Sudden Realisation!

Bruce-Lee: A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.This is a bit of a personal-life blog entry and not one of my more usual tech/work related posts. Whilst I was at Perfecting ACT! this year I had the privilege of talking to and drinking with some of my great heroes from the ACT! and CRM world. During one of the conversations I was asked how I got into development, this simple conversation starter led me to a point where I recounted a part of my long journey, which is still largely unfinished, and I thought I would share here.

My background is in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and just before I left academia and research I was working in a research lab on mitochondrial genetics. I won’t go into the story whereby I abandoned research and went into a field I knew nothing about; namely IT, except to say that to me at the time it felt that maybe this time I had over-stretched myself by over estimating my abilities to learn new skills!

During this period of learning, I discovered an interest in development and coding so proceeded towards learning HTML and Javascript (including a failed attempt to self-learn Java). I remember late one night trawling through the internet trying desperately to find a very specific kind of tool to carry out a particular task, I kept coming across the roadblock of very expensive utilities or shareware tools that I could not afford. At the time I rather whimsically thought of a future “me” that would be an experienced developer who would simply develop a tool to fulfil the task at hand. This little daydream became, at the time, all-consuming and not only drove me further in my learning, but also tormented my confused mind with, what seemed at the time, an unachievable dream.

Many years have passed and such thoughts were forgotten as I got on with my life in IT and continued study in development, till one day I was working with one of junior members in the tech team on a project of migrating a badly designed and implemented ACT! solution to a new model.

The client had been managed by another consultancy who had made some peculiar decisions which were causing major issues downstream post-implementation. Basically the client had 7 separate dBs, each had roughly 20 remote users who would synch at set times over a 24 hour schedule. The problem was that the server hosting the master had a very poor internet connection and the remote users were all working from a satellite office and synch was very unstable, failing many times.

The obvious fix to this was to migrate all 7 dBs onto a local server at the satellite office and use the scheduler to carry out synch thereby reducing the multiple points of error. This simple task was further complicated by each dB having, in some cases, in excess of 60 child dBs that had failed and so new RDBs had been re-cut but they had not removed the old RDB from the manifest. *sigh*. So we would have to manually clean up the whole system and deleted old RDBs.

Both of us were quite irritated by the time it would take to do this and my trainee/junior like a good ACC started manually disabling and then deleting RDBs from each manifest. I decided the quickest and most efficient approach would be to simply create a utility that would do this and within half an hour I had a a working (albeit ugly) tool that went into each dB and disabled and then deleted RDBs from the manifest one by one based on the last date of successful synch. If it was greater than 6 months it would remove them.
The task was completed in a very short period of time and we were ready to continue with the rest of the project. My junior remarked to me that it was lucky that I was a dev since it was like having a Genie in a Bottle!

For some reason this suddenly sparked from the darkest recesses of my brain memories of those tortured nights stooped over a cheap desktop with a copy of Visual Studio Learning Edition feeling frustrated, tired and with an over-riding sense of defeat, idly dreaming of a better time when I could code confidently but never expecting to achieve this goal.
It then suddenly hit me like a brick. I was actually living my dream! I had and continued to do the one thing that used to motivate me to not give up at my darkest times! I must admit that afterwards in the privacy of my room I did feel a little emotional since I had achieved for myself something that truly seemed impossible and I was doing these kind of things almost on a daily basis without even thinking about it.

The reason I wanted to share this out publicly was not to trumpet my own horn, but to give others an example of how not losing faith in ourselves and our dreams, but focusing on our daily hurdles/challenges and not overwhelming our minds with what seem like impossible goals, we slowly and gradually without much fuss or theatre, find ourselves at the summit wondering how we got there.

My hope is that maybe someone who is beginning the long, lonely and painful journey towards being a developer might read this and derive some hope and confidence that the dream is achievable.

#PerfectingACT! 2013 with #Swiftpage

new act! logo

The newly revealed act! logo by Siwftpage

Well, PA 2013 is over and I’m back in the UK, comfortably sat in my “dev hole” (as wifey describes it) and though I am completely spent from 6 days of little or no sleep, I haven’t felt this energised for years! Swiftpage are the new owners of ACT! and simply saying that they are bringing in a new breath of fresh air would be a complete under-statement. To quote from one of my all-time favourite songs by AC/DC “Back in Black”:

Yes I’m let loose
From the noose
That’s kept me hanging about
I keep looking at the sky
‘Cause it’s getting me high
Forget the hearse ‘cos I’ll never die
I got nine lives, cats eyes
Using every one of them and running wild
‘cause I’m back!

