StarBase Blog

 

StarBase recently surveyed AX Programme Managers in the UK and beyond to understand the challenges they face in achieving quality outcomes.

In summary, while Dynamics AX is sold on ease of implementation, Programme Managers are experiencing all the challenges common to any ERP programme. The biggest issue for nearly all respondents was the lack of resources skilled in quality assurance.

You can see the full survey write-up in the slideshow below:

Contact us to discuss how we improve AX quality outcomes


If you’d like to speak with us about how we mitigate risk in Dynamics AX programmes, please call us on 020 8236 7010 or fill out the Contact Us form.

Read more about how StarBase accelerates slow-running Dynamics AX.

Read more about StarBase’s Dynamics AX testing practice

 

At some time or another we’ve all been caught out by Sod’s Law; key team members going sick at crucial points of project or programme delivery or someone taking holiday at just the wrong time. At StarBase we think we can help dramatically reduce the impact of Sod’s Law on your testing projects or programmes, with our ”lastminute.com” styled Specialists on Demand Service, providing specialist Performance and Automation Consultants at short notice for short durations at great rates.

For the mathematicians amongst us, it’s good to know that you can now predict how likely you are to fall foul of Sod’s Law and it’s interesting to understand what you can do to stack the odds in your favour by applying this simple formula:
 

*((U+C+I) x (10-S))/20 x A x 1/(1-sin(F/10))
 

The formula looks at five factors relating to any event or action: urgency (U), complexity (C), importance (I), skill (S) and frequency (F). A score of between one and nine is applied to each of these factors, with a 0.7 score for aggravation (A), and then the formula can be used to find a Sod’s Law rating of between zero and ten. The higher the resulting number, the more likely it is that you will fall foul of Sod’s Law. To get your score down you have to change one of the elements of the equation.

As described, by its nature Sod’s Law will strike at highly inconvenient times e.g. just when you need to have your team working at full throttle to meet near impossible deadlines. So consider the benefits of really being able to change one of the key elements in the formula, without putting the project or programme delivery at risk? What if you could rate the skill element as virtually zero, ie you don’t need to worry about replacing the critical hard to find skills of the missing team member(s)?

Clients of StarBase have access at short notice to short term specialist cover by our Test Consultants, to augment existing teams when Sod’s Law strikes. And because it’s short notice and short term work we offer them at great value rates, it’s a WIN-WIN solution, you get the resources you need and we have our Consultants out helping clients.

If you’d like to learn more about our Specialists On Demand Service offering please contact us or call 020 8236 7010


*Thanks to Dr Leysar, Dr Lewis and consultant mathematician Philip Obadya who worked out the formula having studied the experiences of 1,000 Sod’s Law victims

 

At StarBase, we are called in to assure Dynamics AX implementations that need to scale, and to diagnose problems causing AX to slow down in ‘live’.

Here are the top five reasons we see for why your Dynamics AX implementation might not scale for hundreds or thousands of users…
  
1. Custom code…
Dynamics AX is a scalable platform, and if it is used without additional custom code then it performs very well. However it is rare that a ‘Commercial-Off-The-Shelf’ ERP platform is used without customisation to specific business requirements and processes.
Custom code often introduces performance defects because while programmers may be adept at writing the new functionality required, they tend to have much less appreciation of how their code will perform and scale. A custom process involving a lookup in a newly-designed table may run quickly at 50 or 100 users but be entirely unsuitable for 1,000 users.

2. … and interfaces
Chances are your AX system isn’t standalone – it probably has many upstream and downstream connections into other line-of-business and partner systems. 
We see interfaces to other systems frequently introducing performance bottlenecks and impacting overall solution performance. 
Performance problems of this type can be very tricky to diagnose: is it AX that’s slow, the interfaced system, the interface itself, the volume of data, the network or something else?
 
3. Security
If you are running a large AX deployment, the standard role-based and organisational security may not give you enough control over your data, and you may look to introduce record level security to limit access. On AX this is known as XDS (extensible data security) and it is extremely powerful and flexible. However, this increased data control comes at a price, and that is a hit on performance. Because of the way XDS works, depending on your organisation, team and address book setup, it can make your system very complex and resource hungry. This will have a significant performance impact on both the transactions you are protecting and on the system as a whole.
 
4. Access methods
The AX rich client hates slow networks! It is very “chatty” with the Application Object Server (i.e. the middleware), and the greater the latency the bigger the performance impact. Performance may be great for your support staff if they are in the same county and even the same building as the AOS, but your worldwide deployments may not give the same response to all your users.
We have seen that where there is more than minimal latency in your network, using Remote Desktop Services (RDS) or Citrix as your access method can address this issue. But you still need to plan your deployment carefully or the resource-hunger of the AX client will affect your RDS or Citrix environment. 

5. Infrastructure
Maybe this was the obvious one to lead with. After all, if you haven’t got enough tin, how can you expect it to perform as you increase the number of users and the workload on it? With enough budget it should be an easy problem to rectify, no?
However, you won’t necessarily know whether it’s definitely a lack of infrastructure that is the issue or whether it’s one of the points above.

