Act! 2000 helps you stay in touch

For many departments and agencies looking to standardize on a contact-management

system, the choice has been an uncomfortable one between adopting an off-the-shelf

package designed primarily for sales forces or calling in a programmer to

custom-design an application. Act! 2000 gives IT managers another option.

As it happens, during my evaluation of Act! 2000 the product was sold

by Symantec Corp. to SalesLogix, an Arizona-based company that provides

sales automation solutions. And indeed, this new release of Act! does include

a number of new features that are aimed directly at sales forces.

But the program's traditional strengths — especially its flexible design

mode for creating custom forms — continue to suit it well for any small-

to mid-sized department or agency that needs a solution for managing heavy

contact-management workloads.

My installation of Act! went without a hitch. Setting up a database

for workgroup use was no problem either. I just used the File/New command

to create a new Act! database on a network drive, then called up an administration

screen to add users and specify passwords and access rights for them.

At this point, I ran into the one significant snag for those installing

the product for large numbers of networked users: The administrator must

locally configure each user's desktop with the location of the shared database.

Out of the box, Act! 2000 will be relatively familiar to anyone who

has used a personal information manager (PIM). As with any good PIM, lots

of attention has gone into the interface design, much of it to come up with

ways to get information into a clear, usable, even appealing format.

Act! offers users a choice between 11 preset layouts of data fields

and lists. In addition, users can create and save their own layouts. The

predesigned screens are well-designed and allow users to readily enter and

view contact information, schedule an activity, or view a calendar, contact

list, or contact notes and history.

After exploring the interface, I imported a contact list with appointments

and tasks from Microsoft Outlook 2000. Since Act! provides a direct conversion

from this format (along with several others), I didn't have to either map

fields or import data via a delimited text file. The process was simple

and effective.

Next I created a group intended for contractors and in-house staff working

on a single project, with subgroups for project divisions, and a second

group for employees of one of our larger contracting firms. I soon found

Act!'s contact groups saved a lot of time in organizing and tracking contacts.

The program makes it a snap to check up on contact histories, though it

doesn't offer the kinds of tools for scheduling and performing future contacts

that you'll find in a full-fledged customer relations management (CRM) application.

Act! 2000 also offers a powerful set of search tools. You can turn to

either the full set of fields in the query screen to perform queries by

example, or you can use the Query Helper's lists of fields and syntax to

build a proper Boolean query. Simpler lookups allow you to find contacts

by keyword and selected field searches, and you can progressively narrow

or expand the list returned by the initial search.

You can also add saved queries to the program's menus. Even slicker,

they can be assigned icons and popped onto the toolbar, enabling one-click

access.

Combined with the program's design features — including the option of

creating all-new layouts and forms with drop-down lists for any field — this command customizability provides a remarkable capacity to remake Act!

to suit your department's needs.

Act!'s excellent data-synchronization capabilities are geared toward

keeping teams on the same page. Synchronizing remote users' databases with

the central database may be performed by e-mail, direct modem-to-modem connection

or by accessing a database in a shared network folder.

If Act! has an Achilles' heel, it is in the area of central administration.

I was unable to find an effective method of distributing customizations,

such as preferences settings, queries, macros, layouts, and report templates,

short of going around to each installed system and repeating what is in

some cases a fairly detailed setup procedure. This quickly gets tedious

and may effectively limit the organizational size for which implementation

is practical.

Act!, in short, is best suited for small- to mid-sized departments that

need a strong contact-management solution that goes beyond the likes of

standard PIMs, such as Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Organizer.

Tom Marshall is a free-lance writer who has been reviewing computer

software for the past 10 years.

AT A GLANCE

Act! 2000

Score: B-

SalesLogix Corp.

(800) 643-6400

www.saleslogix.com

Pricing: Act! 2000 is available on the open market for $199. Volume pricing isavailable.

Remarks: Act! 2000 is a powerful and highly customizable group contact managerthat is well-suited to many departments and agencies. The program is primarilydesigned for sales forces, but its customizability means it can be veryeffectively employed by departments with heavy contact-tracking tasks.

BY Tom Marshall
Mar. 22, 2000

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