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Posts Tagged ‘CRM

Your New AI Accountant

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Introduction

We live in a complex world where we’ve accumulated huge amounts of knowledge. Knowing everything for a profession is getting harder and harder. We have better and better knowledge retrieval programs that let us look up information at our fingertips using natural language queries and Google like searches. But in fields like medicine and law, sifting through all the results and sorting out what is relevant and important is getting harder and harder. Especially in medicine there is a lot of bogus and misleading information that can lead to disastrous results. This is a prime application area where Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are starting show some real promise. We have applications like IBM’s Watson successfully diagnosing some quite rare conditions that stumped doctors. We have systems like ROSS that provide AI solutions for law firms.

How about AIs supplementing Accountants? Accountants are very busy and in demand.  All the baby boomers are retiring now, and far more Accountants are retiring than are being replaced by young people entering the profession. For many businesses getting professional business advice from Accountants is getting to be a major problem. This affects them properly meeting financial reporting requirements, legal regulatory compliance and generally having a firm complete understanding on how their business is doing. This article is going to look at how AI can help with this problem. We’ll look at the sort of things that AIs can be trained to do to help perform some of these functions. Of course you will still need an Accountant to provide human oversight and to provide a sanity check, but if things are setup correctly to start with, it will save you a lot of time and money.

Interfaces

If you have an AI with Accounting knowledge, how can it help you? In this sections we’ll look at a few ways that the AI system could interact with both the employees of the business as well as the Business Applications the business uses like their Accounting or CRM systems.

Chatbots

Chatbots are becoming more common, here you either type natural language queries to the AI, or it has a voice recognition component that you can talk to. The query processor is connected to the AI and the AI is then connected to your company’s databases as well as a wealth of professional information on the Internet. These AIs usually have multiple components for voice input, natural language processing, various business areas of expertise, and multiple ways of presenting results.

There have been some notable chatbot failures like Microsoft’s Twitter Chatbot which quickly became a racist asshole. But we are starting to see the start of some more successful implementations like Sage’s Pegg or KLM’s Messenger Bot. Plus the general purpose bots like Alexa, Siri and Allo are getting rather good. There are also some really good toolkits, like Amazon Lex, available to develop chatbots so this becomes easier for more and more developers.

In-program Advice

There have been some terrible examples of in-product advice such as the best forgotten Microsoft Clippy. But with advances in User Centered Design, much less intrusive and subtle ways of helping users have emerged. Generally these require good content so what they present is actually useful, plus they have to be unobtrusive so they never interfere with someone doing their work unless they want to pay attention to them. Then when they are used they can offer to make changes automatically, provide more information or keep things to a simple one line tip.

If these help technologies are combined with an AI engine then they can monitor what the user is doing and present application and context based help. For instance suggesting that perhaps a different G/L account should be used here for better Financial Reporting. Perhaps suggesting that the sales taxes on an invoice should be different due to some local regulations. Making suggestions on additional items that should be added to an Accounting document.

These technologies allow the system to learn from how a company uses the product and to make more useful suggestions. As well as having access to industry standards that can be incorporated to assist.

Offline Monitoring

In most larger businesses, the person using the Business Application isn’t the one that needs or can use an Accountant’s advice. Most data entry personnel have to follow corporate procedures and would get fired if they changed what they’ve been told to do, even if it’s wrong. Usually this has to be the CFO or someone senior in the Accounting department. In these cases an AI can monitor what is going on in the business and make recommendations to the right person. Perhaps seeing how G/L Accounts are being used and sending a recommendation for some changes to facilitate better Financial Reporting or regulatory compliance.

Care has to be taken to keep this functionality clear of other unpopular productivity monitoring software that does things like record people’s keystrokes to monitor when they are working and how fast. Generally this functionality has to stick to improving the business rather than be perceived as big brother snitching on everyone.

Summary

Most small business owners consider Accounting as a necessary evil that they are required to do to submit their corporate income tax. They do the minimum required and don’t pay much attention to the results. But as their company grows their Accounting data can give them great insights to how their business is running. Managing Inventory, A/R and A/P make huge differences to a company’s cash flow and profitability. Correctly and proactively handling regulatory compliance can be a huge time saver and huge cost saver in fines and lawsuits.

It used to be that sophisticated programs to handle these things required huge IT departments, millions of dollars invested in software and really was only available to large corporations. With the current advances in AI and Machine Learning, many of these sophisticated functionalities can be integrated into the Business Applications used by all small and medium sized businesses. In fact in a few years this will be a mandatory feature that users expect in all the software they use.

