Sage ACT! Professional review
You may not particularly want a relationship with your local supermarket, but you can be sure that it wants to have a relationship with you. To this end, companies employ highly sophisticated CRM (customer relationship management) software. Smaller companies may not be able to afford or justify the big-iron software that the large corporates use, but surprisingly powerful CRM tools are available for SMEs at very affordable price points. The two products dominating this end of the market are FrontRange Solutions GoldMine 6.5 and Sage ACT! Professional, now in its seventh version.
GoldMine has had the upper hand for some time, but the release of ACT! Professional gives its rival much stiffer competition. While up to ten ACT! users can share contact data with the standalone version, numbers in excess of this should use the new workgroup version, supporting up to 50 users and retailing for £1,335. The £100 or so premium per user you pay for the workgroup version is accounted for, in part, by the inclusion of an SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition licence – the standalone version uses the Desktop Engine ‘lite’ version.
Also included in the box are ACT! Link clients for your PDA – one for Palm OS and the other for Pocket PC. More tantalisingly, from early in 2005, ACT! Pro will also integrate with Sage’s mainstream accounting products (Sage Instant Accounts, Sage Line 50, Sage 100 and Sage MMS), giving telesales staff access to sales prospects account activity as well. Access to accounts data during calls will be a useful sales tool, and will also give ACT! Pro a major synergistic advantage over GoldMine.
With this release, ACT! has been given a much-needed lick of paint, and the UI is now both attractive and slick: anybody familiar with Outlook should have no problems getting to grips with it. Other refinements include improved workflow capabilities, with the integration of opportunity forecasting tools, the ability to link individual contacts with their companies, a much improved Calendar view, better database synchronisation, stronger security and a wide range of customisation options to reconfigure the database. Last but not least, ACT! Professional offers improved integration with Microsoft Office applications.
But where ACT! Pro really shines is ease of use – it’s much less fussy than its competitors, and presents a gentle learning curve to the novice. The first time you fire up ACT! Pro you’re presented with a clean, almost empty interface. You have two choices – you can either open an existing database or create one. Before doing this you have to activate the product online or it will stop working after 30 days. Then the Getting Started Wizard kicks in. This lets you specify which apps you want ACT! to work with, such as Microsoft Word or Outlook, although ACT! even comes with its very own integrated word processor. You can then start setting up a database properly by giving it a name and somewhere to live on a hard disk. Like all well-behaved modern software ACT! Pro will check for product updates whenever it’s launched, courtesy of an Update Wizard.
You can choose to import older data from ACT!, Outlook, GoldMine or dBASE, which fires up another wizard. It can import either locally held Outlook PST files or Exchange Server files. On the whole, this is painless, although hard returns in address fields – a fairly common occurrence – did produce odd characters in ACT!. You can also run ACT! Pro and Outlook side by side, sharing common data, should you need to.
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