..and wow is ACT! back…sorry that should be act! is back! From the very on-set of PA, both Bob and John set the scene for me with the single word “ENGAGEMENT”. When Swiftpage talk about engagement, they want to re-engage with the product, re-engage with the platform, re-engage with partners, re-engage with add-on partners, re-engage with ex-Sage employees, re-engage with end-users and re-engage with the entire product vision! For once I genuinely believe that this is not the usual vacuous marketing led  series of hollow promises. I, and many others, had the pleasure of having direct conversation time with each member of the senior executive and management team that were present at Perfecting ACT!. This level of commitment from their busy schedules would have been unparalleled during Sage’s tenure. Every member of Swiftpage I spoke with had the same level of energy and enthusiasm that we partners have had for the product and they genuinely wanted to hear from us. We are all Swifities now, part of the team and in from the cold!

So that’s the euphoria part done with, what can we expect for the immediate and medium term future?

  1. We ACT! 2014 has been renamed and re-branded to act! v16, what this means is that this will not only be the final version of ACT! that Sage was involved in, but also the last 12 month product cycle release. Yes you understood that correctly, act! will no longer be released every 12 months but will settle down to longer version releases with smaller more frequent Service Pack/ update releases. This one thing alone will remove much of the pain that has been associated with the act! product for many years now, and will allow the product to adapt to a constantly changing landscape.
  2. A SaaS version of act! is due imminently based on the Swiftpage Engage Engine. The little that I saw of this edition still in it’s early stages of development, was a much simpler and cleaner version of act! Professional with just the core Contact Management functionality.
  3. Consolidation of all regional sectors outside of North America into a single office based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK, and a thorough commitment that regional issues and impacts of version and update roll-outs will be given equal weighting within product design, vision and support.

For us ACCs in the UK, the request for an increased level of communication and involvement with the senior management headed by Dan Ogden and Guy Clack is such refreshing news that the voices of all the clients we represent will now not go unnoticed or unheard. An early indication of this was the dramatically increased level of activity and meetings Dan and Guy had with French partners prior to PA to ensure that a French version of ACT! 2013 was made available after a failure by Sage to ensure that ACT! 2013 was released in French.

So here’s to a bright new orange future with Swiftpage and a return of Perfecting ACT! as a central opportunity for all act! business partners globally to meet, learn and above all ENGAGE!

Perfecting ACT! 2013

Wow only a few weeks left till this year’s Perfecting ACT! (PA) kicks off, and this time it’s going to be an absolutely can’t miss event! As anyone reading this most probably already knows, Swiftpage have purchased ACT! (and Saleslogix) off Sage and are now our new Overlords. All praise and all glories to our new rulers and masters…yadda yadda yadda!

So what does this mean to us humble ACT! fanbois and ACCs? Well it’s really exciting and one of the best bits of news we could have hoped for. ACT! has been floundering for years under Sage’s stewardship, the secret truth was that Sage never invested in the product vision or the R&D. The management team behind ACT! had a passion and drive for the product that was both bipolarly divergent and far out reached the vision that Sage ever had for ACT!. Sage as a company are, by behaviour, primarily a M&A vehicle i.e., they acquire software companies to capitalise upon a market rather than innovate or develop. ACT! was such a product that had languished in budgetary anorexia due to executive disillusionment in the revenue it generated. The expectations far out stripped the reality that any business productivity software requires…R&D and marketing investment.

Swiftpage is a very different beast entirely. It is a software company that has grown only by investment as an add-on as well as a stand alone e-marketing product. I have to be honest here and confess that I have felt in the past that Swiftpage was a clunky and slightly out-dated product compared to some of the market leaders such as MailChimp etc. I think with not only ACT! and SLX within their portfolio now, all products can symbiotically benefit with the renewed investment, vision and above all budget.

PA 2013 will be the first time I will get to meet the key strategic members of the Swiftpage team and we will all get the opportunity to see the future vision and road map for ACT!.

The other point of note for me personally, it will be the first PA that I shall be presenting to the delegates. The topic I have chosen is reporting and PowerPivot. Expect some posts in this blog regarding PowerPivot, either in the near future or in the past (please see my About page to understand that weird comment!).