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Comparing project and resource scheduling options in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012

As a Microsoft Dynamics AX partner focused in serving the Professional Services industries, SAG has worked with a variety of different types of project-driven organizations.  It’s interesting to note the variations in how these organizations view the process of scheduling their projects and resources.  Luckily, in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 we have four different approaches for this, each having its own merits depending on the general paradigm of your organization and the intricacies of the projects that you’re managing.  We thought we’d highlight these options at a high level to shine some light on the pros and cons of each approach.

Option 1 – Native Activity-based Scheduling in Dynamics AX 2012

The Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 Services Industries solution (formerly known as Dynamics AX PSA) offers a native resource scheduling solution that we refer to as an “activity-based” scheduling model.  In this model, you build your project hierarchy or work breakdown structure (WBS), and then you create “activities” which are essentially a “task” in the WBS in Dynamics AX.  Each activity can have resource requirements (skills, availability, etc…), start and stop dates, and other attributes that define how resources can be scheduled to that activity.  You can then perform a skill and availability search to find and schedule the best fit resources.

  • Pros – For firms that are used to managing a WBS and who need detailed task-level scheduling, this is a decent fit.
  • Cons – Because scheduling is done at the activity level, this approach requires a fair bit of time and effort to manage, not only when doing the initial scheduling, but also when updating the schedule to reflect changes to your projects.  In a fluid environment like in most professional services firms, this can be cumbersome to manage.

Option 2 – Leveraging Integration to Microsoft Project Server

The second alternative is to leverage the bi-directional integration between Microsoft Dynamics AX and Microsoft Project Server.  While there are a seemingly endless number of use case scenarios for this integration, a common model would have an organization setting up the basic structure of the project in Dynamics AX, to the level of detail required for proper time capture and billing, and then passing the top level WBS structure over to Microsoft Project Server.  You can then perform your scheduling in Project Server, and even pass feedback on work progress back into Dynamics AX.

  • Pros – For organizations that are already using Microsoft Project Server to manage their projects, this could be a viable option.  This approach also allows you to leverage the best-in-class project management tools within Project Server.
  • Cons – If you haven’t licensed Microsoft Project Server for your users, this can add significant costs.  In addition, some organizations also prefer an “all in one” approach, meaning the ability to do everything inside the ERP system instead of using separate tools for some of these processes.  This also carries a higher cost of ownership as a result.

Option 3 – SAGlobal’s industry standard ProjAX (now known as Projects+) Resourcing solution

In following Microsoft’s industry strategy, SAGlobal has developed our ProjAX (now known as Projects+) Resourcing solution that provides industry standard resource scheduling functionality that is similar to what’s found in most Professional Services Automation (PSA) tools.  So if you’ve seen a PSA system that has the standard “scheduling grid” with the project work down the left side of the grid, and the weekly or daily buckets across the top of the screen, then this will look familiar to you.  What’s different about this approach compared to the native solution in Option #1, is that you don’t have to create and manage activities within a WBS – you can simply schedule at a role or resource level in higher level weekly buckets.  For many core professional services firms, this approach will feel much more comfortable.

  • Pros – This is a much less rigid scheduling model, so it provides a lot more flexibility in fluid environments.  Plus you don’t have to schedule all the way down at the task level, so it’s much less cumbersome to manage than a task or activity-based model.
  • Cons – Of course, for organizations that want to schedule within a detailed WBS hierarchy at the task level, this is probably not the best approach.

Option 4 – Adeaca Advanced Projects Solution

By far the most sophisticated alternative of the bunch, the Adeaca Advanced Projects solution for Dynamics AX layers in a sophisticated project and resource scheduling engine for organizations that use a highly complex WBS and have a lot of constraints or dependencies within their resources or activities.  Essentially, this has all of the capabilities of Microsoft Project Server (dependencies, pre-requisites, etc.) but is actually running inside of Dynamics AX, so it’s really slick.  The embedded scheduling engine can handle a variety of types of resources (equipment, rooms, people, items, etc…), is nicely tied into the supply chain management modules in Dynamics AX for including the timing of purchasing or manufacturing activities within the schedule, and has the ability to auto-schedule and re-schedule your projects and resources based on your project requirements.  It also supports critical path analysis, earned value management, and other more advanced project management concepts.  What’s also nice is that it offers a sophisticated project and portfolio analytics module that provides some great analysis capabilities for viewing project and resource performance.

  • Pros – If you manage a highly complex WBS, and/or work in a constraint-based environment with a lot of dependencies in your schedules, this is the solution for you.  It provides a true Enterprise Project & Portfolio Management (EPPM) solution built right within your ERP system. It also offers the most in-depth project and portfolio analytics out of the box.
  • Cons – Organizations looking for the automated scheduling capabilities need to be prepared to give up control to the scheduling engine, which can be a cultural shift for many organizations not accustomed to this level of automation.  It’s not quite as flexible for organizations that want to schedule in higher level time buckets, so some core professional services firms might find it to be a lot of work to manage. There’s also an additional cost to this solution beyond the core Dynamics AX licenses, but again for organizations looking for a true EPPM solution inside of Dynamics AX, these costs can be easily justified.

Hopefully this helps provide a little more context around the options for Project and Resource Scheduling in Dynamics AX.  If you’d like more information or to further discuss these alternatives, do contact us.

For more information on  SAGlobal in general and our Dynamics AX solutions for Professional Services firms and other project-driven organizations, please visit our website at www.saglobal.com.

About the Author

Susan Mattea

Senior Business Manager with sa.global

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