This year's version of ACT, the contact management software from Sage, coincides with the 20th anniversary of the venerable software. The application shows no sign of slowing down with age, however, and the company says it offers new features and improvements centered on three themes: visibility, end-user productivity and workgroup productivity.
These themes and changes cross the entire ACT 2008 product line, which includes ACT by Sage 2008, ACT by Sage Premium 2008 and ACT by Sage Premium for Web 2008. The most significant change, according to Larry Ritter, vice president of product management at Sage, comes under the visibility theme in the form of customizable Reporting and Activity Dashboards, which see opportunity and activity details in what Ritter called a visual, graphical overview on a single screen.
The dashboards are designed with six customizable components to help track a variety of business factors.
(Click for larger image).
The dashboards are designed with six customizable components: Schedule At-a-Glance, My Activities, My Opportunities, Opportunity Pipeline by Stage, Top 10 Opportunities and Closed Opportunities. Ritter said that customers can personalize dashboards to track their progress against company goals, create new meetings, calls or to-do lists and copy portions of or entire dashboards into any application (for reports or e-mail).
The intent behind the new changes is to make it even easier for people to manage their business contacts and opportunities. Ritter said that Sage made changes to improve end-user productivity, both on an individual and on a workgroup level. The goal, he said, is to make the product easier and more convenient for people to use.
Examples of those productivity changes include being able to edit fields within a list view of contacts, groups, or companies without having to open individual records, being able to associate multiple contacts to a single opportunity and the capability to look at all the contacts or products associated with an opportunity without actually having to open it.
For workgroups, security can be a big issue, and to that end, Ritter said Sage designed changes into ACT 2008 that make it easier for managers and administrators to control access to information. Some of those features let managers limit a team or an individual's access to group or company records. They can also decide who's allowed to view or edit group and company information.
Of course Sage, along with other companies, updates its application offerings on an annual basis. The hope is that, in addition to attracting new customers, current ACT customers will upgrade to the latest and greatest. Does ACT 2008 offer enough substantive improvements to make upgrading worthwhile?
Robert Bois, the research director of customer management applications at AMR Research, shared his thoughts on this subject.
"A companys need to upgrade to the new version of ACT very much depends on its current usage and levels of adoption. Broadly, CRM still faces some serious adoption challenges, which tend to be worse in smaller organizations. The irony though is that ACT has traditionally bucked this trend, and salespeople tend to really like the application. However, I think there is always room for improvement, and increased usability and productivity is the theme for ACT 2008. We typically urge our customers to consider anything that makes a CRM or SFA application easier to use After all, in small organizations especially, everyone is in sales.
Denis Pombriant, founder of Beagle Research, weighed in with this comment:
"One of the things that strikes me about ACT 2008 is how complete it is. Over the last few years Sage appears to have made a strong effort to close the gap between its contact manager and SFA The new release offers dashboards and multiple contact assignments per opportunity. The dashboards provide important graphical views of the business and other features make ACT equally useful for single users as for small workgroups ACT certainly looks like it's expanding the definition of contact management to the point where I am not sure if contact management is the category any more. At any rate, at the price point Sage is pegging ACT, it is not an onerous thing to upgrade, and I suspect many people will be happy they did."
- ACT For individuals and small teams of up to 10 networked users; $229.99, upgrade $149.95.
- ACT Premium For small to mid-sized businesses, sales teams and corporate workgroups; $399.99, upgrade $259.95.
- ACT Premium for Web For remote, traveling and on-premise access to centralized ACT data via a Web browser; $399.99, upgrade $259.95.
- ACT by Sage Premium Dual Access For online/offline access to centralized customer data for sales teams, small to mid-sized businesses, and corporate workgroups via a single-user license that includes both the Windows-based ACT Premium and browser-based ACT Premium for Web solutions; Volume pricing beginning at $529.99 per single-licensed user.
Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com
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