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Written by smist08

July 29, 2017 at 8:42 pm

Making Business Applications Intelligent

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Introduction

Today Business Applications tend to be rather boring programs which present the user with rather complicated forms that need to be filled in with a lot of detail. Accuracy is tantamount and there are a lot of security measures to prevent fraud and theft. Companies need to hire large numbers of people to enter data very repetitively into these forms. With modern User Centered Design these forms have become a bit easier to work with and have progressed quite a bit since the original Business Apps on 3270 terminals connected to IBM Mainframes, but I don’t think anyone really considers these applications fun. Necessary and important yes, but still not many people’s favorite programs.

We’ve been talking a lot about the road to strong AI and we’ve looked at a number of AI tools like TensorFlow, but what about more practical applications that are possible right now? My background is working on ERP software, namely Sage 300/Accpac. In this article I’ll be looking at how we’ll be seeing machine learning/AI algorithms start to be incorporated into standard business applications. A lot of what we will talk about here will be integrated into many applications including things like CRM and Business Analytics.

Many of the ideas I talk about in this article are available today, just not all in the same place. Over the coming years I think we’ll see most of these become standard expected features in every Business Application. Just like we expect modern User Centered Design, tomorrow we will expect intelligent algorithms supporting us behind the scenes in everything we do.

Very High Level Diagram of the Main Components of an Intelligent Business Application

Some Quick Ideas

With Machine Learning and AI algorithms there could be many small improvements made to Business Applications, there could be major changes in the way things work, all the way up to automating many of the processes that we currently perform manually. Often small improvements can make a huge difference to the lives of current users and are the easiest to implement, so I don’t want to ignore these possibilities on the way to pursuing larger more ambitious longer term goals. Perhaps these AI applications aren’t as exciting as self-driving cars or real time speech translation, but they will make a huge difference to business productivity and lead to large cost savings to millions of companies. They will provide real business benefit with better accuracy, better productivity and automated business processes that lead to real cost savings and real revenue boosts.

Better Defaulting of Fields

Currently fields tend to be defaulted based on configuration screens configured by administrators. These might change based on an object like a customer or customer group, but tend to be fairly static. An algorithm could watch what a user (or all the users at a company) tend to use and make much more intelligent defaults. These could be based on various contexts of other fields, time/date, current promotions, even news feed items. If defaults are provided more intelligently, then it will save users huge time in data entry.

Better Auto-Suggestions

Currently auto-suggestions on fields tend to be based on a combination of previous values entered and performing a “Google-like” search on what has been typed so far. Like defaulting this could be greatly improved by adding more sophisticated algorithms to improve the suggestions. The real Google search already does this, but most “Google-like” searches integrated into Business Apps do not. Like defaulting, having auto-suggestions give better more intelligent recommendations will greatly improve productivity. Like Google Search uses all your previous searches, trending topics, social media feeds and many other sources, so could your Business Application.

Fraud Detection

Credit card companies already use AI to scan people’s credit card purchasing patterns as well as the patterns of people using stolen credit cards to flag when they think a credit card has been stolen or compromised. Similarly Business Applications can monitor various company procedures and expenses to detect theft (perhaps strangeness in Inventory Adjustments) or unusual payments. Here there could be regulatory restrictions on what data could be used, for instance HR data is probably protected from being incorporated in this sort of analysis. Currently theft and fraud is a huge cost to businesses and AI could help reduce it. Sometimes just knowing that tools like this are being used can act as a major deterrent.

Purchasing

Algorithms could be used to better detect when items are needed to reduce inventory levels. Further the algorithms can continuously search vendor prices looking for deals and consider whether its worth buying now at a cheaper price and incurring the inventory expense or waiting. When you regularly purchase thousands or more items, a dynamic algorithm keeping on track of things can really help.

Customer Data

When you get a new customer you need all sorts of information such as their address, phone number, contacts, etc. Perhaps an algorithm could also search the web and fill in this information automatically (perhaps this is a specific example of better defaulting). Plus the AI could scan various web source (some perhaps pay services for credit ratings and such) to suggest a good credit rating/limit for this new customer. The algorithm could also run in the background and update existing customers as this data changes, since keeping customer data up to date is a major challenge for companies with many customers. Knowing and keeping up to date with your customers is a major challenge for many companies and much of this work can be automated.

Chasing Accounts Receivables

Collecting money is always a major challenge for every company. Much of this work could be automated. Plus algorithms can watch the paying habits of customers to know if say they alway pay on the end of  the quarter, not to worry so much when they go over 30 days. But if a customer suddenly gets credit rating problems or their stock tanks or there is negative news on the company then you better get collecting. Again this is all a lot of work and algorithms can greatly reduce the manual workload and make the whole process more efficient.

