Well, we're into the final quarter for 2016 and after surviving the tsunami that was the invoicing upgrade over the last few months, we're excited to have clear decks and a bunch of exciting projects to prioritize in Q4.
Given the massive scope of the Invoicing Upgrade, a number of our Q3 priorities remaining on our priority list for this quarter. To help you keep track of our progress and work more than once a quarter, we're now publishing product updates to your Accelo account each week - check out the Updates Blog or subscribe to the Updates RSS Feed to stay up to date!
Here are the priorities we're focusing on in the final quarter of 2016.
Projects are the heart of how many professional service businesses run, and the Project View screen in Accelo is the 2nd most viewed screen in the whole platform.
We've actually been making some great progress on this priority and it's right at the front of our Q4 priorities; now the massive invoicing upgrade is behind us, we're looking forward to making better progress here this quarter!
The first area of improvement we're working on is making the project screens easier and faster to work with. This includes things like making sure users don't need to see a full screen reload just to change the status of a task or a milestone, and a range of other tweaks and polishes we know you'll appreciate.
The second area of improvement we're working on - and we've already released a number of improvements here - is improving the project planning experience. With the Invoicing Upgrade we made a major improvement to the budgeting and materials aspects of Project Planning, and just last week we released new keyboard shortcuts for project planning (see more half-way down our updates blog post). We've got a bunch of other improvements/tweaks we want to make to this screen this quarter too.
The third area of improvement we'll be prioritizing this quarter is the introduction of Project Portfolio Management (PPM) in the form of a multi-project gantt chart. This interface will make it easier to see the various projects and milestones that you and your team are managing/juggling in one screen, and by combining them with our powerful filters functionality we're excited to give you a whole new level of insight and control of our projects across Accelo. We'll be tackling this as part of our overhaul of the Scheduling module that is a priority this quarter.
With the tsunami that was the invoicing upgrade, we didn't manage to get this one out the door in Q3, but it is really close and we're hoping to share news on its release really soon!
Accelo's ability to support formulas - so you can define a custom field not just as a text field or date field that your users update, but as a smart calculation field which is able to add, subtract, combine or otherwise work with data as a calculation - has been really popular with our power users, but one of the shortcomings has been the inability to use logic as well as mathematics.
This enhancement to our formulas engine adds support for conditional logic, making reporting easier and much more powerful. An example would be the ability to set a "Due" date for a Ticket based on IF/THEN/ELSE style conditions, like saying "If the Ticket is of Priority=Urgent, set Due Date to be Created Date Plus 24 hours, else set Due Date to be Created Date Plus 3 Days".
While we shipped viewing and working with Requests in our Android and iOS applications in Q3, we're on the cusp of releasing the ability to Create Requests in both of our mobile apps and also the web app.
Example use-cases include:
When you're at a networking event and someone asks you to follow up tomorrow on an opportunity to land a new project with them - simply create the request for your Sales queue and either you or your colleagues will be able to get onto it.
When you're talking with a client and they mention they've got a problem they would like some help with, you can quickly tap in their request, put it in the support queue, and have someone on your team act on it as if the client had sent their own email to support.
When you answer the phone at the office and someone is leaving a message for the accounts department, you'll be able to click on the + icon in the main navigation bar in any Accelo page and quickly create a request for the accounts request queue for someone to handle when they get back from lunch or off their own call.
This functionality is currently available for the Beta version of our Android app, with iOS following soon - if you're not already in our Beta program and want to join, click here.
Accelo's Retainer/Contract Module is one of our most popular (and powerful), but the screens for setting up and managing a Retainer or Contract aren't very user friendly (they evolved gradually rather than being designed deliberately from the outset). We're making it a priority to improve the experience for our users this quarter - the screenshot below is currently being brought to life by our engineering team.
Accelo's current way of handling new user logins through the mobile app, with the QR code scanner and magic codes, isn't as user friendly as it could/should be. Combined with some technical issues with access token expiry causing more logins to be performed than you should need to do from a phone you control, our mobile users have been rightly frustrated over the years.
This quarter we're making it a priority to streamline the login process in our mobile apps, including more support for single-sign-on (especially for Android which is more advanced/open in this respect) and generally just making it a lot easier to get going.
The Task Boards in Accelo were pioneers of our design patterns for filtering and a card-based, drag and drop interface, however like all pioneers they're now showing their age compared to all the young whippersnappers that have come up behind them.
This quarter we're making it a priority to upgrade our Task Boards to allow for:
Saved filters: so you can get your board set up just the way you like, and come back to it, easily.
Client and Project specific boards: so you can come into a Board that shows all the tasks for a specific client or project, making it easy to manage your work in more focused ways.
Another thing we've wanted to have for some time is custom types and statuses for Tasks. The Task Boards have been the roadblock on being able to upgrade Tasks, since the fixed dimensions of the boards (particularly the status board) held us back. We'll make sure the Task Boards upgrade work is future compatible with custom statuses and making them a future quarterly priority.
Accelo's Trigger functionality (available in our Premium products) have long been popular, but sometimes the trigger rules firing only every 15 minutes aren't, well, fast enough!
To support situations like reopening a ticket when the client replies, or updating a sale when a customer gets back to you with an email containing the word "Approved" in the body, we will be adding a new type of Trigger which runs not on a time schedule but when a specific type of email is captured into Accelo for that object.
