Is #SageACT! getting too complicated?

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I was reading this article on Mashable: Facebook Is Getting Too Damn Complicated and can see a point.
KISSLike Facebook, Sage ACT! has been the leader in it’s market for some time… and largely for the same reasons. It has had the right mix of ease-of-use and flexibility to deliver the solution – most of the time.
I discussed the typical process that decisions on new versions are made in a previous article:
How Are Product Management Decisions Made?

Priorities are not easy to determine

The setting of priorities (as per above link) is a really difficult line that most software vendors walk… trying to keep the product usable in it’s target market and dealing with the need to create new functions that appeal to potential new users or encourage current users to upgrade. For those with responsibility for the development of Sage ACT!, this line is more fine than most:
  • The product has consistently outsold it’s competitors (many that are more functionally powerful) because it has had the reputation of being the easiest to use while still maintaining flexibility to cope with most users’ demands. New features should be implemented in a way that doesn’t increase the complexity unnecessarily
  • There is a large core base of users that have been with ACT! for 10-20 years (or longer). Changes to functions (or worse, removal of them) causes users not to upgrade or even to look elsewhere. This was really evident in the first releases by both Symantec (3.0) and Sage (7.0) when items were left out  - either because the new development team didn’t realise people used them, or simply didn’t know the function was there.

Not all the reasons are good ones

This process becomes even more complex when we add some of the less valid reasons for priority selection:
  • The need to stave off potential competitors by imitation a feature list;
  • To avoid the perception of being stale; or the worst reason:
  • To add items that produce PR content, while adding little to the user experience – sometimes this is exasperated by the product management decisions being made by people who don’t use the product “in anger” and don’t fully comprehend the scenarios it gets used in.
When feature bloat is attributed to this last item, new functions are typically plagued with a number of flaws:
  • They lack the depth of options for real-world use of the feature
  • The UI makes the operation less obvious to understand and use
  • They are often not properly integrated with all the current components
  • Sadly, they are often done at the expense of “less flashy” but more useful improvements

Some examples

There has been a number of times in ACT!’s history where, in my opinion, product management has been guilty of such decisions… where features added that don’t seem to have users requesting them or are implemented in a questionable way that marks a checkbox, produces a press release, but falls short of being usable. Some of these include:
  • Sales Opportunities in ACT! 2000 (5.0) – these were hardly usable for a few versions
  • Resources – can’t be used in a sync environment, making them unusable for many sites
  • Smart Tasks – really don’t go far enough to be usable, can’t be administrated or run as service
  • Social Networks – doesn’t link contacts to accounts (only search), doesn’t update data or record communications. See: Social Media and CRM – thoughts on how they should connect
  • Google Integration – it leaves out the most important part, the ability to send and merge emails
  • Web browser support – doesn’t support Chrome, Safari or current versions of Firefox and doesn’t support Office integration unless using IE
  • Sage Connect – doesn’t support international phone numbers (neither does Outlook/Google sync)
featuritis_2Both of the co-founders of ACT! (Mike Muhney and Pat Sullivan) feel that the product is losing (or has lost) the essence of it’s direction. You can see Pat’s comment here and Mike’s here

It doesn’t need to be like this

I think Apple are one of the best companies at avoiding this problem. Their iOS operating system (iPhone/iPad) lacks much power functionality that Blackberry has had for years (see this post) and Android are now doing, but their choice to have kept the UI simple (at the expense of those functions) has worked for them. Apple prove that you don’t need specific features for the market to accept the product as “cool”

So, what does Sage need do?

Don’t get me wrong – I still believe that Sage ACT! is the best product of it’s type… but an urgent cultural change is needed to maintain that position. Basically, I think they need to stop relying on focus groups and instead actively engage with users (and the ACT! Consultants who support those users) in public forums.
For a while, when David van Toor was running the product, he did this … and the two versions released under his guidance were the most well accepted on release for his efforts.
Additionally, I think they would benefit from dropping the annual upgrade cycle – with release date dictated by bean-counters’ needs for numbers boost prior to Sage’s end of financial year.
I’m not sure of the likelihood of the current management taking this path, but one can only hope.
What do you feel?
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What's New in #SageACT! 2012 – released Sept 1st

This is the official information from Sage. I will soon post an article on my opinions of the new version.

Update: Sage have release a day-0 Hotfix 1 … Any installs from now will get this update slipstreamed and there will be a download soon for the early birds. As soon as I find out what this fixes, I’ll let you know.

The Sage ACT! 2012 release is focused on a number of  significant enhancements including Google® Integration, Scratchpad, Connected Services, Universal Search and much more. All this enables you to work and communicate more effectively, become more productive and efficient, and better serve your contacts. Click on one of the links below for more information on the specified topic.

 



New Features and Functionality


For details regarding each new feature, click the link for Knowledgebase article for that feature.
Google Contacts, Calendar and Gmail Integration
  • Contact Synching capabilities from Google to Sage ACT! and Sage ACT! to Google.
  • Contact Sync set capabilities to allow users to select a sub-set of their Sage ACT! contacts to synch over to Google.
  • Calendar synching that allows users to update both their Google and Sage ACT! Calendars and have them synch regardless of where events were created or modified.
  • The ability to choose which systems alarms display in for events.
  • Users can select whether they want Sage ACT! or Google to “win” for conflict resolution when both calendars have been changed.
  • Activity type synching options allow users to choose which activity types will synch. The defaults options are Appointments and Meetings.
  • Scheduling synching options as frequently as one minute is available, but to limit performance impact, the suggested synching interval is 10 minutes.
  • A new Google Integration synchronization panel from the Tools menu is available to set up both Contact and Calendar synchronization at once.
Knowledgebase article: 27988

