Welcome to the Exact Product Blog

On this blog we will cover stories from all around the Exact ecosystem.

Going from a transactional towards an emotional relationship: A.D. time

Written by Michiel Dorjee on . Posted in Exact Globe

Today Marcel van de Sandt and myself visited A.D. time, a customer of Exact’s subsidiary in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After having spent 5 days at Exact’s development centre in KL, we planned the morning to visit this customer and get feedback from their users.

Incorporated in 1989, A.D. Time is in the business of distributing timepieces, writing instruments and jewellery. We made an appointment with the managing Director, mr. Y.Y. Kwan and its Group Finance Manager, mrs. Franscine Low. She explained to us that they’d been using a local ERP system for almost 20 years, starting with a DOS interface and updated to Windows at a later stage. For A.D. Time, the main reasons to switch to Exact Globe were a) after making a financial entry, the entry can still be modified before it’s final processed and b) the flexible reporting using pivots, Excel Add-In or the Crystal Reports module.

A happy user of Exact Globe's cashflow functionality

A happy user of Exact Globe's cashflow functionality

What mrs. Low was especially proud of was the record-low implementation time. From signing of the sales contract to a fully operational ERP system took them less then 3 months. This included analysis of the customer’s requirements and business situation, training of all their users, conversion from the legacy system to Exact Globe, trial runs and final acceptance. When asked what was the main reason for the success of the implementation, she mentioned solid project management from the start (with one owner on both customer as well as vendor side) and a good buy-in/involvement of all users. This rapid implementation time and the positive experiences after going live, made A.D. time decide, almost without any sales process involved, to purchase Exact Globe also for their new office in Thailand. KF Chong, General manager of Exact Malaysia, told us that software is almost never ‘shipped’ to a customer but personally handed over. In fact, we ‘handed-over’ the DVD’s with the Exact Globe software and SQL2005 during our visit. I never realized this, but a simple thing like handing over ‘our’ software means so much more to the customer then receiving it in a nice box. No matter the size of the company, it’s always a considerable expenditure they’re doing so such a personal touch is highly appreciated.

Getting the conversation going

After some time, we asked to have some chats with the users of the system. Initially the staff, mostly accounting clerks, were somewhat shy and told us that the system runs fine and not much issues to mention…but after one of them asked a question and got a satisfying answer the rest got into the mood as well and we were busy for the rest of the morning answering their questions. When you talk to these users you’re of course considered ‘the expert’ and something you’ll notice almost without fail, is that it’s the simple things (tips&tricks) that can make the users put a big smile on their face.

Just as an example, we spoke to a lady who does sales order entry. I was already astonished by the speed at which she can enter a sales order, I mean seriously fast. But we did notice that she would quickly switch from her keyboard to her mouse every now and then. So we advised her to try Shift-Tab and arrow up/down in the entry grid to move between fields and lines. She tried and cheerfully alarmed a few other colleagues to come to her desk to see it for themselves.

Another example: the user in charge of bank statements didn’t know where to store the digital scans of the bank statements. Now Exact Globe has a very powerful documents functionality built in, allowing users to attach such digital files in every entry application. So after showing this to her, she now finally could get rid of all her local and network folders that store these files until today. Lesson learned for me from a product management point of view: the little icon in cash flow entry that marks ‘attachments’ is too far hidden away and apparently not intuitive enough for some users.

Final example: the users printed their cheques manually because they wanted a self-defined sequential number at the top when printing the cheque. Not something unusual, Thailand for example has pre-defined ranges for sales invoices as well. To address this, we’ve developed ‘external numbering’ for Exact Globe since update 380. Honestly speaking, this is probably one of the best known secrets (or least know jewel?) within our software…but it does just what this customer needs.

Just users? No way!

Another thing that really surprised me was the level of knowledge these users had about Exact Globe. They’ve been using the system for 2.5 months now and the functional depth at which they’ve implemented and are using it, is impressive:

  • cash flow management: prepayments in local or foreign currency, refunds, internal cash transfers, cheque remittance, TT transfers, receipts for grouped or multiple invoices etc
  • full logistic/distribution process including advanced price management, discount policies, sales commissions with multiple sales reps per debtor (and per order)
  • warehouse management including interbranch transfers
  • A long list of customized Crystal Reports either used by 1 user personal or reports shared within the team (nice to see, since this was one the new features of Exact Globe last year)

What’s in it for you, product managers?

But such a visit isn’t just useful for the customer’s users for receiving answers to their questions. For me the visit was also insightful, it really contributed to the relationship the users felt with Exact, it was fun and as a ‘bonus’ it gave direct input on some areas where I see we can make improvements to Exact Globe:

  • Prepayments in foreign currency, in situations with highly fluctuating exchange rates, can be done but are too cumbersome
  • Removing a line in an already entered Interbranch transfer

The picture at the top shows exactly why we’re in this lines of business and why I like my job: the smile of a happy customer.

Context prevents misunderstandings

Written by Edgar Wieringa on . Posted in Exact Synergy

The difficulty with software seems to be that it is never ready. It is soft, intangible and the possibilities are unlimited. One can ask for the world, but everyone’s world is different. To make sure software is great, it should be designed keeping its users goals in mind. Designing for goals in a given context makes it a lot easier to design it the right way.

Last week I saw another example of this, it may look simple but I belief it is a small example of a bigger truth. In our product there are a set of searchboxes on the left -hand side to quickly jump to, for instance, an item code. Let’s say you are looking for more information on the item SYN0000 (it is one of the products you sell). You got the code in an e-mail from a colleague and you want to look it up in Exact Synergy Enterprise. So double click it, please try.

