Product Priorities Update: 2017 - Q3

Product Priorities Update: Q3 of 2017

29-Aug 2017
geoff professional
Geoff McQueen FOUNDER & CEO

The year so far has been a very busy one at Accelo - growth is accelerating and our team is now up to over 60 staff! With more than half of our team working in product and engineering, we have a been making great progress on many of the priorities that are the focus this quarter - we're looking forward to a flurry of new and improved functionality being delivered through to the end of 2017!

While this quarterly update is overdue (we'll be in Q4 before we know it), we wanted to share a quick update on progress and priorities as we look forward.

2017 Updates (so far)

The Updates to Accelo so far this year fall into three categories: Major Updates, Minor Updates, and our new Best Practices sessions.

Major Updates

So far this year we've released a number of updates, none bigger than our overhaul of the Projects module in Accelo. Here's a list of the highlights in case you missed them:

  • Zapier integration: allowing you to supercharge automation for your business. This integration allows you to connect with more than 700+ apps, so you can build even more customized workflows.

  • Custom Formula Fields: in addition to custom fields, Accelo now lets you use formulas to update values (perfect to set target/reporting values by combining NumberField A x NumberField B, or DateField C + 10 days)

  • Quickbooks Online Payment Sync: now when you get paid via Accelo (using Stripe or we'll push payments across into Quickbooks Online automatically, so you can get your money faster.

  • Security Update: details about how we secure your data and the Accelo platform. You're trusting us with some of your most important business information, and we wanted to update you on our processes, reliability, and continuity.

  • Projects Module - Overview Redesign & Performance Upgrade: we made this module faster, and easier to use, whereby you can come in and quickly see how your projects are tracking, but also be easier for team members to come in, get into the weeds, and log work.

  • Projects Module - New Insights Reporting dashboard: get better insights at a glance and see how your projects are tracking with things like current vs forecasted profitability, for a more holistic view of how projects are performing.

  • Projects Module - Fixed Price & Budgeting upgrade: gives you the ability to have Materials and Expenses "eat into" fixed price budgets to help keep your projects within scope and simplify how you manage them.

  • Projects Module - New Important Dates feature: makes it easier for you and your team to know which dates matter most by setting configurable “smart dates” for different types of projects, so you can always be watching the clock.

  • Projects Module - Showcase Video: get a complete overview of all the Project enhancements we’ve made. This recording will show you how you can make the most of these updates for your business.

  • Quotes Module: Support for the fixed price and budgeting updates in your quotes too!

  • Non-Billable Feature Upgrade: ensuring that setting work to be "non-billable" forces your team's time logs/activities to be non-billable, making reporting a lot easier!

  • New "Team" Feature: ability to define which members of your team (including client contacts) should be considered key players in the success of a project.

  • Team Permissions: using the Team module to provide fine-grained permissions for your users based on their type and whether they're on a Project, Ticket or Retainer team, giving them more functionality and you more control.

  • Rates on Contract/Retainer Tasks: now you can have more control on how you and your team use up your retainer budgets by specifying different rates for different types of work under a single contract.

  • Brand new JIRA Integration: now your software developers can be agile and on budget without ever leaving JIRA, and you can track time and utilization rates accurately without leaving Accelo, so you can deliver more profitable client projects. Everyone wins.

  • Smart Locations on Mobile: start/stop timers, log work, and more automatically from your mobile when you visit a client or get to/leave the office with our new smart geofencing feature.

  • Purchases (Brand New Module): this is one of two major new modules we've gotten into our user's hands so far this year (as opposed to major improvements to existing functionality) and enables our users to create Purchases for Materials and Expenses, push them to their accounting system (Xero and Quickbooks Online so far) and even create and send PDF purchase orders.

  • New Scheduling Module (preview): this new module (which is still in preview) is now available for all of our Premium account users to use. We're actively extending the functionality of this new module every day, but already this screen is getting incredible praise from clients.

  • Create, Edit and View Assets on Mobile: for our mobile users, you're now able to view Assets on mobile - super handy if you track client equipment as Assets and need to access details them when you're on the road! Creating and editing Assets is in beta and should be available to all in a week or two.

  • New ‘Duplicate Quote’ option: After putting in hours of work perfecting a quote for a client - including all the introductory text, cost estimates, and T&C’s -  you can now easily clone the entire quote to be used for another customer.

Over 300 Minor Updates

In addition to these major updates, we also shipped more than 300 minor updates - every week we publish a list of new improvements and fixes to our Updates Blog.

Best Practices Sessions

Finally, we've also been running regular best-practices webinars every two weeks. They include a great Q&A section, and they’re led live by our product and implementation experts. Our next session is about Leadership & Reporting”, and it’s happening September 7th - register for the time that suits you best here. If you can't make the sessions live, the good news is that we record them, so if you've missed a session you can watch the videos below:

Current Priorities

The priorities that our product team is focusing on right now are outlined below.