Sage ACT! Scratchpad

  • Provide Sage ACT! users with a virtual piece of paper on their desktop to do the following tasks:
    • Quickly jot down notes, reminders, and to-dos in one simple user interface, with or without Sage ACT! running
    • Organize items in the list
    • Check-off or delete items
    • Print the list so you can take it with you
    • Add items as notes, history or activity in Sage ACT!
  • Items from Sage ACT! Scratchpad will be sent to the Sage ACT! database that the user is currently logged into.
Knowledgebase article: 28077

Universal Search

  • Users now have the ability to find that key documents or piece of information they need in their contacts, groups, companies, opportunities, notes, history, and attachments, because search is faster and more expansive than ever.
  • The ability to perform advanced search using operators
  • Filter search criteria by all dates, last 24 hours, last week, and last month
  • View search results displayed by relevance and double-click on the item of interest to be taken to that particular field or attachment.
  • Users can also filter search results for secondary contacts and products
Knowledgebase article: 28034

Services Discoverability/Connections View

  • A new Connections view within the Sage ACT! application that helps users sign-up and learn more about Connected Services that could improve their bottom line and efficiencies in running their business.
  • Users can manage their existing Connected Services through this view.
Knowledgebase article: 28094

Installation/Getting Started

  • For new customer installs, third party applications such as Microsoft® Office, Microsoft Outlook® and Internet Explorer® do not need to be closed before Sage ACT! installation. Users can now continue to be productive while Sage ACT! installation is progressing.
  • Installation panel that provides prerequisites and average times to install before installation begins.
Knowledgebase article: 27964 (Sage ACT! Pro), 27971 (Sage ACT! Premium)

Database Administration

  • Improved usability in opening and sharing databases
  • Shows all databases attached to the local SQL Server® instance and the most recently used databases in a dialog.
  • Users can also share databases from within this dialog – no need to find the buried menu.
Knowledgebase article: 28142

Import

  • Import logs are now available to give counts of successful records imported and details of what records failed.
  • Import log is displayed at the final stage of import.
  • Users can quickly get out of the import process (no need to confirm that they want to cancel an import process)
Knowledgebase article: 27976

Outlook Integration

  • When Sage ACT! detects that the user is attempting to integrate Microsoft® Outlook® 64-bit with Sage ACT!, a message dialog will be displayed that states that Microsoft Outlook 64-bit is not supported, and that the 32-bit version is supported.

Web Administration (Sage ACT! Premium web client)

  • Ability to manage critical administration tasks from Sage ACT! Premium (access via web) client.
  • Manage users
  • Manage teams
  • Lock/unlock a database
  • Manage password policy
Knowledgebase article: 28095

 

Fixed Issues for Sage ACT! Pro and Sage ACT! Premium

Synchronization – Remote Databases

  • In previous versions, changing fields to a different drop down field list does not sync to remote databases. This issue has now been resolved.
  • In previous versions, updates on the parent database do not get synchronized to remote if both sides modify the same contact. Original data on the remote replaces the changes on the parent. This issue is now resolved.
  • The changes made in the document attached to a contact in the remote database are not synchronized to the document on the parent database. After editing and syncing to parent, a GUID number is added to the file and updated properly on the remote database. On the parent, the document is still linked to the original file name. On remote, the document is linked to the edited attachment. This issue is resolved.
  • Outlook contacts are removed from the remote database after syncing to parent. Issue is now fixed.
  • Resolved issue of not being able to change settings on multiple remote databases.

Outlook Integration

  • There was an issue where Contact and Calendar sync were failing with the following combination of conditions: User Account Control (UAC) in Windows® is turned ON, sync is run from the Sage ACT! menu or sync is run from the Sage Integration menu, and both Outlook and Sage Integration are run as/by a Windows Standard user. This issue has now been resolved. In other user privilege combinations and if a failure occurs, the proper messaging guiding users on how to resolve the issue is displayed.
  • Issue where the Outlook add-in for Sage ACT! displays a runtime error during loading when upgrading to Sage ACT! 2011 SP1, is now resolved.
  • Performance degradation when loading task list after sending an email using Outlook. Specific to Windows 7 and Office 2007 environments. Issue has been resolved.
  • In Terminal Services environment, Act.Outlook.Sync.exe errors display when logging in with multiple users. Multiple users can now log on to the same machine and sync Sage ACT! and Outlook simultaneously.
  • When attempting to send an email to two separate distribution lists on the same email, the email will not attach back into Sage ACT!. Issue has been resolved.

Contacts/Companies

  • Issue of not being able to continue using Sage ACT! without saving company name has been resolved.
  • Salutation field is deleted when users have set a preference to not fill the salutation field. Issue has been fixed.
  • Error while editing data in Company list view while in customize columns mode. Issue has been fixed.
  • In the Company detail view, if a user creates a company with divisions and then expands the tree view in the left navigation to show divisions and then switches the layout of the detail view to another layout, the expansion in the left navigation collapses.
  • Company name is right justified after performing a lookup. Issue is now resolved.

Import/Export

  • If contact with several names is not mapped in the multiple contact name dialog, nothing is imported into the database. Issue has been fixed.
  • Contacts of Opportunities are not exported when export from one database to another database. Issue has been fixed.
  • Import from Microsoft Excel® showing incorrect date format. Issue has been resolved.

Security

  • Emails sent to other users incorrectly adds the file to the attachment supplemental files folder. Issue has been resolved.

Lookups

  • No response after clicking Go to Advanced Query link on Lookup Opportunities view. Issue has been fixed.
  • Record Manager listed as Manager when doing lookups. Issue has been fixed.