Setting Prices

Setting prices is an art and a science. You need to lower prices to move slow moving items out of inventory and try to keep prices high to maximize return. You need to be aware of competitors prices and watch for these items going on sale. Algorithms can greatly help with this. Amazon is a master of this, maintaining millions of prices with AI all over their web site. Algorithms can scan the web for competitive pricing, watch inventory levels and item costs, know where we are in a quarter and how much we need to stimulate sales to meet targets. These algorithms can make all the trade offs of knowing our customer loyalty versus having to be low cost, etc. Similarly this can affect customer and volume discounts. Once you have a lot of items for sale, maintain prices is a lot of work, especially in the world of online shopping where everything is changing so dynamically. With the big guys like Amazon and Walmart using these algorithms so effectively, you need to as well to be competitive.

Summary

This article just gave a few examples of the many places we’ll be seeing AI and Machine Learning algorithms becoming integrated into all our Business Applications. The examples in this article are all possible today and in use individually by large corporations. The cost of all these technologies is coming down and we are seeing these become integrated into lower cost Business Applications for small and medium sized businesses.

As these become adopted by more and more companies, it will become a competitive necessity to adopt them or risk becoming uncompetitive in the fast paced online world. There will still be a human element to monitor and provide policies but humans can perform many of these tasks at the speed and scale that today’s world requires.

For the users of Business Applications, the addition of AI to the User Interactions, should make these applications much more pleasant to operate. Instead of gotchas there will be helpful suggestions and reminders. Instead of needed to memorize and lookup all sorts of codes, these will be usefully provided wherever necessary. I think this transition will be as big as the transition we made from text based applications to GUI applications, but in this case I think the real ROI will be much higher.

 

Written by smist08

July 26, 2017 at 2:03 am

How to Run Customized Sage 300 Screens from Sage CRM

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Introduction

From the Sage 300 ERP to Sage CRM integration there is the ability to run a number of Sage 300 ERP screens. These are the older VB screens being run as ActiveX controls from the IE browser. Not to be confused with the newer Quote to Order web based screens. A common request is how to customize these screens to you run the customized screen from Sage CRM rather than the base screen.

This blog posting covers how to run customized screens from Sage CRM. As a bonus, as part of this it also shows how to wrap a Sage 300 screen, so that it handles version updates seamlessly and doesn’t require you to re-compile your solution when we release a new version of the base screen. As a result this mechanism requires you use VB to wrap the base control for deployment. The ideas presented here probably can be ported to other programming systems, but it may not be easy.

A sample project that wraps Order Entry is located on Google Drive here. This project will be used for most of the examples in the document, so feel free to load it up and follow along.  In order to view the wrapper, simply unzip the file, and open up the CRMOEOrderUI.vbp.

Create the Wrapper

The following instructions will show the basic steps on how to create a Sage 300 UI Browser Wrapper.  The wrapper can then be referenced by an ASP page. There should be a constant interaction between the UI, the wrapper, and the ASP page (ie. UI calls UI_OnUIAppOpened in the wrapper, the wrapper raises the UIWasUnLoaded event to the ASP page, and the ASP page in turn catches the event, and closes the window containing the wrapper (and attached Accpac UI).

Instructions

1. Open up Visual Basic and select a new Active X Control. Click Open.

custcrm1

2. Go to Project/ References, and select ACCPAC COM API Object, ACCPAC Data Source Control, ACCPAC Signon Manager, VB IObjectSafety Interface, ACCPAC Application Installer, and ACCPAC Session Manager.

custcrm2

3. The project name determines the name of the wrapper (OCX).  In this case, the wrapper name will be “eCRMOEOrderUI”.

4. The name that you give the UserControl should be descriptive of what is contained on it.  In this case, give the UserControl the same name as the Accpac UI that is wrapped (in this case, OEOrderUI).

custcrm3

5. When you are coding refer to the Accpac UI as “UserControl” (ie. UserControl.Width, UserControl.height).

6. We use the VBControlExtender to wrap the Order Entry OCX control dynamically when UserControl_Show is called (see code for UserControl_Show accompanied with this document). When referencing elements and methods within the Order Entry OCX control you would use ctlDynamic.object. The control is installed and opened using the AccpacOcxRegHelper.CLS which makes entries in to the registry that allows the VBControlExtender to reference the control by name as opposed to CLSID which is returned from Roto.

custcrm4

7. Now you are ready to begin writing the code that will catch the events thrown by the Accpac UI, and raise your own events to the ASP that will contain your wrapper.