Resolution…
For systems that have already gone live, StarBase’s Performance Engineering capability rapidly works out what combination of factors is at the root of an observed performance issue. Using a range of tools and techniques, our team diagnoses the issues in detail and works with your infrastructure team, your system architects, your developers or AX Partners to resolve them. 

For implementations that have not yet gone live, we suggest performance scalability testing where the required peak loads are simulated so that potential performance issues are surfaced. Larger implementations in particular are ill-advised to go live without confirming in advance that performance and responsiveness will be as required. 

Optimal is to bring Performance Engineering into your development cycle from the outset: that way defects that will affect performance can be identified early and remedied before they are baked into the system and become much more expensive to fix.

Understanding and being able to predict where performance will fail means you can throw expertise at the problems that require expertise and hardware only at those that require hardware.

To learn more about getting the most from your Dynamics AX investment click here or call 020 8236 7010

The overload of cinema websites ahead of the launch of “Spectre”, the new James Bond movie, and next month’s launch of the new Star Wars film hit the newspaper headlines and made the national news. A public relations nightmare, with irate customers resorting to social media to lambast those responsible, whilst others claimed that they had had money withdrawn from their bank accounts, but were without tickets or ticket confirmation.

The cinema chains will ride out the PR, still show the film, and make money from the experience.  Indeed, it actually made people like me realise that tickets were now available!  But can your business turn such a performance disaster to your advantage in the same way? Probably not. Don't Let Poor Performance be Your Downfall 

For a retailer, an unresponsive, slow or crashed website will drive customers to find another on-line vendor and their confidence in your brand and market place will be lowered for some time into the future. For those with retail stores too, that frustration can cost you high street sales too.

These peaks, which could include a ‘black Friday’, promotional offers or a product launch, are not always predictable.  The cost of covering every demand eventuality is also likely to be uneconomic. 

Thus businesses need to adopt coping strategies, which could include:
•    Shutting down access to new connections once a user threshold is reached
•    Setting up a queuing system, similar to the above, but at least keeping customers informed
•    Throwing more hardware at the problem, whether hardware or cloud capacity
•    Just let it happen

You still need to understand the limits of your solutions to set such thresholds. You will need to prove that any scalable solution works or take a chance on perfect implementation. Yet for large scale customer or user driven solutions, performance testing can be costly in terms of resources, time and money.

If you think you should take another look at the limitations of your systems, here’s a short StarBase Insight guide to what you need to consider, helping to keep the costs under control. You should also take a look at our Test&Go: Performance Evaluation service - fast to deploy, fixed price and fixed duration. 
 


Why did StarBase’s move into Dynamics come about?

I recognised an emerging opportunity: Dynamics AX is starting to become a serious choice for medium-sized enterprises, but there are not the skills in the market needed to provide the kind of quality assurance that those larger implementations need. While Dynamics AX partners are scaling up their delivery organisations, they do not have the specialist testing capability and testing culture to do this.

At StarBase, we have been testing large ERP systems for many years. We saw that we could adapt our knowledge and experience from this to produce a right-sized solution for Dynamics AX implementations with a smart tool set to match.

 

Why is there a need for a dedicated Dynamics AX practice?

As you customise any ERP system, complexity increases and this introduces significant failure risk when you then try to scale it or upgrade it – this is as true of Dynamics AX as it is of Oracle or SAP.

While the Dynamics AX partners are responsible for certain aspects of quality assurance, the client must do its own acceptance testing. The client’s testing needs to cover not only whether the system functions as business users expect but also whether it can handle expected current and future transaction volumes without failing or slowing down. It’s important to realise that this is outside the scope of what Dynamics AX partners test.

Elsewhere in the IT world, clients widely use specialist testing providers to manage and execute elements of their assurance process. But in the Dynamics AX market, this is relatively new. Partly this is because until recently most Dynamics implementations were for smaller numbers of users. But with the number of large projects growing – in some cases running to thousands of users – the time is definitely right for a dedicated AX testing practice.

 

So what are you actually doing for your clients?

Some clients are very experienced at testing, but for many, management of their testing from inception through release to live brings huge value. We put in place smart testing strategies to identify and address what needs to be tested. Not having a proper structure around this can quickly lead to unmanageable situations.

Our philosophy is to automate testing wherever feasible and where it pays to do so. We have developed a framework in-house for automating Dynamics AX which has two benefits: it drastically cuts the time and cost of testing each upgrade or new release; and it enables clients to achieve much greater test coverage than they possibly could with manual testing.

Then there’s our traditional core capability in performance assurance. For larger Dynamics AX implementations, this can be critical to success: there’s the point just ahead of launch where we’re answering questions like “what will happen to our system’s responsiveness when the 5,000 users from our global locations are brought on-board?” And then there’s monitoring of system performance in live, identifying reasons why key business transactions are running slowly and working with the client, their Dynamics AX partner and with Microsoft to fix them.

In summary, mid-sized enterprises are now spending significant sums migrating core processes to Dynamics AX and they want to know that they will get the competitive advantage and cost savings they were expecting. We have a right-sized solution that can provide the assurance at the technology level that this will happen. 

 

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