A key ingredient for any successful business is surrounding yourself with great people. For businesses that implement Sales and Marketing Automation technologies this is especially the case. This interview is one of a series with the people behind the companies and products that support our clients.
Name: Mike Lazarus
Company: GL Computing
Title: ACT! Evangelist
How did you get started with ACT!?
I was working in the mid-80s for the distributor of an Australian contact manager before ACT! was developed. PC Extras picked up the distribution on ACT! for Australia NZ and head-hunted me. Over the first 12 months, we went from 4 units a month to nearly 1000. When I left PC Extras, I got so many calls from resellers and users looking for help, I set up GL Computing to look after them while I looked for something else... 20 years later; I'm still enjoying making users as happy with ACT! as I have been.
What excites you about ACT!?
ACT! has always had an advantage over other similar products due to its ease-of-use - even though it has got more complex since Sage took it over, it's still ahead of its competitors in this area. With most of the sales and marketing user base that it's aimed at being fairly non-technical, this is been a critical differentiator over other products that are much more challenging for users to unlock their potential.
Additionally, ACT! has always understood the need to have a powerful SDK so that more demanding solutions can be built on ACT! by add-on developers to satisfy users needing critical functions.
What are you working on now?
GL Computing's role is to help ACT! consultants, resellers and add-on vendors to provide more complete solutions to their user base. To this aim I have been advising J2X in their development of Handheld Contact to provide a better mobile solution (http://www.glcomputing.com.au/HHC ) as well as developing our own accounting integration for ACT! - http://www.glcomputing.com.au/main/75/1
What do you see happening in the next 2 years?
It is difficult to know what is going to happen in the future as Sage seem reluctant to let us in on their road-map. Some of the items I'd like to see from Sage include:
- Better Social Media integration, like - http://blog.glcomputing.com.au/2010/04/social-media-and-crm-thoughts-on-how.html
- Email integration with GMail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. It's about time the Internet Mail function was updated
- Better report writing - maybe OEMing Crystal Reports?
- Performance improvements
- More granular security options ... many of these are available in the SDK and a couple of add-ons use them, but these should be in the application UI
- Better understanding and handling of international users - time zones, date formats, multiple currencies, phone dialling
What value do you see ACT! add-on developers bringing to businesses using ACT!?
I have always felt that Sage should concentrate on making and improving the core application and it's SDK and leaving the integration functions and other items to third-parties that are dedicated to specific functions. Sage could pour their R&D into making ACT! into a very powerful platform for low-end CRM. They should then work much more closely with third-parties who could produce more targeted functions at lower prices with the additional volumes Sage could help them achieve.
Prime examples of this are Accounting Integration, Mobility and Social Media:
- ACT! has never had an adequate integration with accounting - rarely working with the current versions of ACT! or the accounting software for years. But add-on developers find it difficult to justify the R&D costs when Sage sells cheap solutions (even if the third-party solutions are much better)
- The only worth-while PDA solution from ACT! has been the ACT! for PalmOS (now dead). Sage's attempts, over the past three years, to release ACT! Mobile Live (now Sage Mobile for ACT!) have produced very poor solutions. Sage would have saved much time, money and user satisfaction if they had of OEM'd one of the solutions (like Handheld Contact) that has been tried and tested over 10+ years
- Sage announced early that they were going to do Social Media, which had several add-on developers stop projects that had been underway. The included integration is still behind where those third-parties where a couple of years ago.
While there are some functions I think Sage should improve in the core application (like Importing, Reporting, Building Custom Tables, etc) ... and yes, these would cause some add-ons to disappear. Others, like I've mention are better handled by third-parties who are much more nimble at updating their products when the products they integrate with get updated. Sage's attempts in these areas mean the third-parties find it difficult to compete because users have the false belief that a product from the vendor will be better. Users who get these products from Sage feel less satisfied with ACT! in general than those who's ACT! Consultant has steered them to the better solutions.
Mike was recently recognised as the first Sage ACT! Community Development Partner. This co-incided with Mike's 10,000th update on the forum.
You can find Mike actively and passionately supporting ACT! at these places.
Linked IN ACT! Fanatics Group - http://www.linkedin.com/groups/ACT-Fanatics-49896