8. Go into your code view and begin instantiating your events, objects, and variables.

9. Begin by declaring your objects that are going to handle events thrown by the AccpacDataSource controls in the related Accpac OCX controls.  In this case, event handlers of the AccpacOE1100 class are being declared so that they can detect the events thrown by the class.

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10. Next, declare the events that you will want to raise to the ASP page.

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11. Declare your public variables

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12. Declare your remaining variables.  In this case, mSignonMgr is going to be used to sign on the Accpac UI with the signon manager so that the signon screen does not keep popping up every time that the UI is loaded.  mlSignonID is going to be the signon ID.

custcrm8

13. Outline your functions that will be called by the ASP Page.  In this case, the ASP page will give the values that are to be used to populate the UI, or to insert the customer ID into the UI’s customer field for a new customer quote.

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14. Next, list out the events that can be called by the UI AccpacDataSources.  In the screenshot below, you can see that the wrapper is checking the eReason variable being passed, and depending on what eReason is being passed, a different event will be raised to the ASP page (AddNew, Delete etc) in the RaiseEventEX sub.

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custcrm11
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15. Other functions are also called by the Accpac UI. The wrapper will be notified of these events through ctlDynamic_ObjectEvent (see below). Once the UI has opened ctlDynamic_ObjectEvent is called with an event name of  “OnUIAppOpened” and a private sub UI_OnUIAppOpened is called and objects in the wrapper are initialized, and the UIWasLoaded event is raised to the ASP page notifying it that the UI has been opened.
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16. Finally, define the Get properties that are available to the ASP page so that it can resize its windows when the UI has been loaded onto the ASP page.  In this case, the ASP page will resize its windows to be the same width, height, and unit of measurement as the UI.

custcrm15

17. Now, you have successfully entered all the code that the wrapper will use to receive the function calls from the UI, as well as raise the events to the ASP page.

Customize the Sage CRM ASP Page

You now have a wrapped OCX now you can follow the ASP page in Sage CRM (for example, OE_OrderUI.asp as follows) to call your customized OCX.

http://bcr512115/CRM/CustomPages/Accpac/OE_OrderUI.asp?SID=15427674933819&Key0=1&Key1=44&Key2=58&F=Accpac/OE_Orders.asp&J=Accpac/OE_OrderUI.asp&QUOTENUM=ORD000000000076&CUSTID=AA20130815&DATABASE=SAMINC

Then it will open the OE Order Entry screen for order ORD000000000076.

In OE_OrderUI.asp file, it has following code:

 

<!–

eCRMOEOrderUI raises the following events:

UIWasLoaded(), UIWasUnLoaded(), AddNew(), Delete(), Update(), FieldChange(), Init(), Read(), Fetch()

eCRMOEOrderUI exposes the following Properties:

UIWidth(Read Only), UIHeight(Read Only), TwipsPerPixelX(Read Only), TwipsPerPixelX(Read Only)

eCRMOEOrderUI exposes the following Functions:

PopulateUI(OrderID As String, CustomerID As String);

CreateNewQuote(CustomerID As String);

–>

<SCRIPT for=”eCRMOEOrderUI” Event=”UIWasLoaded()”>

var width  = eCRMOEOrderUI.UIWidth / eCRMOEOrderUI.TwipsPerPixelX;

var height = eCRMOEOrderUI.UIHeight / eCRMOEOrderUI.TwipsPerPixelY;

if ((BrowserDetect.browser==”Explorer”) && (BrowserDetect.version >= 7))

{

width  += 35;

height += 130;

}

else

{

width  += 35;

height += 100;

}

var left = (screen.width – width) / 2;

var top = (screen.height – height) / 2;

window.resizeTo(width, height);

window.moveTo(left,top);

PopulateUI(<%=EnESCDocNum%>, <%=EnESCCustomer%>);

width  = eCRMOEOrderUI.UIWidth  / eCRMOEOrderUI.TwipsPerPixelX;

height = eCRMOEOrderUI.UIHeight / eCRMOEOrderUI.TwipsPerPixelY;

BorderWidth  = ClientWidth()  – width;

BorderHeight = ClientHeight() – height;

bLoaded = true;

resize();

</SCRIPT>

Summary

Hopefully you find this helpful in customizing Sage 300 ERP screens. Even if you don’t run them from Sage CRM, not having to re-build them for each Product Update can save you some time.

Written by smist08

October 11, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Sage Summit 2014

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Introduction

I’m just back from Sage Summit 2014 which was held at the Mandalay Bay Resort/Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. There were over 5200 attendees at the show, a new record for Sage. The Mandalay Bay is a huge complex and I racked up a record number of steps for GCC getting from one place to another. Las Vegas is easy to get to for most people since there are a lot of direct flights from around North America and you can find really cheap hotel accommodation near to the conference (like $29 at the Excalibur which is connected to Mandalay Bay by a free tram). The only down side to having he conference in Vegas is that smoking is still allowed in many public places, which is really annoying.

