Genuinely Global
Great Elk offers a multinational CRM solution.
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Finding a global CRM solution that doesn't just convert screens to another language is hard. I recently went looking for a "better solution" for multinational organizations and rediscovered Great Elk. The Great Elk team realized early on that a true multinational solution goes far beyond foreign translations of the software. When you do business in a country the size of New Zealand, you must be more responsive to multinational issues. This has had a profound impact on many facets of product evolution and corporate culture. For example, when dealing with installations in many countries, your application must scale down as well as up. It is quite common to have one country with 20 to 50 users and another with 2,000 users. Managing the integration and synchronization among such diverse installations is a technical challenge.

The company also knows that the process of selling and conducting business is different in every country. This has driven its decision to forge genuine partnerships with local organizations in all the countries it works in. Many competitors still take the approach that what works in the United states will work in Europe or Asia--a fatal error. When Great Elk enters a market, it does it in the manner appropriate for each country.

The company has clients in more than 20 countries worldwide, totaling more than 15,000 users. I was quite impressed with Great Elk's ability to serve a diverse range of multinational clients. However, I still had to see how the program measured up against my own review criteria.

Contact Management
Visual Elk does a great job of all routine contact management tasks. All vital information is displayed in the Details window. The three main views of this window are grid, form and Panorama. If you select a folder in the results tree, then the Details window displays the contents of the folder in a grid. If you select an entity in the results tree, then the Details window shows the entity's details displayed in a form.

The Details window lets you view or edit a record via easily customized forms. Custom Forms are designed in studio for Visual Elk using the standard form painter and a class library framework and builders. Visual Elk supports a number of classes for form controls. All of Visual Elk's controls are linked to the model so they require no code to configure and they have advanced features, such as automatic resize. Additionally, Visual Elk has an integrated Calendar, which also displays in the Details window. Appointments can be made by dragging contacts or companies from the results tree and dropping them on the calendar.

Sales Management
Visual Elk's strong report writer capabilities provide good support for sales management. Many CRM applications require a third-party report writer such as Seagate Software's Crystal Reports. While it is possible to use third-party report writers (as the database supports ODBC), Visual Elk ships with a very nice integrated report writer. The integrated report writer generates "segment aware" reports: If a segment is defined for a marketing campaign, any existing report can use that segment to define the selection criteria for records to be included. The report writer also uses the model to understand the relationships between the tables, the verbal names for fields and how the fields should be formatted. This all means that reports are easier to generate. The report writer can also generate quick reports. Information defined by the active view on the Home screen can be printed at the press of a button.

For more complex analysis, Great Elk also produces an R-OLAP (Relational On-line Analytical Processing) tool called Panorama. Panorama is a general-purpose information analysis tool. Visual Elk provides tight integration to Panorama, allowing sales analysis, opportunity analysis, call analysis, customer analysis and more. Achieved through a specially constructed OCX, this interface handshakes with Visual Elk to ensure that Visual Elk sets the Panorama view's context. This means that when the end user navigates through Visual Elk, the Panorama view is updated and displays in the Details window of the Home screen.

Panorama can run against a typical sales database, or when utilized in conjunction with The Great Elk Company's data warehousing strategy, against very large data warehouses.

Though Great Elk management was able to show me a variety of useful sales forecasting and management reports taken from different customer case studies, I was disappointed by the level of capability provided "out of the box." The company now has a deep enough pool of experience that it could easily give people a more elevated starting point before customization services kick in.

Sales Impact
Sadly, Visual Elk provides minimal sales impact. Management told me that the Great Elk philosophy encompasses the concept that you cannot deliver an "automated salesperson," but you can provide technology that assists a salesperson and an organization by increasing effectiveness. Visual Elk assists organizations by delivering technology that supports sales- and marketing-based competitive advantage initiatives. This sounds nice but strikes me as a bit of a cop out. I would expect the company to make stronger use of the built-in triggers and rules capabilities to proactively move opportunities through the pipeline.

Ease of Use
Visual Elk makes good use of the ever-popular Outlook style interface. You can easily assemble your own "custom" views, to let you work just the way you like. The Visual Elk interface includes a powerful search and query interface and a hierarchical results tree, which allows complex relationships between data entities to be easily understood, navigated and explored. For a system of such power, Visual Elk is very easy to use.

Visual Elk uses a unique architecture for CRM solutions. The application shell is completely separate from the business model. Organizations can construct a model of the data and processes, which their CRM system must support. The application shell includes Profiling, Call management, Segmentation, Mail merge, Integrated calendar and the integrated report manager.

The Model includes an entity relationship model, a field level data dictionary, all validation lists, the custom forms, navigation control and complete access to triggers, events and rules. The application shell provides the standard marketing functions of most organizations. The model allows the system to be configured to match a company's requirements exactly.

This powerful approach means Visual Elk provides extreme flexibility to address a wide range of business models and sales and marketing applications. The program delivers F-RAD (Faster Rapid Application Development). Visual Elk out performs most advanced development languages for both prototyping and development, as the application shell delivers all the necessary specialist functionality for CRM systems. The model can be continually and rapidly reconfigured as business demands. And, because the model is separate from the application shell, model changes can be easily distributed to remote users with the press of a button.

The system is completely object oriented and based on The Great Elk Company's own framework. It can support processes that are based on data from other transactional systems, such as back-office solutions and can easily support many different approaches for sales processes such as forecasting and strategic account management. However, in all cases, end-users see a customized system, unique to their needs.

The Bottom Line
Visual Elk is a powerful solution that is highly customizable while retaining maximum ease of use for end users. On pure capability, Great Elk competes well with any system I have seen lately. However, if your project spans multiple countries, Visual Elk should be at the top of your short list.

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