2014 Q1 Product Roadmap

14-Jan 2014
Geoff

While 13 is an unlucky number in many cultures, 2013 was a very big and successful year here at Accelo. We doubled the business and released many major upgrades to the product, including the new Contracts & Retainers Module, upgraded Activities & Tasks, a new Email Campaigns Module, Client Portal and an all-new Requests Module to round out the year.

And while we’re only two weeks into January 2013 is a distant memory for our team - we’re moving harder and faster than ever before. Here’s an outline of our priorities in Q1, and a sneak peek over the horizon to the areas we’re planning on focusing our efforts in Q2 this year.

Q1 Priorities

Projects Module - Major Upgrade

While the Projects Module was a priority and focus throughout Q4 of 2013, the scope and scale of this upgrade means we’re still working our butts off through January 2014 to get this new upgrade live.

Our engineering teams have finished all of the major work in project planning, project viewing, the upgrade to a new milestones model and more. They’re now working on upgrades to the approvals and invoicing sections of the product, which means we’re getting very close!

We ran a Sneak Peek session at the end of 2013; if you missed it and would like to see what we’ve got in store for you in the first half of Q1, check out the video below. 

Mobile Apps (Android, iOS) Release

Another area with major progress made in Q4 of 2013 (and continuing apace this quarter) is in our mobile apps. The initial release is going to be focused on helping you search and work with your client database while you’re on the road, see your tasks and log time.

As any of you who’ve developed mobile apps will know, there’s a lot of foundational work that needs to happen (around security, authentication, access) - our engineering team has now completed most of these (critical but not sexy) tasks and we’re working on getting you mobile apps for iOS and Android late in Q1. 

Want to get an early look? Become a beta tester.

Triggers & Notifications

What we didn’t get a chance to ship in 2013 was one area of the Requests Module - the triggers & notifications system. This system allows a user to configure rules which will trigger a business process automatically - whether it be sending an email escalating the request or converting it into an issue. The rules can include things like the client’s status, subject/body text matching (like “URGENT” or perhaps a curse word or two), whether a request has had activity on it and time delays between other key steps (like the time a request was created, for example).

Based on some great user feedback at the time of our Requests Sneak Peek, we’ve decided to extend the Triggers & Notifications functionality more broadly across the product, so that users will be able to set rules like “Send an email to the sales manager if the salesperson hasn’t replied to an email from a prospective client in 3 days” or “Send an email to the project manager if a milestone goes over 90% of budget” or “Alert the client that their retainer has been almost completely exhausted this quarter”. I’m sure you’re getting the picture (and hopefully getting excited) about the power that automated Triggers & Notifications can provide alongside Accelo’s custom business processes.

To get a sense of the power of what’s coming, check out this demo of the feature from our Sneak Peek session for the Requests module upgrade from late last year:

 

This will be a Premium only feature (since it relates to the custom business processes and is controlled in the same section), so for our users who’ve adopted Premium for the power of its business automation, you’ll now be able to benefit from automation even while you’re sleeping!

Migration to Amazon Web Services

While this isn’t an obvious product feature enhancement, we think that this upgrade is going to provide a lot of exciting opportunities going forward for all of our users. After spending the last few years on a private cloud managed by external contractors, we’re making the switch across to Amazon Web Services, the biggest name in true cloud infrastructure.

If we do a good job with this project (and we’ve been doing a lot of research and preparation work to take the guess work out of this) we’ll be moving all of our live infrastructure over to Amazon in February. This will provide a number of immediate benefits in scalability, and a number of medium term benefits to our clients, including:

  • In our preliminary tests, we’re seeing performance improvements on Amazon of between 20% and 40%. We’re also excited because we’re going to be able to boost our capacity up and down much more easily; Mark, our new sysadmin, has spent much of the holidays updating our server manifests and processes to make scaling a truly push-button experience.
  • The ability for us to offer more geographically diverse hosting options for our users; whether it is bandwidth issues out of Asia or regulatory headaches in Europe, we’re looking forward to being able to offer our users more choice in where their Accelo instance is running. While there is likely to be a price-premium dependent on the region (reflecting higher costs throughout the chain), the ability to have more control over location is something we know some of our clients will be really excited about - contact us if you’d like to know more. 
  • We’ll be able to offer unlimited storage at amazing prices through Amazon S3. While we’re not being so brave as to dramatically change our back-end storage infrastructure at the same time as making big changes, being part of the Amazon infrastructure family means we’ll be able to more easily allow heavy storage users to get their own accounts with Amazon. Those users can store as many files and attachments as they like in S3 buckets that they can pay for directly; contact us if you’d like to know more.