Copy Database/Save As/New

  • The issue of not being to delete users in empty copy databases after applying Sage ACT! 2011 SP1 has now been resolved.
  • The issue of not being able to change default duplicate checking criteria in empty copy database after applying Sage ACT! 2011 SP1 is now resolved.
  • Teams created when setting team level security in empty copy database.

Reports

  • Gross Margin by Product calculated total cost incorrectly. Issue has been fixed.
  • Opportunity by Product does not display correct information. Issue has been fixed.
  • Issue of Group reports coming up blank when all sub groups are selected for selected groups is now resolved.

Smart Tasks

  • Deleting or changing an attachment to a Smart Task step after that Smart Task has been set to auto-run will result in no attachments being included in the Smart Task step. Issue has been resolved.

Activities/Notes/Histories

  • When adding a resource to an Activity in Sage ACT!, the activity is duplicated in the task list if the filter criteria for the task list is set to “all users”.

Restore

  • Database Restore does note restore custom layout.
    Workaround: Use "Restore As" function instead of "Restore".

Sage ACT! Email Client

  • Attaching emails to contact history is not working from the Sage ACT! Email client. History recording to Groups or Companies does not work as well for emails from Sage ACT! Email.

Other

  • Error message displays when users select “Add Permissions” link in Manage Users dialog. The link now opens correctly without error message.
  • Sage ACT! Office Add-in disables Quick Print function in Microsoft Word 2007/2010 after applying Sage ACT! 2011 SP1 update. Issue has been resolved.
  • Company Web Info tab links are not refreshed with current entity data if Web Site field has never contained data. Issue has been resolved.
  • Information on relationship between two contacts is not saved when using the Relationship hyperlink. Issue is now fixed.
  • When printing calendars using Quick Print, data from days other than those showing on the screen are printing.
  • When using the Facebook® and Google® links in Internet Explorer® 8, information will not display in the web info tab because of changes made by these sites to not display in frames. Issue has been resolved.
  • OLEDB Provider – Ambiguous Column Name when querying table with spill-over tables.
  • Alarms – Snoozing alarms causes error: Index was outside the bounds of the array.
  • Follow up activities not marked private even though the preference of "Make new activities public" is unchecked. Issue is now resolved.
  • If a user edits a layout within the first two minutes of opening Sage ACT!, Sage ACT! will switch between views and the layout designer 5 times. This behaviour is intentional; therefore we do not have plans to turn off background loading at this time.
    Workaround: Wait for more than two minutes before editing layouts after opening Sage ACT!.
  • When performing a mail merge to a Microsoft® Word document using Microsoft Word 2010, no history record is created for the record.

 

Fixed Issues for Sage ACT! Premium (access via web)

Installation/Uninstall

  • Syncconfigfile.xml file not copied during install, resulting in not being able to set up the Sage ACT! Internet Sync service. Issue has now been resolved.

Contacts/Companies

  • Contact Detail view is blank after selecting contacts from the contact lookup list, and when users navigate to other views, they are logged out of the database. Issue has been resolved.
  • Clicking on an email address in contact list gives a 404 error. Issue has been fixed.
  • When Customizing Columns in Contact List view, the dialog is in a distorted view that displays only the Available Fields. Issue is not resolved.

Activities

  • Resolved the issue of not being able to sort activities by date or time from Web client when start time is after 5:00 PM.

Outlook Integration

  • Outlook displays error about missing .dll files when loading Outlook integration. Outlook integration is now loaded without errors.
  • Sage ACT! address book is not listed as an available address book in Outlook for Outlook integration. Issue is now resolved.
  • When updating the time on a Sage ACT! activity and checking the “send invitation email” box on the activity dialog, the sender will get an updated iCalendar invitation, but the time still shows the original time for the activity.
    Workaround: The sender must manually change the activity time and/or date inside the email message. The manually updated message does update the receiver’s existing Outlook Calendar.
    Note: Microsoft currently has no plans to refresh the cache more often or provide a mechanism for Sage ACT! to refresh their cache due to performance.
  • Act.Outlook.Sync.exe errors when logging in with multiple users in Terminal Services. Issue has been resolved.

Preferences

  • Fixed the issue of not being able to change record creation options from the Web database client.

Opportunities

  • Custom date ranges on opportunity list filters does not return any results/data. Issue has been fixed.

Lookups/Keyword Search

  • Sorting on results of contact column after performing keyword search does not sort in any logical order. Issue is now resolved.
  • Lookup Keyword Search does not find all records, specifically is searching the Current Lookup. Issue has now been resolved.

Mail Merge

  • When Microsoft Word is set as the word processing editor for Sage ACT! Premium (access via web), if a user opens the mail merge fields dialog to add fields to the mail merge template, the fields are not in alphabetical order. Issue has been resolved.
  • Mail merge to Microsoft Word and print does not record history. Issue has been resolved.

Firefox™ Web Browser

  • Unable to perform advanced queries when accessing the web database client via Firefox®. Issue has been resolved.

Login

  • User logs in and in a varying time from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, the user will start getting a pop up message stating "Continue to stay logged in". The user then receives this same popups every 1,2, or 5 minutes asking them to click to continue. Issue has now been resolved.
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Can Sage treat ACT! as a global product?

sageLogoThose who know me know that I love and support ACT!, but there are some issues with Sage that I believe need work.

There has been a discussion going on in the LinkedIN ACT! Fanatics Group for some time on how to find ACT! Consultants in international regions. The discussion can be seen here: Finding ACCs around the world...

There has been some good comments from Consultants, users and Sage staff. This has helped me to a few thoughts on what the problems are and I thought I would describe them here.

