Archive for December 2009
The new Sage ERP Accpac 6.0 Portal can display a selection from a number of Data Portlets. Think of these as a new dashboard of key performance indicators and corporate summary data. All the data is up to date when the pages is displayed and can be refreshed at any time. Below is a selection of Data Portlets from A/R, G/L and A/P.
These give you a nice graphical view of the status of your company. Then if you hover over a piece of the graph it will tell you the data, plus you can click on any of the hyperlinks to run a report. You can also configure the Portlet to give you the data you need.
Implementing these Data Portlets wasn’t just a matter of accessing Accpac data the same old way; we had to optimize the database schema so that we could quickly retrieve this data with in seconds. We had to change the index structure of a number of A/R and A/P tables to speed up the Aging Portlets. We had to collect extra summary data at posting time to support the days outstanding Data Portlets. We have been running benchmarks on quite a few large customer databases to ensure the performance is sufficient to make these Data Portlets useful. We are aiming to make the Portal and Data Portlets fast enough so you can run six such Data Portlets; but, we anticipate a given user would typically have two of these on their home page.
To support printing Financial Reports from the G/L Data Portlets we needed to add tables to hold the generated data, so Crystal Reports could run off the correct data.
The G/L Account Groups now have a new “Group Category” to allow you to configure how your Accounts will appear in the G/L Portlets.
Hopefully these Data Portlets will give customers a useful view of their company as soon as they sign-on to Accpac and provide a useful starting point to getting their work done.
Sage ERP Accpac and SageCRM have a very tight integration. But the current generation of Accpac is a Windows desktop application and SageCRM is a Web Browser based application. SageCRM will display a fair amount of Accpac data in its web pages, but at some point you drill down into the Accpac application and an Accpac screen will be run. This causes a disconnect for the customer as they switch from the SageCRM Web application to the Accpac Desktop application. There are also performance problems with this context switch and some installation difficulties getting the “Web” based version of the current Accpac installed and configured properly since it uses ActiveX controls.
The styling and screen aren’t fully developed yet, but below is an early prototype of the start of a Quote screen running as part of the CRM web page.
The key points are that the screen lives inside CRM, it does not pop out of the application and when it’s finished it will be styled to look like all the other screens.
This way a sales person running SageCRM, won’t know he’s running multiple Sage applications as he manages his contacts, leads and opportunities as well as entering quotes and orders. To him it is all one application.
There is a fair bit of extra work going on behind the scenes to ensure that the workflow is continuous, data is automatically transferred from one step to the next (like opportunity to quote to order), and data is automatically synchronized in both directions with Accpac. If some one edits an Order in Accpac, then the opportunity and other data is kept in sync in CRM. We are also smoothing out some of the supporting workflows, like how a lead is promoted to a customer.
There are a couple of other screens like an Order Summary screen that are being added to our SageCRM integration using the new Web Based UI framework. But many of the other screen like if you drill down into A/R or PJC will still result in the VB screen being run in 6.0. We will be looking to fix up these in Sage ERP Accpac 6.1.
Hopefully this is a step to making the End-to-End application experience much more seamless for customers. Combining this with the SData initiative, we should start seeing much closer integrations between Sage products as they incorporate all these new and exciting technologies.
A common complaint about Accpac today is the difficulty of getting the data out of the product. If there is a stock Crystal report then, great, you can get the data. If there isn’t a stock report that meets your needs then, typically, you need to hire your Business Partner to write a custom Crystal Report. Generally end users find Crystal Reports too intimidating to use on their own. Additionally if you take Crystal Report training, but don’t use the tool regularly, then you will lose the knowledge and have to re-learn it.
Many users use a combination of data export to Excel and printing reports to Excel to get their data into a tool they are more familiar with and then in Excel, sort and sum their data to get the numbers they need.
With the Adhoc Query tool we are looking to allow users to get at their data quickly and easily without jumping through all these hoops. We want to provide an extremely simple interface that anyone can use to query their data. No one will need to know anything about the Accpac database schema or about advanced formatting with groups, headers and footers. As a consequence this tool will give simple but powerful methods to sort, sum and choose your data. A simple way to preview, print and export the data. It will not allow fancy features to make the interface too complicated for occasional users. We are being very strict on keeping the interface simple and accessible. Hence the power will be in the accessibility of the data rather than in the formatting of the data.
Basically we define a number of “data domains” such as “A/R Customers and Transactions”. You choose which data domain you wish to query and then we give a simple interface where you can specify which data you wish, how you want it sorted and summed and then see the data right away instantly in a table control. Then we also give you easy ways to export, print, and email the data to anywhere else that you might need it.
Below is a screen shot of the current Ad Hoc Query tool returning all customers with their name containing the word “Mr.”.
As you can see from the screen shot, the interface is very simple. This is our main objective for this tool, that anyone can use it. But at the same time we want to ensure that you can get at the data you need easily. This is partly why we called it “Adhoc Query” rather than “Adhoc Reports”, because we didn’t want to set the expectation that this was all about formatting. It is in fact all about the data and hence the name.
The Sage ERP Accpac 6 Portal is the new Desktop that runs in a browser. Sometimes the word Portal beings up connotations of other things, I’m not sure if a better name is Landing Page, Home Page, Web Desktop, or Start Page. But when you run Accpac 6, this is where you will begin. The primary goal of this Portal is to allow you to navigate into the Accpac application as quickly and intuitively as possible.
When you login to the new Portal, rather than being presented with a tree of icons, you get a dashboard of information useful for doing your job. You can start work by drilling down from the dashboard to get to more detailed reports and inquiry screens. You can run screens by using the “My Shortcuts” area to run frequently accessed screens. Then if you really need the full tree of icons it is available under the Tasks menu.
Customization of the “Home” page and “My Shortcuts” area has been mad as easy as possible, so that any user can easily set these up in an optimal way for their role.
As you run additional tasks, new tabs are opened and you can switch back and forth between them.
Reports still use Crystal Reports but show the results using the Crystal web view in a separate tab in the Portal.
Hopefully this gives an idea of where we are going with the new Sage ERP Accpac 6 Web Desktop/Portal/Home Page. We feel we have come a long way from our original desktop, adding a lot of usability and making the product far more friendly to new and experienced users.