Although long known as a sales force automation tool for individuals and very small teams, Sage Softwares Act has evolved into a good, easy-to-use system for larger teams in companies looking for a way to manage sales.
Sage Softwares Act Premium for Workgroups 2007 (also known as Version 9.0) began shipping in September and is priced at $400 per user for the EX edition that eWeek Labs tested. The product is available at a variety of price points, from $230 for individual users to $480 per user for the SX edition of Premium for Workgroups 2007. The EX edition includes Microsofts SQL Server 2005 Express Edition, while the SX edition includes Microsofts SQL Server 2005 Standard Edition. (Adding Web-based access to Act Premium for Workgroups 2007 costs $400 per user.)
During tests, we found that Act Premium for Workgroups 2007 EX does a good job of managing sales for small groups.
This new workgroup version of Act includes two enhancements that greatly improve the products suitability for the enterprise: tighter integration with Microsofts Outlook and improved security through new password policies and field-level security.
However, Acts feature set is limited to SFA (sales force automation) capabilities, so companies that want a full, integrated CRM (customer relationship management) system should look at solutions including Sages own SalesLogix. Companies also can go the add-on route to add CRM capabilities to Act.
Act will be an approach-able system for any user familiar with Windows-based SFA and CRM tools. It uses a two-pane view: Item details are organized in the top pane, and a tabbed interface organizes specific task or detail items in the lower pane. Data in Act is defined by contacts, companies, opportunities and groups.
While many SFA and CRM applications can get bogged down with an overwhelming number of tabs, Act does a good job of organizing and presenting information coherently. For example, a new split-notes view makes it easy to compare company, contact and group notes.
Act has good customization capabilities in terms of creating custom sales processes and adding custom fields and modifying forms. Act also supports event triggers, although they are somewhat basic. For example, we could set a custom field to trigger only a new prospect or new customer workflow, or to launch another application.
We did like the new integration points between Act and Outlook. The integration functions across both e-mail and calendars and relies partially on an Outlook plug-in.
The e-mail integration allowed us to capture an e-mail as part of the contact record and customer history. When receiving an e-mail within Outlook, we could use the Act plug-in to capture the e-mail as part of a contact record and customer history. We also could create a new contact directly from an e-mail.
This isnt quite as elegant as the integration weve seen in Avidian Technologies Prophet 3.0 Enterprise. Because Prophet is a forms-based application embedded within Outlook, it can automatically associate e-mail with a contact or customer record.
On the calendar side, Act now uses a tool to keep scheduled Act activities and Outlook events in sync, ensuring that users who rely on the Outlook Calendar can stay current.
We appreciated that we could automate synchronization, but Act must be the system of record for creating activities associated with a contact if users want to capture activities in Act.
We liked the tools available for managing records, particularly the tool for cleaning up duplicate records. We also liked that we could link certain company and contact records—if we changed the record on the company side, we were prompted to confirm the change on a contact record.
This release has a number of new tools that make it possible for administrators to grant broader access control to users, as well as to set general field-level security across the Act database.
For example, we could control whether users had the rights to designate history, notes and opportunity information in a contact record as private. Administrators also can create complex password policies.
Act has relatively strong reporting capabilities: The system offers more than three dozen preconfigured reports, and we could create custom reports using an embedded report editor.
One of the more interesting aspects of Act is the a la carte approach Sage has taken to adding capabilities. Although cherry-picking features can drive up the price of the platform pretty quickly, it gives companies the ability to pick the capabilities that are best suited to their environment.
For example, Sage offers modules for connecting to Sages small to midsize enterprise accounting applications, including Simply Ac–counting, BusinessWorks and MAS, as well as to Intuits QuickBooks. Integration with Sages Peachtree accounting is included in the product.
Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Avidian Technologies Prophet 3.0
Enterprise SFA tool that runs within Outlook (www.avidian.com)
FrontRange Solutions USAs Gold-Mine Corporate Edition
Relatively low-cost SFA tool with dedicated client and Web front end (www.goldmine.com)
Microsofts Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager
A version of Outlook with account and sales opportunity management built in (www.microsoft.com)