Our UX team has been working for the last month and a bit on a major upgrade to our Scheduling Module. After conducting a number of client interviews we're excited to be working on changes that will enable the Scheduling Module to show users more team members and more days/weeks, more simply, than the current "bar chart" based view in Team Scheduling.
In addition to changing the UI, we're also planning on making a number of fairly significant changes/improvements under the hood, allowing for scheduling of time on more than just tasks (so tickets with budgets, milestones and even retainers can have time scheduled and committed) and supporting smarter "repeating" style work assignments for users (so if you want someone to work from 9am to 12pm every business day for two weeks on a specific task/milestone, you'll be able to do that in one simple flow).
This is going to be a really big and important upgrade and it isn't an exaggeration to say it is going to take more product resources to bring to life than anything else we're working on this quarter.
Activities - notes, meetings, emails, work logs - are central to Accelo, and there's a few places we want to make the process of interacting with them a lot smoother.
These any a bunch of other improvements are priorities for us this quarter - keep an eye on the Updates Blog for their releases as they come to life.
This is a project that we kicked off internally in Q2 but the dependency of getting the Invoicing Upgrade complete - which we've really only just wrapped up in the last week or so - means we didn't get much progress on this in Q3.
While Accelo is very much a system for Professional Service businesses, we know there's many professionals who need to include products they purchase from vendors as part of their service delivery model. Currently, tracking these purchases isn't possible inside Accelo, which is why once we've got the new Billing work live we'll be turning our finance attention to the Purchase and Sales Orders.
In addition to the changes around Billing, we're also making a priority this quarter to do some work around Purchase and Sales Orders. Purchase Orders in Accelo will be where you're able to take the new Materials functionality and choose a supplier/vendor, enter the buy price for the Materials/Products you're buying from them and create a Purchase Order to send to your vendor in PDF format. The Purchase Order will have the ability to track status - e.g. draft, sent, shipped, delivered - as well as custom fields.
Sales Orders will be similar but they'll be where you track the Purchase Orders or commitments you get from your clients. The key with Sales Orders will be to have a structured way to upload the order (most commonly in PDF format) and the ID number of the client's order so that you can reference it in invoices.
Accelo's integration with JIRA - a powerful issue tracking and agile/kanban platform designed specifically for software developers - is popular but pretty limited, pairing a JIRA issue with only a single Accelo Ticket/Issue, and not supporting links between your work in JIRA and Accelo's Projects or Retainers modules.
To address this, we're working this quarter on a major upgrade to our JIRA integration, which will change the "linking" mechanism to be something you (and your colleagues) do from inside JIRA, and changing the object that we link with from being just the Issue/Ticket module to be the Tasks module, allowing you to have JIRA issues linked to Accelo Projets, Milestones, Tickets and Retainers.
With this upgrade, when users in JIRA log work or make comments, we'll log time and create notes automatically in Accelo (and use our cool email notification feature to make sure Project Managers are in the loop). If the developer using JIRA re-estimates the time remaining on an issue, Accelo's task (and the user's schedule) will automatically update to reflect the new estimate, making sure project managers get real time visibility into projects starting to go over budget.
Finally, this upgrade will also allow JIRA users to see a very handy and useful link to the Accelo Project, Milestone, Ticket or Retainer their work is linked to, so if they want to get some more context, access an attachment or planning document or even email the client directly to ask a question out of Accelo, we're just a click away.
Because of the limits of JIRA's API and inconsistencies between the On-Premise version and Cloud versions of JIRA, we'll be making use of a new Accelo Chrome Extension to make this magic happen. We're excited for all the new stuff this priority entails, and also because we use JIRA too - so watch this space ;-)
Microsoft's Office365 platform is a juggernaut, and while we've had support for it as a direct integration since it was first released, we want to go further and improve the performance and efficiency of our integration.
While we're still in the planning phases, this priority involves upgrading the API to use the newest REST standards (the old API, which Office365 shares with the installed Exchange product from version 2007 and later, uses SOAP which is a horrible, horrible thing) and ideally introducing our first Outlook/Office365 App so you can see contextual information about the conversation you're reading in Outlook Online (and modern versions of the Outlook client) from Accelo without leaving Outlook.
The final published priority for our team in Q4 is going to be around the Client Portal. Our ambition in this area is to actually bring all of your clients into much the same Accelo interface as you and your colleagues use each day - obviously with a few different navigation touches and less detail disclosed though!
In addition to the visual synthesizing of the experience, we also want to make the invite process a lot easier and automated - so, optionally, a client who emails you for the first time on a project gets an invite to log into the portal and track the project you're working on for them, without you or your team having to lift a finger.
We also want to give you more control over the identity of your Accelo account, including for the first time the ability to whitelabel your Accelo domain name (and not just the client portal one, but the one your team uses to access Accelo) and the ability to customize colors and get your own logo up there to the left of the search bar!
There's quite a lot of work involved in bringing these improvements to life (anyone who's worked as a developer on role-based permissions models across different user classes will appreciate even the first ambition isn't easy - much less custom-domain SSL certificates) but we are making this upgrade a priority this quarter and will keep you posted on rollout as it progresses!