Regionalisation

The first problem is regionalisation (at least the way Sage do it). This causes issues in the product design AND in the support of users and channel. While this does work in the ERP world, that Sage comes from and where every country/region needs different handling, it actually harms the proper selling and supporting of CRM.

ERP users (even in small multi-nationals) don't usually spread usage of their accounting system across country boarders. However, CRM users regularly do and even those based in one country will travel and want access to their data. There are many areas of the product that are designed with North American defaults that don't work as well for others – multi-currency, scheduling for different time zones, phone formatting and country codes to name a few.

From the support point of view (especially the channel support), this is left to the individual Regional Operating Companies ... and they simply don't have the resources or budget to provide this for Sage ACT! at the same level as North America. It is this area that has caused some regions (eg Asia) to drop ACT! altogether.

I offered to help Sage with training and support ACT! resellers in Asia, but was told they weren’t interested.

Sage has a corporate marketing team that directs all the OpCos about the logos, colours, etc ... they need to implement a similar method to ensure that ACT! (and probably other CRM solutions) have a similar global uniformity in dealing with their partners and users.

Responsibility with Authority

The second problem that is endemic across Sage is that those given responsibility for an area or project rarely (if ever) also have the necessary authority to make changes... and those with the authority rarely understand the product.

Over the past years, I have spoken to many staff who agree with many of these issues… but the regional staff tell me it’s corporate and those with global responsibilities tell me that decisions are made by the regions.

Management Communication

The third issue is the lack of public communication on ACT!'s road-map from management since David van Toor left. I highlighted this in this post:  Better handling of rapidly updating environment (yet to get a response from Sage). If you haven't added a Kudo to that post, please do.

Even the Press has Noticed

You'll see that I'm not the only one who sees some of these issues ... read this ZDNet article:
ZDNet - Sage Summit 2011: CRM at a Crossroads
This is a mostly positive article, but his conclusion that says corporate needs to "rejigger its thinking" in how they handle their CRM products is spot on.

Moving Forward

Should anyone at Sage Group Inc. or the ACT! team wish to discuss any of these points, I’d be more than happy to talk and help to come up with a way to address them. Like you, my aim is to provide the best experience for users and partners with their investment in Sage ACT!

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Sage ACT! 2011 SP1 Hotfix 4

This documentation applies to Hot Fix 4 for Sage ACT! 2011 SP1 for the following versions:

  • Sage ACT! Pro 2011 SP1 (version 13.1.111.0)
  • Sage ACT! Premium 2011 SP1 (version 13.1.111.0)
  • Sage ACT! Premium 2011 (access via web) SP1 (web server version 13.1.111.0)

This hot fix requires that Sage ACT! 2011 Service Pack 1 (SP1) be installed. If you have not yet installed SP1, please do so before applying this hot fix. Instructions for downloading and installing SP1 are in the following Knowledgebase article:

How To Download and Apply Sage ACT! 2011 Service Pack 1 (includes Hot Fix 1)
Answer ID: 27290

Do not apply this hot fix to any other versions or builds of the software. To determine the version of the product you are using, select Help, then About ACT! from the ACT! main menu.

Important: You must apply this hot fix to all machines that share the database – especially when using synchronization. This includes all machines that contain the Main Synchronization Database (Publisher), Main Remote Database (Subscriber), and machines that have the ACT! Network or ACT! Internet Sync Services installed. All machines must have this hotfix applied for synchronization to continue. Check installed version by going to Help and About Act!. Consult with your administrator before applying this in a sync environment.

Sage ACT! 2011 hot fixes are cumulative, so the latest hot fix will include the benefits of all earlier hot fixes for this version. It is not required to install earlier hot fixes prior to installing the latest hot fix.

Hot Fix 4 for Sage ACT! 2011 SP1 is designed to resolve the following issues:

  • You see that Microsoft® Outlook® takes a long time to load when the Sage ACT! address book has been added and Exchange Cache mode in Outlook has been disabled.
  • You are using a localized version of Sage ACT! and see that umlauts are stripped from the content of any email that also contains a graphic.
  • You are using remote database synchronization and see that record information is not being exchanged correctly when changes are entered to the same record at both the parent and the remote sites during a single sync cycle.
  • You see that attachments with file names exceeding 15 characters are stripped from email messages received using the Sage ACT! Email client.
  • You notice that Keyword search fails to return all expected records.
  • Your database contains one or more custom entities that include spillover tables and the following error displays when running a query on one of those tables: “Ambiguous column name ‘EventsID’.
  • You have edited a template in your Sage ACT! Premium (access via web) database and are unable to save the template to a public directory.
  • You see that attachments with names that exceed 15 characters are stripped from email messages sent using Sage ACT! email.
  • You are using a localized version of Sage ACT!, and see that the Maximize button in the Keysearch window is unavailable.
  • You are using a German version of Sage ACT! 2011, and see that the word ‘location’ is translated incorrectly in the Appointment Activity Send Email invitation.
  • You are using Sage ACT! with Microsoft® Windows® 7 and Microsoft Office® 2007, and see performance degrade after sending an email through Sage ACT! to a contact and then creating or clearing an activity.
  • You are using Microsoft Outlook Integration with Sage ACT! and see performance degrade after sending an email to a contact, opening the calendar, and then opening the task list.
  • You are using Sage ACT! 2011 Service Pack 1 with Microsoft Word 2007 or 2010 and notice that the Quick Print function in Word 2007/2010 is disabled.
  • You have cleared the Allow history creation for email sent from a user of this database to another user option (Tools>Preferences> Admin), but find that email sent to other users incorrectly adds files to the attachments folder.
  • You are using Sage ACT! 2011 Service Pack 1 with ACT! Email and see the options to attach a file or a photo are unavailable.
  • You are using Sage ACT! Premium for Web and, after using Lookup to find a group of records, you see that the Contact Detail page is blank, you are unable to page through the Contacts returned in the lookup, and returning to the Contact List view causes you to be logged out of the database.
  • You are using Sage ACT! Premium for Web and are unable to change Record Creation options in the Web Client. You are using an English language version of Sage ACT!, but the new Data Chart properties display French options.
  • You are using Sage ACT! with Outlook Integration over Terminal Server and see an error if more than one Sage ACT! user is logged in.
  • You are using Sage ACT! Premium 2011 (access via web) with Microsoft® Outlook® integration enabled and notice that Sage ACT! is not listed as an available address book in Outlook.
  • You are using Sage ACT! Premium 2011 (access via web) and see a distorted view when attempting to customize columns in the Contact List.
  • You are using Microsoft  Office® 2007 with a Dutch language version of Sage ACT! and see, that when you create a quote from a new opportunity, the Excel® portion of the quote fails to populate.
  • You have applied the SP1 update to Sage ACT! 2011, made a copy of your database via the File > Save Copy option, and see unexpected error messages when attempting to set your duplicate checking options in the copy of the database.
  • You have applied the SP1 update to Sage ACT! 2011, made a copy of your database via the File > Save Copy option, and see unexpected error messages when attempting to delete a user account in the copy of the database.
  • You  have applied the SP1 update to Sage ACT! 2011, have remote databases, have setup Outlook Contact Synchronization, and are seeing data inconsistency between the Publisher database, Remote databases, and Outlook when synchronizing.
  • You have applied  the SP1 update to Sage ACT! 2011 and are now unable to use the Outlook Add-In for Sage ACT!.

