AXUG Summit Preview: More Dynamics AX User Sessions, Clarity on Dynamics 365

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By:  Dann Anthony Maurno

Grant Wilson is an idea man, and in his new role as chair of the Microsoft Dynamics AX User Group (AXUG) he has helped plan what he believes is a very different AXUG Summit in 2016.

Wilson is the ERP Solutions Architect with Microsemi Corporation, a multinational provider of semiconductor and system solutions. He has been with Microsemi since 2014, but managed Dynamics AX systems or implementations for such companies as Vista Outdoors, Tenzing Technologies and Décor-Rest Furniture, among others. He has also served on the AXUG Summit planning committee for 10 years.

Wilson described to MSDynamicsWorld what AXUG Summit attendees can expect in 2016.

MSDW: Is the chairmanship an elected position?

Wilson: It is an elected position and it was a position that was open for a number of years. Last year there were more than a few people who thought that some things could have been better about Summit. So I brought these up to the board and came up with improvement suggestions, and everyone said “Seeing how you thought so much about this, we’re going to elect you to the currently unelected chairman position.”

We’ve been able to get a lot of things done, which I hope are great changes. And the membership numbers have actually shown that what we’re doing is going in the right direction. [We have surpassed] the forecasts for renewal rates and new members.

Can you give us a quick idea of what those improvements are?

The big thing was getting back to the idea that the user group was to be about users. What has happened over the years is the sessions at Summit have been more frequently led by partners than by actual users. Part of that was because a lot of the users who used to lead the sessions transitioned to being a partner, so we just continued on using the same people.

But people wanted to hear more from other users. So we had a big focus on bringing in new people, getting them trained to present, finding new content, really kind of refreshing the direction that we were going in terms of Summit.

So the number one reason people go [to Summit] is to learn; the number two reason is networking. So there’s a renewed focus on getting people together to meet other members. And given the Microsoft additions to Summit this year, it all adds up to bigger attendance.

So there will be more Microsoft involvement and sessions?

We wanted more user sessions and this year more than 70 percent of all sessions are going to be led by users which is spectacular. Last year it was less than 30 percent.

But in the interim, Microsoft changed the concept of Convergence to Envision. And the team at Microsoft came to the user group a few months ago and said “We kind of miss what we had at Convergence so we’d like to add a lot of the stuff we did at Convergence to Summit.” That means we’re going to have a big opening keynote from [Microsoft Executive Vice President, Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Group] Scott Guthrie, they [will bring] their support staff, and they’re going to present their vision for the future of all of the Dynamics products. They’re doing a bunch of sessions they would have done [at Convergence], while providing us a lot more support, and from a marketing standpoint, marketing Summit as if it was Convergence. So they’re putting their marketing power behind Summit to try and substantially increase the number of attendees.

AXUG is very good at taking a temperature of what attendees want to see. And that’s ceaselessly evolving isn’t it?

It is and we do go through a formal process where we ask people to submit requests for content.

And because we do webinars all year long, we get to see what is popular as the year goes along, and there are chapter meetings where we see what is popular. So it gives us a good barometer. I’m always amazed how it ebbs and flows from one thing to another, and things that I wouldn’t have thought were that important becoming important.

I expect people to be interested in AX7 [also known as the new Dynamics AX], but people are really interested in LCS [Microsoft Dynamics Lifecycle Services], much more than I would have thought, because Microsoft is pushing people in that direction.

Are there any 2016 sessions about which you’re particularly enthused?

I’m very interested in the opening Keynote, where Microsoft’s going to talk about Dynamics 365; they really haven’t released many details to anybody yet.

I’m interested in learning about the next version of AX, and how it’s applicable to us. Microsemi is really interested in implementing Dynamics AX 7, but we have more questions than answers at this point. And that seems to be common from a lot of people I talked to. So getting a chance to dig in and learn and talk to the Microsoft people who’ll be there, and there will be a couple of presentations from users who are actually using AX 7 in production environments.

So that’s kind of on my radar for this year, and this year’s a little different for me. A normal year for me is presenting anywhere from five to eight sessions. This year I’m involved in the opening keynote, the general sessions, but I’m not doing a lot of presenting. So I get a chance to sit and watch other people speak, which means I get to learn a little more than I would have in previous years.

Speaking as a Dynamics AX user, if you had to give an elevator pitch of the value of the Summit to someone who hasn’t attended before, what might you say?

I’ve been going to Summit for more than 10 years. The very first Summit I went to, I realized my return on the company’s investment within two weeks with everything I learned, just by talking to other users. It’s the quickest and easiest way to answer those questions; if something doesn’t work quite right or you’re trying to expand into something new, to be able to talk to someone who’s done it or solved the problem or is going through the same thing, it’s the only place you’re going to find those conversations largely with those kind of people.

If the focus has changed somewhat this year, then maybe who should attend has changed as well?

Yes. I would say that last year the largest group of attendees was very technical people, IT people, and the second largest group was finance people. And in ERP, those are really your two key constituents. I wouldn’t say we’re eliminating the need for anyone who’s gone in the past, but at Summit this year, it makes a lot more sense for executive people, the decision makers, to come than in previous years.

Registration for AXUG Summit is now open, and a schedule of sessions including two-day Pre-Conference Academy is available on the AXUG website. MSDynamicsWorld.com will be providing previews and on-site reporting as the event’s media sponsor.

About Dann Anthony Maurno

Dann Anthony Maurno is a seasoned business journalist who began his career as International Marketing Manager with Lilly Software, then moved on as a freelancer to write for such prestigious clients as CFO Magazine; Compliance Week;Manufacturing Business Technology; Decision Resources, Inc.; The Economist Intelligence Unit; and corporate clients such as Iron Mountain, Microsoft and SAP. He is the co-author of Thin Air: How Wireless Technology Supports Lean Initiatives(CRC/Productivity Press, 2010).

Dann can be reached at [email protected]