2016 was a massive year at Accelo, and Q4 was a very paradoxically busy period for our product team which didn't have as many specific releases as usual - mainly because the projects we've been working on are all pretty big (and take more time). The good news is, while the priorities we're carrying through into Q1 of 2017 are similar to those we were working on at the end of last year, we're poised to be able to roll out a lot more improvements for our clients this quarter than last.
As a quick recap, here are a few of the things that we released since our last Quarterly Priorities post a quarter ago:
Formula Fields & Smarter Logic
This improvement made it much easier to create intelligent, always updated custom fields which use formulas to combine data together (such as having a field for "monthly spend" which combines "number of clicks" with "price per click") or to automatically update field values based on criteria (set the date for "Due to Resolve" to be 2 days after creation if the client is a VIP).
Retainer Module Upgrade
This major overhaul to the Retainers/Contracts module in Accelo has made it at least 10x easier to setup and manage client service retainers/contracts. If you have the Retainers module but haven't used it much (because it was too confusing before), definitely have a fresh look now!
Project List Upgrade
The first dividend from our projects upgrade project, we rolled out a number of improvements to the Project List screen, making it easier than ever to see the value earned, time remaining and more for all of your projects on one screen.
Zapier Integration & Automation
Just yesterday we launched our integration with Zapier, a powerful technology platform that allows non-technical people to unlock the power of APIs and connect Accelo to over 700 applications that also support Zapier. With out of the box integration with tools like Hubspot, Mailchimp, Wufoo, Eventbrite, Slack and many many more we can't wait to see what our users do with it!
Request Module Upgrade
This upgrade improved the Requests Module for both our web and mobile applications. Now you're able to create requests on behalf of clients through the browser or our mobile apps (ideal for taking phone messages or when you're on the road and a client asks you for you something) as well as being able to see, respond to and close requests in mobile for the first time.
The Triggers module previously used to work on a "scheduled" basis where rules would be checked and run at-most every 15 minutes. With this upgrade, those rules became real-time - whenever a request, sale, project, ticket or retainer was saved, the Triggers engine would spring to life and do its thing, which has made for even faster automation!
JIRA Integration Overhaul
While technically still in beta, this major upgrade to this module is close to having the beta label removed - we've just got a few improvements to make to smooth the setup process and we should be good to go! If you're a JIRA user and you want to get into the beta, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'd love to get you in!
Security Updates & New Guide/Overview
Over the last few months our operations team has been making a bunch of changes behind the scenes to ensure our systems are fast and your data remains secure. While we don't share a lot of information about these efforts for fairly obvious reasons, we have recently published a summary of our approaches for those clients curious about how we work here.
Sending Payments to Quickbooks Online
This improvement means that now when clients pay you via credit card through Accelo you'll see the payments get synchronized across to Xero and Quickbooks Online. This was a critical step in supporting our priority for this quarter of processing payments automatically using stored credit card details!
And over 100 other updates since mid October.
We've pushed over 100 improvements for things like Enhanced Pipeline Values in the Sales Module, an improved style option for PDF Invoices, and handling Contractor users better in Scheduling, Utilization & Profitability screens. On top of that, some other key updates include Converting Requests from Leads directly to Sales or Tickets, making Project Schedules/Gantt Charts available in the Client Portal, enabling staff users to be added as Contributors on a Project, Ticket, or Sale, and Attachments on Tasks.
As we push hard this quarter to bring these priorities to life, we'll be posting regular updates, starting with our Projects Module Upgrade, where we'll be holding a Sneak Peek session for our users next week.
The Priorities we're working on this Quarter are:
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. While we released an upgrade to the Project List screen last quarter, we're looking forward to releasing the rest of our work in this upgrade to beta testers next week!
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.
Another area of improvement we're releasing soon is a new "Insights" tab or view, which will allow people who are managing projects and budgets to see a much more detailed and intelligent real time report on how the project is performing.
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.
One of the things we wish we'd done differently at the beginning with Accelo was made better use of the "team" when it comes to assigning work and collaborating. Similarly, we wish that most of the places we have a "Manager" selected, we had instead called that person the "Owner" of the sale, project, milestone, ticket or retainer.