The conference had a great many guest speakers including quite a few celebrities like Magic Johnson and Jessica Alba. The convention trade show wasn’t just booths, there were also open speaking theatres that always had something interesting going on as well as the Sage Innovation Lab Exhibit.

There were a great many product breakout sessions as well as a large number of breakout sessions on general business and technology topics. The intent was to make Sage Summit a place to come to for a lot more than just learning new technical details about your Sage product, or promoting new add-ons for you to purchase. A lot of customers attending the show told me that it was these general sessions on accounting, marketing and technology that they found the most useful.

The show was huge and this blog post just covers a few areas that I was directly involved in or attended.

Great General Sessions

Besides the mandatory Sage keynotes, there were quite a few general sessions which were quite amazing. My favorite was Brad Smith’s interview with Biz Stone the co-founder of Twitter and Jelly. Biz certainly provides a lot of interesting context to Web startups, as well as a lot of interesting stories of why he left Google and chose the path he chose. It was certainly interesting in the way a lot of the successful founders left very secure lucrative careers to really struggle for years to get their dreams off the ground. A common theme was the need for persistence so you could survive long enough to eventually get that big break. Another common theme was to follow people and ideas rather than companies and money. Now I’m going to have to read Biz’s book: “Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind”.

bizstone

Another very popular session was the panel discussion with Magic Johnson, CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Jessica Alba, co-founder of the Honest Company and J. Carrey Smith, CEO of Big Ass Solutions. This discussion concentrated on their current businesses and didn’t delve into their celebrity pasts for which at least two panelists are rather well known for. There were a lot of good business tips given and it was interesting to see how Magic Johnson and Jessica Alba have adapted what they did before to becoming quite successful CEOs.

magicalba

Sage’s Technology Vision

A lot of Sage’s technology and product presentations were about our mobile and cloud technology vision. The theme was to aggressively move into these areas with purposeful innovation that still protect the investment that our customers have in our current technologies. At the heart of this vision is the Sage Data Cloud. This acts as a hub which mobile solutions can connect to as well as a way that data can be accessed in our existing products whether in the cloud or installed on premise. Below is the architectural block diagram showing the main components of this.

sagetech2

This is perhaps a bit theoretical, but we already have products in the market that are filling in key components of this vision. Some of these are included in the next diagram.

sagetech1

We use the term “hybrid cloud” quite a bit, this indicates that you can have some of your data on premise and some of your data in the cloud. There are quite a few use cases that people desire. Not everyone is sold with trusting all their data to a cloud vendor for safe keeping. In some industries and countries there are tight regulatory controls on where your data can legally be located. The Hybrid Cloud box in the diagram includes Sage 50 ERP (US and Canadian), Sage 100 ERP and Sage 300 ERP.

To effectively operate mobile and web solutions, you do need to have your data available 24×7 with a very high degree of uptime and a very high degree of security. Most small or mid-sized business customers cannot afford sufficient IT resources to maintain this for their own data center. One solution to this problem is to synchronize a subset of your on premise ERP/CRM data to the Sage Data Cloud and then have your mobile solutions accessing this. Then it becomes Sage’s responsibility to maintain the uptime, 24×7 support and apply all the necessary security procedures to keep the data safe.

Another attraction for ISVs is integrate their product to the Sage Data Cloud and then let the Sage Data Cloud handle all the details of integrating to the many Sage ERP products. This way they only need to write one integration rather than separate integrations for Sage 50 ERP, Sage 100 ERP, Sage 300 ERP, Sage 300 CRE, etc.

We had a lot of coverage of the Sage 300 Online offering which has been live for a while now. This was introduced last Summit and now offers Sage 300 ERP customers the choice of installing on premise or running in the Azure cloud. Running in the cloud saves you having to back up your data, perform updates or maintain servers or operating systems. This way you can just run Sage 300 and let Sage handle the details. Of course you can get a copy of your data anytime you want and even move between on premise and the cloud.

The Sage Innovation Lab

On the trade show we had a special section for the Sage Innovation Lab. Here you could play with Google Glasses, Pebble Watches, 3D Printers and all sorts of neat toys to see some prototypes and experiments that Sage is working on with these. We don’t know if these will all be productized, but it’s cool to get a feel for how the future might begin to look like.