If you do this in Windows it will help (??) you by also selecting the trailing space behind it. Our product used to search for the item code including that space, hence it found nothing. So it was decided (as a reaction to customer feedback) to support you by ignoring that space. Now my actual story starts, it is not about how to solve this problem best, but about what happened after the change (cutting off the space at the end).

During one of our feedback rounds with customer stakeholders it was found out that an undocumented feature of our product now was broken. The search allowed you to enter only a space (‘ ‘) and if you would search, then you would get all items in result. By removing the space, as was requested earlier, it searched for nothing now. So a report was entered to fix this. Without any reason why: just fix it. It was first rejected. I can partly understand why: who would like to search for everything? That is not ‘searching’ but just ‘data browsing’ for which we have nice overviews with much more convient options. Which customer would like to walk-through all item data in a search? It was more work to re-introduce this and it looked like there were better alternatives; so the report was rejected.

Only then the context came in, as quite some customers seemed to have discovered this feature to easily see everything, and were quite content with it. People used it for instance to walk-through the documents created during that day within the company. So, to stay informed about all the work their colleagues were doing, searching in this way helping them to be informed and serve their customers better. With the context it was crystal clear this needed to be supported.

Adding context has two great benefits: it creates clarity and helps people to understand the real issue. And secondly and as least as important: we learn more about the actual usage of software. And that is essential to make people benefit from it even more.

Photo credit: emagic

Welcome to the Exact Product Blog!

Written by Michiel Dorjee on . Posted in Exact Globe, Exact Online, Exact Synergy

Welcome to the shiny, new Exact Product Blog. At Exact Software we continuously invest in our product offerings, ensuring that you can benefit from state-of-the-art technology that helps you to drive and grow your business. Today, we’re launching our Product Blog to keep you updated on what is happening in our world of business empowerment software. We do not only want to help you leverage your Exact solution more effectively, but we also want to provide you a sounding board for everything related to us and our products.

On this blog we will of course share product related news with you, mainly focused on our corporate product lines Exact Globe, Exact Synergy and Exact Online. We will provide you tips & tricks and we will give you insight in the future direction of our products by showing you what we are developing for new product updates. But also if you just want to know what it is like working for Exact or if you’re wondering how Exact develops its products, you came to the right place.

At Exact, just like at many other companies, a lot of interesting conversations take place near the coffee machine. Colleagues tell each other what they are working on, exchange opinions and ask each other for advice. This Product Blog is our virtual coffee place where we want to have these kind of conversations with you, so your feedback is highly encouraged and appreciated. Feel free to share your two cents on how we could make this Exact Product Blog more useful and informative. If you want to keep track of what is going on here, please use the RSS-feeds or e-mail subscriptions to receive our latest posts at your own convenience.

SQL Server 2008, Exact Globe and Exact Synergy

Written by Michiel Dorjee on . Posted in Exact Globe, Exact Synergy

I notice that quite some hits on my own personal blog and that of another colleague come from searches with keywords containing ‘SQL Server 2008’.

On April 21st, Exact Globe and Exact Synergy product update 393 has been made generally available. As per this product update SQL Server 2008 is supported, running on a Windows 2003 or Windows 2008 server. For small companies, SQL Server 2008 is also supported when installed on a Windows XP or Windows Vista desktop. Exact Synergy Enterprise will soon start support for SQL Server 2008, as of product update 241.

If you want to have a look at the unique selling points of SQL Server 2008, please have a look at the overview on the Microsoft website. For an overview of technical documentation for SQL Server 2008, please refer to Books Online.

Exact has stopped selling SQL Server 2005 as of May 1st. From now on, only SQL Server 2008 licenses will be sold. SQL Server 2008 licenses grant the right to downgrade, which means that everybody who wants to use SQL Server 2005 can still do so when purchasing SQL Server 2008 licenses. The upgrade to SQL Server 2008 can then take place at your own convenience.

A complete overview of the system requirements for Exact Globe product update 393 can be found here.

Next to the support of SQL Server 2008, a variety of improvements has been made available in product update 393. For our customers: more information can be found in the release notes and in the updated set of database documentation here (access is restricted to customers, so you’ll need your username/password for the Exact customer portal).

Photo credit: lilit

Surprising first feedback on new search functionality

Written by Edgar Wieringa on . Posted in Exact Synergy

Crafting out our new solutions is always an exciting process. It starts with the first idea – whether it is based on market input, a concrete customer case or new technology – goes into customer validation, involves design, building and finally it is there. Although we always try to keep the customer focus – we can only build good software if it really meets your needs – a certain part of it is happening ‘behind closed doors’. About two months before we release a new product update to the market we get people in from different parts of the Exact Software organization and its ecosystem and we ask them what they think of the new product update. We brief them on the highlights, supply them with all release notes and focus areas and then they have a go at the software. Product managers desperately looking at their eyes to see what makes them tick.

Colleagues and customers involved come from all parts of the organization and from all over the globe. Customer Support in China, pre-sales from the US and consultant from The Netherlands. Viewing it from these different angles is important and sometimes leads to surprises. For example: we have adjusted our search functionality for Exact Synergy Enterprise so that it now can find <Jiří> just by typing <Jiri>. So, the search now also excludes the diacritics. We used the word ‘transliteration’ for this in our release documentation. We realized that it had a broader meaning, but we thought we scoped it clearly in the other parts of the documentation. The question from China however was: can I now find  <收件人> just by typing <shoujianren>? Indeed Google does have this functionality, but this is a step we have not yet made. ‘Searching=Finding’ will however keep on having our focus.

Photo credit: Desirée Delgado