Downloading the Hotfix:

Sage ACT! 2011 SP1 Hot Fix 4 (English)
Sage ACT! 2011 SP1 Hot Fix 4 (French)

More detailed information available from ACT! Knowledgebase KB27440

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ACT! for Notes 9.0 is ready for Shipment!

ACT! for Notes 9.0 will instantly increase user enthusiasm, user adoption, deliver results and help you get more of what you value most - TIME!

ACT! for Notes 9.0 is Simple Efficient and Easier to Use.
Seeing is believing, so schedule your web demo, request a Free demo and check out our below videos.  
Below are only a couple of reasons that ACT! for Notes 9.0 will Help Save you Time and make you more Productive.
Partial List of New Features
Web Search Action Buttons - integrate with endless on-line social media and reference resources, directly from your ACT! for Notes database. ACT! for Notes 9 brings you visibility to relevant contact information residing in Google News™, Weather, LinkedIn®, and Facebook right to your desktop.  You can add new or change existing searches on your own!  (see AFN 9.0 Preview below)  
Contact and Company Forms  - Redesigned forms give AFN users a "360-degree view" of ALL RELATED INFORMATION including : Activities, Notes, Sales Opportunities, individual contacts at a company, account billing info, and attachments such as contracts, proposals, and much more.  (see AFN 9.0 Preview below)
Enhanced Search Capabilities - A new "Output to Folder" option provides AFN users post query flexibility using broadcast e-mails, mass security, mail merges and much more!  (Click the below Play Button) 
Play Button 2

Context-Sensitive On-line Help - All End User and Administration Help information has been upgraded and placed on-line and available from within ACT! for Notes. New, Context-sensitive help has been designed to give AFN users quick assistance.   AFN users can access Help within AFN by simply clicking F1.
Create an Activity from within the Calendar View - An AFN will user can quickly create a scheduled Activity document directly from the calendar view.   
(Click the below Play Button)  
Play Button 2
Navigation Pane - New, easier to use Accordion style Navigation Pane.
PREVIEW ACT! for Notes 9.0  
AFN Capt Blue
(click the below Play Button)
Play Button 2

SaaS/Cloud software and Regional Internet access

Regional road trips. No doubt you’ve, “been there, done that before” and experienced what a nightmare it can be to get any internet coverage. No matter what the reasons for our travels out of town may be, one thing is certain: We still need our connection to the big, busy world via our trusty iPhones or Blackberries – or in my case, both!

A short time ago, I had the pleasure of attending a friend’s birthday party on the Gold Coast of Queensland and spent 10 days there to catch up with some old friends.

Ormeau-map

I was based in Ormeau. For those who don’t know where this is, it is about 1 hour’s drive south of Brisbane (Australia’s third largest city) and is in Australian’s largest growing region.

I had a great time catching up with friends in Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast (North of Brisbane).

And of course, being me, I needed to have constant and regular access to my ACT! contacts, to email, and to various other office and on-line services and forums.

I was carrying an iPhone4 and a Blackberry Pearl (both with Handheld Contact) to give me the remote access I needed and hoped to find Wi-Fi connections where convenient to sync and to access my other information.

I suffered serious regional culture shock

Now don’t get me wrong. Like most people, I love getting out of town and escaping the hustle and bustle, but coming from Sydney, I’m used to the comforts of being connected at anytime of the day or night. I’m used to having a 30Mbit connection and 3G/4G network coverage. That’s not the reality though for my regional friends as I discovered while on my road trip. Here’s what I discovered on my travels:

  • Mobile access was shocking: I had to wander from street to street, just to get a measly 1-2 bars on either the iPhone4 or Blackberry. As a customer of Telstra - this country’s largest telecommunications provider - it felt way short of my reasonable expectations for adequate coverage. It could have been worse – I could have had no coverage like any other poor person with the other carriers!
  • Not all regional areas have ADSL coverage: Telstra has only put in enough lines for about half the properties in this new estate so the place where I was staying only got access after a neighbour moved out – the new resident in their neighbour’s place would be out of luck.