Summary

This really was Sage Summit re-imagined. There were a great many sessions, keynotes and demonstrations on all sorts of topics of interest to businesses. This should be taken even further for next year’s Sage Summit which will be in New Orleans, LA on July 27-30, 2015. Does anyone else remember all those great CA-World’s in New Orleans back in the 90s?

Written by smist08

August 2, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Sage CRM 7.2 Available for Sage 300 ERP

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Introduction

Earlier this year Sage CRM 7.2 was released for standalone CRM customers. We have competed the Sage 300 ERP integration in conjunction with the Service Pack 1 release of Sage CRM 7.2. We have now released the Sage 300 ERP 2012 integration for Sage CRM 7.2 and this is the integration that will be included in the forthcoming Sage 300 ERP 2014 release.

Generally customers find that combining Sage CRM as a front office solution to Sage 300 ERP as the back office  solution creates a much more powerful combined system than having separate ERP and CRMs. The level of automation, reporting and customer connectedness is greatly increased across the organization. As such introducing a new version of CRM can provide many immediate benefits for companies and this blog is looking at some of the things that are new in this version. We find that customers running both of these Sage products together have much higher net promoter scores than customers running non-integrated systems.

Social CRM

Historically CRM programs managed communications with customers and other business contacts by managing e-mails and phone calls. CRM had all the basic contact information, integrations to help automate these processes like creating e-mails and automatically recording the information in CRM. Auto-dialing phones and logging that you called and letting you fill in some comments. Setting reminders and schedules for performing these tasks.

However, how we are communicating with our business contacts is changing. Many people are using e-mail and voice phones much less than they used to. I ignore most incoming calls from unknown callers because they are usually cold sales calls or scams (like you have just won a cruise vacation). E-mail is getting much noisier with spam and other junk, causing more important e-mails to just get lost. It’s been found that recent high school graduates actually have quite an aversion to actually talking on a phone and don’t use e-mail much.

Now there are many more communication channels. Many people now communicate via various social websites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Yammer and Twitter. Many calls are made via services like Skype and there are people texting more than ever and even using systems like BBM.

So if we want to get a complete comprehensive picture of all our communications with a customer, we need to see all of these in CRM as well. We added LinkedIn and Twitter connectors to Sage CRM last version and with this version we have added Facebook integration.

socialcrm

With this Facebook integration you can bring Facebook information right inside Sage CRM to better understand your customer. You can associate Facebook pictures and profiles with prospects. Generally this is an avenue to get a more complete picture of your customer, or potential customer’s business.

Getting good leads is usually a big problem for companies. Chances are that for a given customer, his contacts will be related in some way and perhaps offer good prospects to market to. If you do get a response from one of a customer’s contacts then you can use the original customer as a reference to help make the sale, or act as an introduction to get you in the door.

Social Media stores terabytes and terabytes of information on business’s and people. Being able to effectively mine all this information is going to be a huge competitive advantage in the future.

Another social feature added to Sage CRM 7.2 is Yammer integration. Yammer is a social network for collaboration within a company. With this integration your sales teams can collaborate and share information using Yammer from Sage CRM.

socialcrm3

Mobile CRM

People don’t necessarily spend their entire day sitting at their desk behind a computer. They work from home, they travel on business trips and visit customers face to face. You CRM system contains tons of useful information that will help you do your job better if accessible in these situations. Over the past couple of versions and further with this new version, we‘ve been adding mobile features to Sage CRM to make it easier to access from mobile devices.

Sage CRM is a web application and with the previous version we enhanced to work with all popular browsers. This then allowed mobile users (which usually have Safari or Chrome) to browse the Sage CRM screens. Perhaps this works a bit better for tablets, but tends to be a bit of a pain on an iPhone.

As a result we’ve been adding native device apps to complement the web interface to Sage CRM. Plus we’ve been working on improving the web interface so it will work much better on table devices like the iPad.

The picture below shows the Sage CRM web application rendering itself for an iPad:

mobilecrm1

Next we have the iPhone native Sage CRM application:

mobilecrm2

And finally the Sage CRM 7.2 Windows 8 application for Windows tablets:

mobilecrm3

As we move forwards we will be providing more and more functionality on more and more mobile devices so you can instantly get any information you need instantly. Down the road you might be wearing your Google glasses and when you say the customer’s name, all the information on that customer will be right there in your view to reference.

Reporting

With this version of Sage CRM we’ve improved the reporting capabilities. A new HTML5 based charting library has been added, so you don’t need Adobe Flash for charts anymore. You can clone reports to get started with a customization. There are more chart types with more configurable settings. There are new security settings so you can better control who can see what.

