

With these changes, users are now able to get and control more information in less time than ever before. Next time we’ll look at how Enterprise Portal rapidly responds to business needs.