As frustrating as it was for me venturing out into this regional area...

...These frustrations are also being experienced in metropolitan areas of Australia!

There is “business park” in Brisbane itself (Australia’s third-largest capital city), that has virtually no broadband access at all …

Read that again if you need to, because the mind boggles. Even in a city like Brisbane, a business park doesn’t necessarily have broadband internet access. You can check out: Brisbane's NBN 'will transform people's lives' to get the lowdown on that story

For now though you might be wondering how this is relevant to this blog dedicated to Sage ACT!, CRM and IT?

Well, much in CRM is about mobility… and recently a lot of the press have jumped on the “trendy” technologies of cloud based computing – both for phone/tablet access and for general access.

For those of us who have been in the computing industry for long enough, we remember that the PC was originally viewed (by IBM) as little more than a slightly more intelligent “dumb terminal” to main-frame applications. Later, as the power of PCs increased, more of the data was stored locally and out of IT control. This lead to a gradual pull-back of control via networking, and then via various remote solutions.

question-cloud.JPG

These remote solutions are collectively referred to as “cloud computing”:
  • ASP – Application Service Provider
  • On-demand software
  • SaaS – Software as a Service

To be honest, I’m not sure how to really define the differences of those … other than that they are buzz-words from different decades.

They are usually accessed via one or more of these methods:

  • Remote Desktop Protocol Connection (Terminal Services or Citrix)
  • Virtual Desktop (VMware, etc)
  • Virtual Private Network
  • Browser based applications

 

Cloud-based technologies do have some benefits:
  • The data is live to the remote users
  • Software integration issues are largely eliminated from the client side
  • It can be platform independent – although, this can depend on browsers / versions that are supported
  • Key software systems are kept up to date, available, and managed for performance by experts
  • Improved reliability, availability, scalability and security of internal IT systems
  • A provider's service level agreement should guarantee a certain level of service
  • Access to product and technology experts dedicated to available products
  • Reduction of internal IT costs to a predictable monthly fee
  • Redeploying IT staff and tools to focus on strategic technology projects that impact the enterprise's bottom line
But there are also some serious disadvantages:
  • The client must generally accept the application as provided since vendors only fully customize solutions for the largest clients
  • The client may rely on the provider to provide a critical business function, thus limiting their control of that function and instead relying on the provider
  • Changes in the market may result in changes in the type or level of service available to clients
  • Integration with the client's non-hosted systems may be problematic
  • Accessing data to convert to another system later maybe costly or not-available
  • Loss of control of corporate data
  • Loss of control of corporate image
  • Insufficient vendor security to counter risks
  • Lack of internet access (even temporarily) prevents users’ access to their data
  • What happens when the provider suffers problems? Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Salesforce and many others have been in the press during the past year for being down for periods of time. Or some, like Google for losing data.
So where does that leave potential CRM users looking for remote access via the cloud?

I wrote an article a year ago on “Supporting Remote Users with ACT! by Sage”. In selecting the best method for a specific site, there are two questions you need to ask:

  1. Will the master and remote users always have reliable connection when they need access? If not (especially in the case of regional access as per the beginning of this article), then you should look at a sync-solution. The users work off-line and sync the changes with the master
    This is especially important for smartphone and tablet users who may want to do work in areas not covered by their phone carrier or Wi-Fi (eg on a plane, some buildings and areas)
  2. Do you have the necessary reliable bandwidth and access to IT skills to self host or do you get it hosted by a third-party for an on-going fee? This is a bit more complex and can depend on:
    • How good is your internet connection (for host and remote)?
    • How responsive are your support options (in-house or out-sourced) if the server has issues?
    • For hosted solutions:
      • How reliable are they?
      • How good is their tech support? Do they provide a service guarantee?
      • How financial are they?
      • What happens to your connection and data if their business or service fails?
    • If the third-party host is down for a day, how much will the loss of access cost you? Will it be less if the remote users are using sync to local copies?
    • How secure is the connection? At a minimum, must use one or more of SSL, VPN, RDP
    • If you want to change application, will the hosted provider allow you to access ALL of the data in a format suitable for importing into other systems?
    • How customisable is the application? Can you integrate it with your legacy systems or add functionality that you might require?
In Conclusion:

While SaaS/cloud offering will be suitable for many users, there are some questions that you need to ask to determine if it’s the best solution for you.

I feel certain that SaaS offerings will become more viable as time goes by, but right now I’m reminded of the line that for those on the bleeding edge of technology, that “a pioneer is frequently the guy with an arrow in his back!”

Solutions to some of the SQL issues when installing ACT! 2011

Re-posted, with permission from Ben Hamilton

This is a set of common issues we have seen when installing SQL 2008 (which is part of Sage ACT! 2011), especially when upgrading a previous version that used SQL 2005

Remove .Net Framework 4.0 before install

The support staff in Sage Business Solutions Melbourne (bless ‘em) gave me a pointer that if “Microsoft .NET Framework 4 Client Profile” is installed it gives troubles. Therefore they suggested uninstalling it prior to commending an SQL 2008 install. I don’t know why or what but this was an important step. Note that just doing this still gave me a failed SQL install. I’d love to know more about the ‘why’ here. I’d also like to have been informed earlier instead of after me jumping up and down and making phone calls. But that’s a topic for another day. For now I’m very happy with their suggestion as it does appear to have contributed to a successful install, which is GOAL NUMBER ONE.

 

SQL Service Account

During the install you get the option to set which account the SQL Server Database Engine uses, instead of setting to NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM as per Sage KB26994, leave it as the default. After the installation is complete you then go to services.msc and change it to Local System then.

