Blogging and Social Media

revolution

Well I’ve got to hang my head in shame. I have to admit that wise people such as Pat Egan from Egen Consulting was right in what she has been advising not only me, but all ACCs for a great many years now, engaging in Social Media is not only important, it can be fun! I have been one of those rather boorish, luddite techies that has been known to proudly exclaim  “I don’t do, like or trust social media! What’s the point? If I want people to know what I ate for dinner last night, I’ll phone them and tell them or email them!”

I began a Facebook Page a couple of weeks ago and started to engage with this “social stuff” about a week ago purely as an experiment to see what kind of data is generated and collected by Facebook and to see what use it could be to extract this raw data. I had downloaded an excel plugin/tool from Microsoft for data analysis and reporting which is part of it’s drive towards Self-Service BI. One of the out-of-the-box features included the ability to directly connect to the backend data source that Facebook Insight uses. Now at the time, I had absolutely no idea what Insights was, but after conferring with other ACCs and Swiftpage employees that were more versed in the mysteries of Facebook I was advised to start my own Facebook page which I did. One of the problems I immediately faced was to use Insights, your page needs to acquire 21 Likes. When I had started out I had not thought that this would be a particularly difficult target to achieve and expected to achieve this within a few days so I could get down to the true task of analysing the data and comparing what I got within Excel against Insights and which would be of more use. One key question I had was, what was the point of connecting Excel to Facebook?

It’s now been almost 3 weeks and I have only managed to scrape up 18 Likes within Facebook and I have found myself reading many Blogs, learning about a whole new medium, starting a Blogg but above all for the first time I can say that I am actually genuinely enjoying myself! This has been the biggest shock to me, one that I had never envisaged. My plan had been to accumulate the required Likes get the data analyse and report back to the ACC community. I’m actually glad I have failed in my primary task currently. What it has forced me to do is read articles such as 7 Deadly Sins of Blogging by CopyBlogger or the historically interesting piece by Mike Lazarus Happy 25th Birthday SageACT!.

I think the biggest impact on me has been the concept of free-sharing. This is something that is very close to my heart and I have spent much time involved with open source projects. When we started Caldere, we wanted to try and create a community of sharing between ACT! professionals within the UK, sadly we met many road blocks and quite often we were taken advantage of due to our naivety, I am glad to see that the rest of the business world is closer to what had hoped for. The social media revolution (if I can call it a revolution), has really changed the face of how organisations, especially smaller businesses, engage not only with their clients, but also with their competition and peers. There does seem to be a much more of a sharing feel which is like a fresh breath of air. It is only a very few Facebookers that now still embrace the “old-world” mentality of stripping out originator wrappers to shared posts. There seems to be a genuine air of gratitude, collaboration and a general attitude of “playing with a straight bat”, I’m glad I’m now taking an active part in this new revolution!

The big question facing me now is how to mould this blogg and Facebook page since I had started it without any real direction. My suspicion is that I will most probably position it predominantly as a technical blogg, I’ve also importantly learnt that blogg is spelt with a double ‘g’ and that getting “Likes” has become an obsession!

WordPress Tags: Self service BI,Social Media,Facebook,data analysis,Microsoft,Insights,Swiftpage,Excel,SageACT,Caldere,revolution,collaboration

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ACT! Reporting, OLEDB & SQL

This is something we get asked to do for clients a lot…History Summary Reports. ACT!, has a built in report using its native reporting engine called the History Summary Classic Report. This report is a very cool report but it highlights one of the greatest weaknesses of ACT!, namely Reporting and BI. In short it’s terrible! Almost every client (if not all) of ours use customised Activities and to modify the History Summary Classic report means that we have to go into many sections of the report and do VBScript…all in all its nasty, ugly, cumbersome and very time intensive.

We actually stopped doing that a very long time ago and now we approach it in a different way.

  • Do you want the report to be viewed within ACT! as a dashboard without any further interaction?
  • Would you prefer to have the report viewable within Excel and interact with the report?
  • Would you like it to be published using SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)?

Each of these requires the use of SQL to varying levels of complexity. The first can initially feel a little involved and so can be intimidating, but it’s fairly simple surprisingly. Sometime back, Allen Duet (the Product Management Director for ACT!) developed a free plugin that allowed us to drop in custom OLEDB reports into the ACT!, Dashboard. It surprised me on a couple of levels but firstly was that a Product Director from Sage actually knew what OLEDB was, secondly a Product Director could code (shock horror!) and thirdly why on earth hadn’t I thought about this! This free plugin has now been incorporated (and a little diminished truth be told from the original) into the core product.

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This post has been changed, originally I had gone into all the steps to do this with pictures etc. I’ve now made a YouTube video called “Create a History Summary Classic Report in Sage ACT! Within the Dashboard” that can be watched instead.

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Excel, Pivot Charts & OLEDB

I have to be honest and say that this one of my more preferred methods since it’s so simple and powerful for reporting! If you’re going to only report from a single table/view then you do not require any SQL input at all, it’s just a simple case of selecting your table and creating a pivot table/chart.

Since Excel 2003 pivot charting has become so easy anyone can do it. I remember that Pivot Tables used to be really complex things to create in earlier versions and in fact I used to avoid them like the plague! But now it’s all point-&-click and you get some very good looking and powerful reports as a result. You can also save these xlsx files and just click refresh later to get the most up-to-date data.

**********EDIT**********

This post has been changed, originally I had gone into all the steps to do this with pictures etc. I’ve now made a YouTube video that can be watched instead.

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SSRS & BI

Ok so this is unquestionably the most complex route taken but results in publicly shared and published reports that auto refresh themselves from live data.

I’ve found varying levels of performance of SSRS reports and the quality of the SQL you write can have a direct influence over the performance of these reports as well. To use SSRS you’ll need three components:

  1. SQL data and queries
  2. IIS (Webserver)
  3. Microsoft BI Designer

There is also an optional 4th component SharePoint. One of the very cool things with SSRS when you have SQL Standard or Enterprise Edition is that you can have these reports emailed out to your users on a schedule! Unfortunately this facility is not available in the EX edition which comes with ACT!, but if you publish the reports to SharePoint it is possible to get SharePoint to do this kind of thing I am led to believe.

The steps involved in creating an SSRS report really are too long and involved for me to create a simple video here and, besides, I have gotten too bored of this post now!