Customization

Sage CRM 7.2 adds more codeless customization capability where you can design more powerful screens right in the product without writing code. Sage CRM also doesn’t use frames to hold custom screens anymore. This will affect some ASP based customizations, but generally leads to better ability to control your own web pages (especially the CSS).

Integration

The main change to the Sage 300 ERP integration was changing Quotes to Orders to work in the new frameless Sage CRM web pages. Most other changes have already been released in service packs or hotfixes for Sage 300 ERP 2012, so if you are fully current you won’t see much different. But if you are coming from an older version, you should see a number of improvements.

Summary

Sage CRM 7.2 integrated with Sage 300 ERP make for a powerful front/back office solution. This release is definitely worth checking out especially for the mobility and social features.

Written by smist08

September 7, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Sage Summit 2013

with 7 comments

Introduction

Sage Summit is our annual North American partner and customer conference. This year it was held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Washington, DC. Sage rolled out many exciting new products, upgrades and services. As a blogger I’m glad that they’ve all now been announced since these will provide articles for months to come and I don’t have to hold back waiting for Sage Summit anymore. Most of the topics mentioned here quickly will be the topic for future much more detailed blog postings.

Keynotes

Pascal Houillon kicked off the opening keynote comparing the Sage journey to mountain climbing. Talking about teamwork and overcoming very daunting obstacles. There was also a lot of mention on progress with building the Sage brand in North America.

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Included in the keynote were demos of some of Sage’s new mobile applications, showing people buying things from iPads, being dispatched to perform service work from their iPhone and entering construction time card data on an Android tablet. The best demo was Steve Malmgren demoing voice input on a Windows phone where he could just ask general questions with vague input data and get back meaningful answers. He could ask questions like “What’s the address of American in Milwaukee?” and get back the full company name, its address and go to a map to get directions. It was very impressive and the voice recognition worked really well considering the noisy conditions up on stage.

Then the keynotes broke out into several super-sessions. I attended the super-session on technology which was standing room only. This session outlined all our new technology initiatives and all the things that we were delivering now. These included several mobile native applications along with the announcement of the new Sage 300 Online. A lot of time was invested in explaining how the provisioning and signup processes worked and how ISVs can participate in the new Sage Data Cloud that is the backbone for all the new services.

Sage Mobile Applications

We previewed rough prototypes of a number of mobile applications at last year’s Sage Summit conference. This year we are releasing the real things. The first three mobile applications are Sage Mobile Sales, Sage Billing and Payment and Sage Mobile Service.

Sage Mobile Sales is an iPad native application for sales people, Sage Mobile Service is an iPhone native application for receiving service calls. Sage Billing and Payment is a web application for chasing down people who owe you money. All of these take credit cards for payment via Sage Payment Solutions.

Below are some screen shots to give a flavor of what they look like.

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Sage Data Cloud

All these Sage Mobile Applications are connected to the Sage Data Cloud. All the data required for these applications to run, as well as all the transactions they generate go through the Sage Data Cloud. The Sage Data Cloud is hosted in Microsoft Azure and is connected to your on-premise ERP system. Your on-premise ERP uploads to data to the cloud like customer and inventory information and then downloads transactions like orders and invoices. It is the glue that connects your on-premise ERP with the cloud world without requiring you to run a web server or any other special infrastructure.

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Currently we have connectors to the Sage Data Cloud for Sage 100 ERP and Sage 300 ERP. With connectors to Sage 50 ERP (US and Canadian) to be available shortly.

Sage 300 Online

Sage 300 Online is our new cloud version. This runs Sage 300 ERP 2014 in the Microsoft Azure cloud. It is integrated with SageID and uses new virtualization technology to being an improved application experience.

The following is the web page that you would launch the Sage 300 ERP 2014 Desktop from or transfer data to/from the cloud.

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Sage 300 ERP 2014

Sage 300 ERP 2014 is our new version that will be shipping in a couple of months. This version includes many user interface improvements in the main Desktop along with throughout many application screens. There is much more information on what people are doing in the system, improved visual process flows and a number of other improvements that people have been asking for.

Sage City

We introduced Sage City last year and have continued it this year due to popular demand. Sage City includes a keynote address for the Sage Customers, it then breaks up into networking/problem solving sessions where like-minded customers get together to jointly solve their problems.

Sage Marketplace Live Expo

Every year there is an exhibition hall which has booths representing all our main ISV partners. All the Sage business applications act as both a platform and a center for a whole ecosystem of products and services. These products range from small but useful utilities all the way up to major applications and all have the goal of seamlessly integrating with various Sage products. Many lunches, breakfasts and dinners were served here so that partners and customers could eat as well as have plenty of time to investigate all the various products that could make their lives easier.