Schedule Reporting, Forecasting & Project Portfolio Management

This major project is now available as Preview while our design and engineering teams continue working on it. As of today, you're able to:

  • See a list of team members (by group, skill, saved list or added one at a time) on one screen and see how busy their schedule is (looking back at work done as well as forward to previewed work). People have their cell color change depending on how over or under utilized they are, and you can click on any cell to bring up the detail of what they are working on (or worked on if you're looking at dates in the past), making it easy to see who's doing what across the business.

  • See a list of all of any projects, tickets, retainers, sales or even clients and then see what work has been done, or what work is scheduled to be done, with the ability to also expand each object row out and see the breakdown of hours by what the work is for (eg, which task) or which staff member is doing it (or has done it). In the next week or two you'll be able to click on any cell in the Work view and on the right we'll open up a more detailed section showing you who's assigned how many hours (and whether that person is over-assigned) too.

Schedule 1

In the near future, you'll also be able to assign work from this screen, and we'll be rolling out this new Assignment interface to make it available on almost all of our screens, making Scheduling easy and adaptive.

Once we bring in the ability to assign work to users, we'll be retiring the existing Team Schedule screen.

With these two main phases complete - reporting and then assigning - we'll be moving onto the third part of this major project - extending scheduling to more than Tasks in Accelo. This is where we'll be tackling popular issues like assigning multiple people to a single task, allowing time against Milestones, Tickets and Retainers to be assigned to users without needing a task to be created, and more.

Direct HubSpot Integration

Since our release of Zapier earlier this year, one of the most commonly used integrations enabled has been HubSpot. As one of the world's leading Marketing Automation Platforms, and the one best targeted to small and medium service businesses, it made sense for us to look more closely at partnering with HubSpot and doing a direct, bi-directional integration together.

We're excited to share that this week this new integration went into Beta with around 30 of our clients giving it a try. If you'd like to join the beta, email and let us know that you're a HubSpot user and you'd like to give the integration a try.

HubSpot and Accelo Integration

Accelo will be playing a major part at HubSpot's INBOUND conference in Boston at end of September this year, where we're planning on launching this integration - if you're going to be there, come and say hi!

Inbound 2017

CSV Import Module Upgrade

Accelo's CSV Import functionality is one of our oldest pieces of systems still in production. It is long overdue for an upgrade, and given the growth we've been seeing, it's about time this important feature got the upgrade it needs.

With the new import, you'll be able to bring in CSV files and much more easily map the fields. You'll also be able to choose the merge criteria you want to have the engine apply when we're looking for existing records to merge imported data with, and finally we'll be introducing a new logging and feedback system to tell you row by row what was processed and if there are problems with a row of data, exactly what those problems were. 

New Import Wizard

More Intelligent Project Dates

This is one where we've done most of the hard work and just need a little bit more time to bring it to life!

Accelo currently uses intelligent dates that adapt project plans to the real world and estimate start and end dates for milestones and tasks when things run late - but, it hasn’t been intelligent enough.

When it comes to estimating start and end dates of a project schedule, Accelo currently doesn't make it easy for managers to assert start or due dates for projects and milestones in advance. Instead, we've relied a bit too much on team members to start and complete work accurately, which often doesn’t happen (as we know all too well). Accelo also does currently support those fantastic situations whereby someone finishes work early - in those successful situations, you really want to see those estimated finish dates slide forward!

With this upgrade, we’re going to allow you and your team members to have more control over how Accelo’s intelligent dates work. Here’s how: you’ll be able to assert dates on projects (which will involve milestones and tasks starting on their planned date automatically), making it easier to manage projects that have well defined and scheduled plans. Alternatively, you’ll be able to choose which dates on a project should “slide forward” when work is being done ahead of schedule! On top of that, we’ll also be sending emails to folks whose tasks and milestones are ready to kick-off (because dependencies are satisfied), taking the load off of project managers so they can spend more time managing and less time being a nagging traffic cop (we’ve all been there).

Task Board Upgrade

The Task Boards in Accelo were pioneers of our design patterns for filtering, along with our card-based, drag-and-drop interface. Nevertheless, like all pioneers, they're now showing their age and needed a revamp - and a revamp they shall get!

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.

We've actually made some good progress on upgrading these Task Boards already, but as we dug in deeper we realized there's a great case to be made for extending the card based (also known as Kanban) design patterns, with customizations, to more of our screens, and in conjunction with our priority to improve reporting in Accelo, we've decided to tackle this upgrade at the same time as the new Custom Reports and Layouts feature, described below.

Custom Reports & Layouts

One of Accelo's limitations that we're acutely aware of is that our users can't customize the columns they see in our list screens. While we put a lot of thought into the columns shown on our list screens, we wish we could look at some different columns and report on data differently. 

As a part of our work with upgrading the Task Board, we'll be making a number of changes across the Accelo product to deliver custom layouts and reports for almost all of our listing screens. This means a few important things: custom table columns, a new Kanban or card+column view, and saved Reports.

When it comes to displaying tables of results in Accelo, we'll be allowing users with appropriate permissions to create their own custom screen layouts for list screens in Accelo. When it comes to the list-style views (ie, a table of results that match the filter you've chosen), you'll be able to choose the columns you want to on the screen, and save the specific choice and order of columns for later use as a "Custom Layout".

