Extending Universal Search in ACT!

Search

One of the things we do at Caldere is work closely with the ACT! retention team to help clients that need ACT! to exceed its core feature set. Sometimes this can be simple such as providing a reporting solution that integrates ACT! data with other data sources within the organisation and other times this can be more complicated with the use of code or SQL scripting. This is actually one of the parts of our job in the technical team that we really enjoy, it’s always with projects from the retention team that we are stretched professionally and get to really sink our teeth into very interesting and complex client issues. Usually our first engagement with such clients involves a discussion with one of our consultants who analyse the first most basic premise; is ACT! the right solution for what they are trying to achieve as a business. The discussions can result in the following conclusions:

  • ACT! is not the right tool they should be looking to achieve their goals.
  • A re-design of their ACT! system and additional bespoke training is required.
  • In some cases clients need assistance with translating their processes into the overall ACT! architecture.
  • The technical team is “let loose” upon the client to do development or other technical work.

Recently we had a client referred to us by the retention team who had purchased ACT! for their sales team but wanted to extend the use of it to another team. As an organisation, they provide out-sourcing solutions for a wide range of customer types and so had to maintain a very large bank of CV’s (resumes for any American reader!) of contractors, during the migration of these attachments into ACT! we estimated it to about 30GB. The existing HR software they had in place was no longer able to service the kind of detailed querying they required, to invest in a new dedicated system would have cost them over £250k. Their hope was to use the comparatively cheaper ACT! product to do this with it’s new Universal Search feature. The problem was that natively Universal Search could not return a Contact List that could then be narrowed down, at face value this would mean that all teams would have to migrate to something new and expensive, which the teams didn’t want to do. Our challenge was to find a solution that would extend the native Universal Search within ACT!

  • Return a Contact List of queried skill types from applicants CV’s
  • Allow this Contact List to be further narrowed down on based on other Contact fields
  • Display a Hit-Count of the number of times a skill type appeared within each person CV

This would allow the recruitment consultants to look for all contractors that had skills in e.g., UNIX, C++ and Banking but were based in Birmingham (ACT! field) and had salary expectations between type B – D (ACT! field), showing that Fred Bloggs had 29 occurrences of the terms within his CV whereas John Doe only had 12. This I must admit was the most complex solution request I had faced all year!

The first challenge we faced in creating the plugin is that developing on the Universal Search is not supported by the ACT! SDK and there is no documentation. In addition, licencing restrictions prohibit us from coding to the Universal Search components directly. We contacted the developers of the Universal Search utility within ACT! to see if purchasing a licence, but due to the cost of the licence we rapidly withdrew from that approach. Thanks to a few carefully placed tequilas during summit, I was able to unofficially discuss the project with the ACT! development team who were able to advise me a workaround to the licencing roadblock, which was later confirmed by the owners of the component, we were able to develop a plugin that not only met all the requirements but also saved our client from having to spend over a £1/4Million and so the 80 strong team could continue using ACT! as their core business solution.

The important take home message for anyone who uses ACT! is that in most cases developers are able to mould ACT! to do what you need it to do. There are of course limitations and this usually comes where the business aim or process being modelled is beyond the product vision/design or scope. An example similar to this would be if such a solution was required for processing greater than 40k documents per day within a global deployment and regional languages, which some larger departments of the same organisation do manage. In those cases we have advised them that ACT! would not be the best solution  for them as to the sheer complexity and volume of their requirements, ACT! has a single regional setting for each database and relies entirely on standard Windows Server file handling and indexing.

I plan on doing a couple more posts in the future regarding Universal Search including optimisation and advanced features etc, if there is anything anyone would like me to particularly post on let me know either by email or via comments.

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Create Opportunity From Contact Plugin

Well since Opportunities became bona fide Primary Entities back in ACT! 2009, we have been using them quite heavily internally at Caldere. One of the real problems that user’s highlighted was that now we had an Opportunity Detail screen the sales guys were wasting a lot of time flicking backwards and forwards between views. This constant switching was also leading to multiple GDI crashes on controls within ACT!. We have increased everyone’s GDI pools via Group Policies but even then this was starting to become quite an issue.

The question that was asked was if we could develop a plugin that would be able to copy Contact fields over to the Opportunities as well as all the Notes, Histories and finally also associate the activities to that new Opportunity as well.

Well truth be told I feel that this should be a native built-in feature within ACT! personally. I decided to create a plugin that would mimic the Create Company from Contact functionality and have the field mappings within an XML file. I had toyed with the idea of centralising the XML file but almost immediately rejected that stupid idea due to concurrency and file lock issues. It would be easier to just install the plugin on each machine and have the XML there as well. The downside of this would be will be when people want to include additional fields then we will have to each machine and overwrite the XML. Actually a more likely scenario is that we’ll create a BAT file and run that from a Windows Logon script, but still not ideal!

I’m actually really quite pleased with this simple plugin and as with our usual policy at  Caldere, code that we feel would be of direct benefit to our client’s, we give them the applications/plugins etc for free as part of their support contract. By the end of the day, there was already 3 clients that were quite excited about the plugin since they had been experiencing the same kind of issues as our sales guys.