Social Media

Like any conference, one of the goals is to promote the company and to generate coverage in the press. Besides getting articles written for various publications (mostly online), part of it is generating interest in the social media like Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. Seeing all the tweets by industry analysts as well as judging sentiment from the attendees by watching the twitter feeds. You can see this by searching for the hashtag #SageSummit. Often the twitter feeds were displayed on large screens for all to see. Plus Twitter is a great way of people to connect and exchange information. There was also a Sage Summit conference mobile application to show the conference agenda as well as allow people to connect and use social media. Plus points were awarded for using the app where people were competing for a prize.

Summary

Sage Summit 2013 was another enjoyable conference. It was a great opportunity to meet many partners and customers. To see all the great products our ISV community are working on. To see some products and people from other parts of Sage that I don’t normally interact with. Next year Sage Summit is in Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay on July 27-August 1, 2014.

Written by smist08

July 26, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Introducing Sage City Online

with one comment

Introduction

Last year at Sage Summit in Nashville we tried an experiment in social networking that we called Sage City. I mentioned this in my blog on Sage Summit 2012 here. Sage City in Nashville was a huge success and we will be building on that for an even better Sage City event at this year’s Sage Summit conference in Washington, DC.

Last week we opened the online version of Sage City. The intent is to build a social networking super-site for all Sage customers, partners and employees.

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History

There has always been a lot of social networking around Sage and its products. Typically each product group or division operated its own set of forums and blogs. This is then hard for customers who use several products like say Sage CRM and Sage ERP. They need to join several disparate communities, which are all quite different.

There are all sort of groups on the main social networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn. Many of these groups are highly successful with thousands of members. For instance the Sage Partners, Employees & Alumni Networking Group on LinkedIn has over 8200 members and has lots of interesting activity.

The external groups are doing great and will continue to do so. But something needed to be done about all the internal groups. Many were running different software platforms, used different sign-on ids, looked quite different, and had different policies and so on.

Unify the Sage Social Sites

The first goal of Sage City was to unify all these different Sage social communities into one place. Basically a Sage customer now only needs to sign up for Sage City and then they can join discussions on many Sage products as well as reference all sorts of other on-line resources. Now all the Sage forums are using the same software, they all work the same way and they will all be updated and maintained together providing a unified experience. Below is just the start of quite long list of support communities available on Sage City:

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Notice that we now have both unified customer communities as well as unified partner communities.

You might ask: What about all the great content in all the previous discussion forums and blogs? The Sage City team did a great job of bringing all this content over to the new site. This isn’t an empty site waiting to be filled, there are already hundreds of blog postings and thousands of discussion forum threads imported from the older sites. This provides a great resource of information that has already been captured.

Business Communities

If you attended Sage Summit last year, you know that Sage City wasn’t organized around products, it was organized around business interests. Now that we’ve brought together all the different product social sites into one place, this now gives us a great opportunity to build on this new greater expanded community.

Across all the different Sage business products there is a lot of commonality in professional function. For instance there are many Accountants using Sage ERP products. Sage City offers social sites for all of these. In the screen shot below is the start of the list of the various business communities that are available on Sage City:

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The key to their success is that these communities are large enough to be vibrant and self-sustaining. By bringing together the larger Sage community we can achieve this.

Most business issues and problems don’t have anything to do with ERP or CRM software and these new forums offer a great opportunity to discuss these with knowledgeable peers in a community of like minded people.

A True Social Site

Besides unifying all our various discussion forums and blogs, the new Sage City site also offers many of the expected social features that you would expect on any modern Social Media site. You can have friends, follow people, like things, join groups, send messages, mark favorites, subscribe to RSS feeds, and post comments and replies.

The site is integrated with Twitter feeds and with Sage’s product idea site.

There are discussion forums, blogs and videos. There are feeds showing all the activities going on either on the whole site or just in a specific group.

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A Platform to Build On

Last week was the initial launch, but we have a large enthusiastic team that continues to work on Sage City, so you can expect to see regular updates and enhancements to make this a continually growing and more and more vibrant site.

The first goal is to attract as many people as possible to the site. The strength and value of a community is built on the enthusiasm of the individual participants. A strong community is a powerful thing. Hopefully by bringing together all the customers, partners and employees from separate Sage product camps we can build a much more valuable community than we could acting separately.

Summary

Sage City is now live. Sage City is so new the Google Spiders haven’t even cataloged its contents yet. But I think Sage City is a great improvement over Sage’s separate product social site. There are already lots of active users and discussions. I’ll be contributing regularly and I hope to see you there as well.