Sage has taken a different path than most vendors for software-as-a-service and cloud computing. In keeping with the times, the vendor has chosen to infuse its installed contact management product, Sage Act! (formerly known as Act! by Sage), with Web services.
At this time last year, Sage unveiled an e-marketing solution for Act! users. For a small cost, a company could access an online and thoroughly integrated email marketing service from its installed contact management software. Sage has now released another Web-based service, this time partnering with Hoover's, a well-established business-information data provider. Sage Business Info Services for Act!, a central feature in the 2011 version of Act!, integrates lists and the online business directory from Hoover's to supplement a company's contact database and identify new selling opportunities.
Some analysts say that the most radical advances visible in the current edition of Act! actually occurred in the 2010 product release, which included a complete overhaul of the user interface and integration of social network information into contact data. Sage Act! 2011, generally available in September, represents an enhancement, according to Larry Ritter, Sage's senior vice president and general manager of CRM Solutions. Following last year's overhaul, the company continued to do usability testing to tweak its user interface and make the solution easy and sleek for its small-business customer base.
Paul Greenberg, president of consultancy The 56 Group, says he became a big fan of the premium edition of the 2010 release. "I was amazed of how much of an upgrade change it was from prior versions of Act!," he remarks, adding that while Act! "keeps getting better" the improvements in Sage Act! 2011 are "significant but incremental."
Sage Business Info Services for Act! gives users access to the Hoover's database of 65 million companies and 85 million contacts. The service is available to users at various levels, at a cost that ranges from free to $49.99 per user per month. "The value of business services in Act! 2011 has clearly progressed," Greenberg says. "[Users] can do incremental upgrades by adding services over time. It's incredibly smart."
According to Ritter, another big enhancement in Sage Act! 2011 is the Smart Tasks component, essentially a workflow engine that guides users through common business processes and helps automate business tasks. (Interestingly, Ritter reveals that Sage opted for the "Smart Tasks" name because the term "workflow" was not resonating with users.) Along with the workflow tool, 10 predefined templates also integrate with Sage E-marketing for Act!, enabling users to send email messages to new customers, for example.
Greenberg notes that, as a whole, Sage Act! 2011 appears to be sleeker than the previous release. "They changed the interface a lot," he says. "Last year, it was pretty good; this year, it's really good. It's easy." Greenberg recalls a few issues with the 2010 version involving calendar and email syncing. Sage executives say Sage Act! 2011 attempts to remedy some of those gaffes with enhanced Microsoft Outlook synchronization that allows users to control what data is synced back and forth.
Greenberg candidly admits that he had nearly given up on the Act! product line a few years back. But with the major improvements and inclusions of social CRM, Web services, and a user-tested interface, he says he's now "massively impressed with the product."
After all these years, has Act! reached its full maturity? "It's as close to CRM as it ever will be," Greenberg says of the contact management solution. "It will never be full-blown CRM — but do they provide business value to small businesses? Oh, God, yeah."
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