We’ll be in touch with more details as the migration gets closer; watch our blog for updates too.

Improvements to Time Entry

One of our final product priorities for Q1, and one that is unlikely to hit your Accelo accounts until early Q2, is a new interface and approach to timesheet entry. This was #4 on our list of top user suggestions. While we haven’t finalized the details here, the areas we’re going to be focusing on are:

  • A new work screen that looks and works more like a traditional timesheet-- with a whole week on a single screen and an easy way to change the “total” or sum of hours on a given day in one input box. We’ll still make it possible for you to see the specific activities that combined to make up that amount. For people familiar with traditional timesheets (or who do a lot of entry all at once like at the end of the week), we think this new interface will be very much appreciated. 
  • Timers and a desktop widget/application to make it easier to keep track of your tasks and time against them from outside the full Accelo screens.
  • Making it easy/consistent to re-estimate time from the create activity screen again. With the Activities Upgrade mid last year we removed the re-estimate feature (since a lot of activities aren’t against tasks or things that have estimates). During this upgrade, we’ll be bringing that feature back - it is invaluable when managing projects and forecasting resource utilization, which you’ll see as a big priority in Q2.

RMM Integrations

We’re aiming to have an integration with GFI Max (and potentially a couple of the other leading RMM vendors) released into a beta late in Q1. What's an RMM? It is a cool tool that Managed Service Providers (MSPs, the kinds of contract IT professionals that service companies without their own IT departments) use to keep tabs on whether their client's workstations, servers, networks, printers and more are performing properly, have their anti-virus up to date, etc. 

The objective of this work will be to allow MSPs to connect Accelo with their RMM and have new alerts (like hard drive full or back not completed) for their clients come into the new Requests module. When Requests are “closed”, it will also clear flags in the RMM system. Combined with our notification work in Q1 (which allows for SLAs and escalation rules), we’re excited about what this beta will enable for our growing number of MSP clients.

Preview of Q2 Priorities

We’ve got a number of priorities we’re targeting in Q2; we haven’t gone through the detailed planning process yet to be sure whether these will all ship in Q2 or whether some will end up dropping in Q3, but nonetheless, here are the priorities we’ll be focusing on in Q2.

  • Resource Management
    Our resource management effort in Q2 is going to build upon the major upgrade to Projects we’ll have shipped in Q1. It’ll make it easy for team managers to see who is assigned to what projects, issues, milestones and tasks and then reassign people based on real-time workload forecasts. We’re really excited about the power this is going to give managers, and we know it is going to be a big hit with some of our bigger clients
  • Quotes
    This is our second most popular request on our Ideas Forum (after Mobile, which is coming in Q1). We’re looking forward to bringing some of the smarts/power of the new project planning screen (with dynamic Gantt-charts and powerful budgeting) and making it available in our Sales module for quote creation. Combining this with our Signoffs module, we’re hoping we can give you a streamlined way to create powerful quotes and instantly turn them into pre-planned projects & set-up retainers when the client gives you the green light.
  • Metrics
    As much as we’ve been spending a lot of time over the last year improving the core Accelo user experience, we’re also conscious that we can do a lot more to expose the amazing data in Accelo to our users to help them better understand and manage their businesses. That’s why in Q2 we’re going to be prioritizing metrics and reports with a focus on both personal and business-wide metrics, leaderboards and trends over time (rather than just reporting the values in the database now). Of course, this is a process that will never really end, but in Q2 we’ll be making some big strides!
  • Costs & Profitability
    This one’s related to our efforts on reporting metrics and building on the work we’re shipping in Projects in Q1. In Q2, we’re planning on having a closer look at the cost side of the equation in a professional service business. The objective is to enable you to see not only performance against budget, but also real-time profitability of projects, issues, retainers. Whether it be a defined (and rough) number of the costs of your internal staff, the ability to define contractor cost rates or enter in the costs of materials as well as time, you’ll be able to track cost and profitability on a day-to-day, week-to-week or month-to-month basis.
  • Contractors Module & Access
    Our final priority-- which might not make it into the product until Q3-- is the introduction of a new Contractor Module and Access right. The idea here is that Accelo users will be able to create special, lightweight Contractor accounts. These accounts will be able to log billable time, but will only be able to see specific project, milestone, task and other details that they’ve been explicitly assigned to. We’ll also be doing something novel with our user licensing here - watch this space for more.

We're gearing up for a big and exciting year ahead! If you have any questions or would like to learn more about Accelo and what it can do for your business, contact us now.

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