Layout Modal

In addition to choosing the columns to represent in a list-style view, we'll also be introducing a "card" based view with a smaller number of wider columns where every single Client, Sale, Project, Ticket, Retainer, Task, Invoice or other objects in Accelo will be its own card. In addition to being able to see key details grouped together into a card, this layout has the benefit of showing clearly and visually how many objects are in each column - grouped by status, assignee or other distinct criteria. Finally, where possible, you'll be able to drag and drop objects from one column to another - making reassigning as easy as dragging and dropping from one user's column to another in an "Assignee" layout.

Layout Card View

Along with the new Layout functionality, we'll also be improving Accelo's Filters interface. While the convenience of having the Filters across the top and their instant effect can be convenient, our users have been telling us that the way the changes in selection take effect immediately, as well as the fact that you have to choose a field in one place and configure it in a different place, makes things a bit frustrating. With the new Filters, you'll have a dedicated interface for choosing fields and setting values, and then running them when you're happy with all of your inputs in one go. This interface will also make it easy to save filters, as well as make copies and delete saved filters you don't need anymore.

Filter Modal

Finally, bringing together the custom Layouts and the custom Filters will enable truly customized Reports - you'll be able to choose the criteria, and the layout, of any set of data in Accelo, and save it for one-click access quickly and easily in the future.

Report Modal

Report Left Hand Sode


Activity UI Enhancements

This is one where we've done most of the hard work and just need a little bit more time to bring it to life!

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-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 (if we’re being 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.

View Activity

This is another one where the designs have been done for some time -  we just need the bandwidth to bring it to life! As we continue to scale our team, this will become that much easier.

Assets in Mobile Apps

This feature is currently available in Beta - we'd love you to join our Android or iOS Betas to share this new functionality with you and get your feedback!

This feature will be really useful for anyone who goes out and about to work with clients, especially where those clients have assets that team members need to know about or work on. Examples include being able to quickly pull up access or username details for servers and workstations in an IT context, the ability to see filing deadlines and registration codes for subsidiaries and entities for lawyers and accounts, or the ability to check on details for equipment in general for other folks using the Assets module.

Automatically Processing Client Payments via Credit Card

With powerful automation (especially around recurring work like Retainers) and billing, it makes complete sense for Accelo to not only create invoices, but to also help you get them paid!

Now that we have payment synchronization in place with Quickbooks Online and Xero, we're finally able to prioritize 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 it 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 (well deserved) sit back, and let the money roll in.

Email Initiated Triggers

This is one where we've done most of the hard work and just need a little bit more time to bring it to life!

Accelo's Trigger functionality (available in our Premium products) have always been popular, but sometimes the trigger rules firing only every 15 minutes just aren't 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".

Email Trigger

More Intelligent Email Tracking

This is one where we've done most of the hard work and just need a little bit more time to bring it to life!

One of Accelo's most popular features is its automatic email tracking - when a client emails you or one of your team, Accelo will automatically import the email and any attachments, and if it is part of a conversation on a sale, project, ticket, retainer or other work in Accelo, it will be put in the right place.

While Activities (emails) sent out of Accelo apply smarts to automatically CC the owners of where the activity is being sent and client account managers, when a reply comes back in from a client (or colleague) the same automatic CC behavior doesn't currently apply - the email just goes to whoever the sender sent it to manually.

Similarly, the new Team feature with its Automatic CC option is designed to allow key people who are part of the work to be kept in the loop, but when the conversation moves out of activities and into regular emails, Accelo doesn't currently try and include other folks.

To help address these shortcomings and make it easier than ever for teams to stay coordinated as they work together to deliver great service to clients, we'll be making it possible - through a configuration preference - to have the same automatic CC rules apply to emails received and tracked by Accelo.

Progression Webhooks

With the Zapier integration earlier this year, our engineering team implemented a lot of back-end magic, including Webhooks. A webhook is a feature for more tech-savvy folks to ask that a platform - in this case, Accelo - send a special message to a remote URL of the user's choice whenever something special happens, making it easier for developers to integrate with Accelo than the more common alternative, polling an API frequently asking if there's been any updates. 

With this enhancement, folks will be able to tap into some of the back-end webhook magic powering Accelo and request that the platform send webhooks to their own URLs based on clients, contacts, sales, projects, tickets or retainers changing from one specific status to another.

Office365 Enhancements

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.

Client Portal Upgrade

Finally, the long awaited 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, so we don't expect to be in a position to be shipping this until well into Q3, but it is a priority we’ll keep you posted on our work as it progresses.

Federated Login (SAML)

With more and more large clients, more advanced and enterprise-friendly ways of authenticating users are becoming more important for Accelo to support. Our teams are prioritizing the support of SAML, an industry-standard for Federated login (supported by Azure Active Director, OKTA, OneLogin, Office365 and others) which will allow administrators to connect Accelo with their integrated Identity Providers (IDP) and have Accelo perform authentication against the IDP of their choice.

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