 

Avoid Special characters in the path

As per Microsoft KB955666 you can’t use a ‘number’ or ‘pound’ (#) sign in the path name. Now I did NOT have a pound sign in the path, but there was a space in one of the folder names and a ‘plus’ sign (+). So taking to heart Microsoft's admonition, I copied the installer to a folder C:\SQL2008ExpR2\*.* and ran it from there.

 

Various other issues and resolutions

  • “MsiGetProductInfo failed to retrieve ProductVersion for package with Product Code = ‘{4AB6A079-178B-4144-B21F-4D1AE71666A2}’. Error code: 1608.. ” See here and here.
  • “Wait on the Database Engine recovery handle failed. Check the SQL Server error log for potential causes.” See here.
  • “Error: 15209, Severity: 16, State: 1. An error occurred during encryption.” See here.
  • Attempting to open registry subkey Software\Microsoft\PCHealth\ErrorReporting\DW\Inst​alled
    Attempting to get registry value DW0200
    Submitted 1 of 1 failures to the Watson data repository
    Refer here, here and here.

Hope this helps someone short cut the time to resolve their SQL install.

Please add Comments with any other issues and resolutions you might find when installing SQL 2008 (especially when upgrading from SQL 2005)

Finding the hidden functions of ACT! with your Consultant

Part 4 of The Seven Day Blogging Challenge - Share a photo I took this week and tell you about it.

I have thought about today’s Challenge post for a while and, with this blog being about ACT!, there was not much I could think of to take a picture that would be relevant.

So I’ve taken a screen shot of a menu that describes how proper use of ACT! will benefit you:

ACT! 2011 Extended

If you can’t find these functions in your copy of ACT!, I suggest you speak to your ACT! Certified Consultant. These are the people who do more that the break-fix support you might get from a vendor support contact.

A good ACC will take the time to understand your business and the workflow of your operations. They will then assist you in designing ACT! in the best possible way to achieve your goals using functions within the product or some of the many powerful add-ons that extend it’s use.

The ACC can then assist with planning and implementing your installation roll-out including importing your data, connecting to other systems and training your users and administrators to properly get the maximum benefit from the product.

An investment in a good Certified Consultant will generate a Return many times in better managing your contacts

When looking at the ACT! Certified Consultant list, you may find many in your area. So here is an article on how you should go about picking the right one for you: How to pick the right CRM consultant

Should you have any questions on this, please let me know by posting the comments here.

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Problems with Sage Mobile for ACT! (new ACT! Mobile Live)

Part 3 of The Seven Day Blogging Challenge - Write a blog post on the same topic as one my most popular posts

Well, the most popular posts previously have been:

So I thought I would do another on mobile CRM with Sage ACT!.

I have always supported ACT! as a mobile product … both with sync to laptops and remote offices and with sync to PDAs and smartphones. Over the years, I have purchased new devices along this path to use, test and support other users:

  • An HP95LX in 1992 for ACT! for HP95
  • Apple Newton in 1995 for ACT! for Newton
  • Handheld PC running Windows CE in 1997 for ACT! for Windows CE
  • Palm M505 in 2002 for ACT! for Palm OS
  • Blackberry in 2000 here I used Companion Link
  • Another Blackberry in 2003 using Handheld Contact
  • Since then, I have used various devices using Blackberry, iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Windows Mobile operating systems.

I believe in the benefits of being able to access and enter my ACT! data wherever I am and understand the problems that mobile users have.

Since 2003, I have been using Handheld Contact. But I have still tested other products to be satisfied that no other product is better for me to switch to.

Despite ACT! for Palm being the best PDA/smartphone solution for ACT!, the ACT! developers have concentrated on products linking to the native address books and losing much of the functionality that real ACT! users should want. Without this, they may as well be using Outlook for their CRM.

They have had “ACT! Mobile Live” in beta and release for around three years and recently renamed it as “Sage Mobile for ACT!”. It still has many of the bugs and issues I reported in the first beta.

So I thought I’d let you know why I really don’t think users should consider it for their use.

  • The country code is not supported in phone fields - this means:
    • You can't dial international numbers
    • You can dial any numbers when travelling overseas
    • You can't enter contacts with international numbers
    • It causes problems if also using ACT! for dialling/faxing with other services
  • If sync's with Exchange, Outlook or Google, changes to the outlook profile will either delete records from the ACT! database or duplicate them ... results can be inconsistent
  • Some activity types are incorrectly handled causing data changes back in ACT!
  • Some activity time-zones cause activities to move
  • No formatting of fields
  • Not a multiuser service... so can't work with web or hosted environments
  • No tracking of History on calls, emails and sms made from the phone

There are a number of other bugs and functional omissions but as the challenge (as mentioned top of this post) is for a limited number of words, I’ll do a longer post on this later.

Considering Handheld Contact is only $50 more, I think the choice is a no-brainer

How Are Product Management Decisions Made?

Part 2 of The Seven Day Blogging Challenge - Answer one question I think people visiting my blog may have.

Recently I have been trying to explain to users in a couple of forums why the feature they want might not be likely to make it into the product. For a couple of examples of this, see:

So I thought I might try and explain simply how I see the product management decision process. However, please note that I’m not actually privy to the process used by Sage (or any other company other than my own) and am only going by the experiences of what I’ve seen and heard.
Update: Members of the Sage team have confirmed that “this is directionally close” to the process as used

First, all the requests are split into two areas:

  • Bug Fixes and improvements – defects where the product does not perform as designed or intended as well as compatibility with other new systems and usability
  • New Features and Enhancements – functional improvements to the actual design of the product

For each of these, a priority must be allocated. The priority would depend on a number of factors:

  • How many users would be affected by the bug or benefitted from the enhancement
  • If it’s a bug, it is data damaging or prevents the use of a primary function of the product
  • Also for bugs, can the issue be replicated in-house to determine the cause
  • For enhancements, would it just be a nice-to-have for current users or would it sell more product by being part of the decision making points of potential users
  • Is there a competitive need for the request – are other products in the market doing it
  • Are there manual workarounds or third-party products that could deal with the request now
  • How will the request integrate or interfere with current code and user interface design
  • How they fit into market trends/visions that they want to focus on
  • Usability and compatibility with adjacent products

Then, for each, a time-frame and cost must be determined. For this, a specification document must be created with much thought being given to looking at all the possible scenarios, data types and values that are considered likely. This is done by consulting users and developers for their input.