This quarter we're making a priority of delivering a new Team feature in Accelo. This will allow you to designate specific people who are part of the Team, responsible for helping make a Sale, Project, Ticket or Retainer successful. Team members will include both client contacts (including advisors and folks who are outside the business but working alongside you) and for the first time staff/colleague users.
With this upgrade we're also implementing custom fields and custom progressions; it will allow for business cases like recruiting and running a brokerage/agency business (where you are working with different vendors at different stages) directly inside Accelo.
We'll also be tying this new feature in with the permissions module, so you can run with a more restrictive default set of permissions and then have the adding of someone to the Team grant them view access on that specific sale, project, ticket or retainer.
This is also an important precursor to the work we'll be doing at the end of the quarter for the client portal - so you'll be able to assign external parties to be part of a team, assign them tasks, and they'll be able to log into a dramatically revamped client portal that will make them feel actively a part of the platform.
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! While we accelerated them a lot last quarter, we also want to deliver native support for scenarios like "when a client sends an email containing 'Urgent' and the ticket is 'Resolved', then send a notification and reopen the ticket".
Our UX team put a lot of work into designing the upgrade to our scheduling module (which will replace Team Scheduling, and which will introduce new Work Schedule/Forecast interfaces for Project Portfolio Management, for example) and once we have the Projects upgrade out the door we'll be turning all of our engineering superpower to bringing this upgraded module to life.
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.
Want to relocate a conversation from the Stream view? You should be able to do that with a smart window and not have to reload the whole screen.
Want to reply to all instead of just the default reply-to-author? We want to make the smarts in the drop-down arrow that you only get when expanding an activity work without having to expand it first.
Want to see in the stream screen who's already opened or clicked on an email? Another thing that should be easier.
Think the right hand side of viewing an activity is a bit out of place compared to our many other screens in Accelo? You're right - that needs a little bit of love too, to be honest.
Wish you could just enter an email address in the "To" or "CC" fields and have Accelo automatically create them as a contact/affiliation if they're not already known? Well, we don't blame you, and want to give you that power too.
This is another one where the designs are done and we just need some clear air after the Projects Upgrade to bring it to life! Here's what we've got in store.
Last quarter when we started working on the Purchase and Sales Orders module, it became clear from our client interviews that the big gap wasn't so much "how to send an order to a vendor", but "I want the non-labor costs associated with the work we're doing for a client to push into my accounting system as a purchase/expense".
This makes sense - while Accelo is great a pushing your revenue information into Quickbooks Online or Xero, the fact it doesn't do the cost side of the ledger means you get an artificially inflated sense of profitability in your accounting system and its income statements. Given the many costs that are incurred as you run your Projects, Service Tickets or Retainers - be they materials you on-sell or expenses you incur and optionally on-bill to clients - it makes a lot of sense to have Accelo be the front end for the data entry and tracking of these purchases, and for us to update/inform your accounting system.
The good news is that we've currently got a prototype (not ready to beta test yet) of a new Purchases module in Accelo. We'll be working through this quarter in bringing this new module to life, allowing you to create a Purchase for a given vendor in much the same way as you can create and send an Invoice to your clients now. The Purchase module will still create a Purchase Order (PDF file) which you can send to the vendor (in much the same way you send invoices to the client today)
In addition to processing a Purchase, we're also aiming to support the pushing of Expenses entered by users into the Accounting system. One of the challenges with this is that the accounting systems tend to have different APIs and operating flows for employee expense reimbursement than they do for recognizing an expense as part of your monthly income statement, so we're focusing on purchases first and expenses second - but we hope to launch them both this quarter.
With powerful automation (especially around recurring work like Retainers) and billing, it makes complete sense for Accelo to not only create invoices but also help you get them paid!
Now we have payment synchronization in place with Quickbooks Online and Xero, we're making a priority this quarter of delivering automatic payment processing. When complete, you'll be able to enter the credit card details of your client into Accelo (and when the client portal is upgraded, allow them to enter/update them themselves) and set rules like what cards can be used to process what types of invoices (Retainers only, or Projects and Retainers, or anything at all), set the max payment to charge per day and then frankly sit back and have the money roll in.
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 Q1 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 white-label 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) so we don't expect to be in a position to be shipping this until well into Q2, but we will keep you posted on our work as it progresses!