Finally they can decide which to approve now, delay for a future version or discard. Obviously, the higher the priority, the higher the allowable cost would be for it to be approved.

So, in order to have the best chance of getting your requests addressed, you should try and put it in terms to answer as many of the points mentioned.

I would write more, but the challenge limits us to 400 words….

The Seven Day Blogging Challenge – Part 1

Twitter contact, Andrew Emmett, is doing a Seven Day Blogging Challenge. He challenged other bloggers to join him and I have decided to accept.

Here are the 7 topics that Andrew has challenged us to write about.

Starting Saturday I will write one blog post a day, each with 300 to 400 words about:
  1. What the purpose of my website is, who I am and why my blog is unique.
  2. Answer one question I think people visiting my blog may have.
  3. Write a blog post on the same topic as one my most popular posts.
  4. Share a photo I took this week and tell you about it.
  5. Embed a legal YouTube clip that I either found today or created myself. Then tell everyone about the clip and related information.
  6. Create a blog post on a subject I’ve never blogged about here before.
  7. Share hints or details of what I intend to write about in the future.

This experiment promises to be an interesting diversion for the norm and I do hope I can think of some useful and interesting items for you on each of these topics.

One of the opportunities this challenge presents to me is the requirement to write a piece every day and to make it a specific length. As  those who read this blog would know, my posts tend to be of a technical nature and I haven’t thought about the length of each article or have a set time that I must post. I write when I think of something deserving of a post and as long as I need to properly explain each topic. I also tend to use the articles as a permanent knowledge base on items I get asked rather than the typical “web log” style of most blogs.

The general aim of this site is to help ACT! users, resellers and consultants get the most from the product. Unlike other ACT! related blogs, I have tried not to simply create content of a marketing or promotional nature. I love ACT! and have have dedicated the past 23 years to the product – but I also experience many of the frustrations that users feel when certain functions don’t operate as well as they should or where the Product Management and development teams have missed the mark and I try to warn users of these also. Hopefully, this “warts and all” approach helps us all use ACT! better and encourages Sage to continue to improve it.

Now that I’ve completed Part 1, I need to think of a question you might have for Part 2.
Any suggestions you might add to the comments area would be most welcome.

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How should ACT! resellers/VARs deal with Microsoft install issues?

I'm sure this must be a question concerning every ACT! consultant/reseller ... but, which a number of them have asked my opinion on this, I've not seen any public discussion on it. I'd also be interested in the views of end-users as to what they believe would be fair.

windowsThe last time I was shown the figures, around 80% of install support incidents by Sage North America were not due to ACT! code, but were related to Microsoft issues - in the operating system, .Net Framework, SQL Server or Office. Note: If someone at Sage has a more current figure, please let me know

I’m not sure how long ago this happened, but I recently noticed that Sage Australia (and I assume similar in other regions) excludes many areas that fail from their install warranty. While the box says that install issues are covered under a 30-day warranty, it then refers you to the website for Getting Started Support – Free for 30 Days where you can see the majority of install issues that sometimes plague users are specifically exempted.

On one level, this is understandable, because it is sort of unfair that Sage should be responsible for supporting and repairing issues with products and components produced by Microsoft. On the other hand, it could be argued that Sage chose to use those technologies as a basis of the product and that they should provide that support.

The big problem that this raises is how should a Consultant/VAR handle this support? If you are installing a product that costs $300-500 and an OS, SQL or .Net issue requires 4-8 hours of work to resolve, how can you justify charging the user for this time?

  • If the installer doesn’t charge, then they lose money to sell the product
  • To charge may make a user feel less than happy at having to pay 4x the cost of the product
  • Telling a non-technical user to deal with Microsoft, may also not be the best for customer satisfaction

Is a notice to users, in advance, that such a charge may be necessary the right choice? Would this tend to scare off some potential users?

Obviously this would be different for larger user sites where they would be more aware of the complexities of commercial software as well as being able to spread the cost over a larger number of seats.

As I’ve said, I’d really like the thoughts of users, resellers and even Sage staff on this topic. Please post any thoughts you might have to the comments as I think the sharing of ideas is likely to help everyone come to an amicable solution to this problem.

microsoft_tech_support

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GL Computing wins @ExpertsExchange Titan award – 3rd time!

For the 3rd consecutive year, GL computing has earned a spot as a Top Expert in the 7th Annual Expert Awards.

From a competitive field of over 30,000 qualified experts worldwide, GL Computing has been awarded the:

TitanTitan Award - 2010

From Experts-Exchange: “Thank you for sharing your unparalleled, inconceivable, and brilliant knowledge with the members of Experts Exchange, without you Experts Exchange would not be the #1 IT resource in the web.”

GL Computing has won the Titan Award in 2008, 2009 and is the only Experts-Exchange Certified ACT! Sage

It is truly gratifying to have received this award, along with those others I’ve been honoured with recently.

Sadly, I still get no acknowledgement from Sage for the effort I put in to support users - including over 9,400 posts to their own ACT! Community Site and hosting the ACT! Fanatics Group.