Product Roadmap Q2 Update

By Geoff
Apr 17 2013 read

We're now a couple of weeks into Q2, and our focus this quarter is on upgrading the core offering of Accelo - the Activities, Projects and Extranet features of the platform. By upgrading these cornerstone features to match the needs of our growing customer base, we'll be able to more easily and quickly implement further improvements which will make it easier than ever to manage all the work you do for your clients.

The following are the priorities we’re working on delivering before June 30, 2013:

 Activities Module Upgrade

The activities module is at the heart of Accelo - it is where you record notes, write emails, log and track time, and the way we remind people about what they have left on their to-do list.

Unfortunately, though, with many millions of activities now logged throughout Accelo, it is starting to show some signs of strain.

Early in Q2 we're focusing on both deep-level technical enhancements to improve performance, speed and reliability as well as high level features we think you'll know and love, like a new approach to your ToDo list which we're calling the new Inbox, a much faster and easier screen to create activities and log time and enhancements to how you view - and make changes to - activities already in Accelo.

We were initially just planning to undertake an overhaul of the back-end and systems, but we realized this was a missed opportunity to really add value to the way you and your colleagues use Accelo, which is why we've extended he ambition and scope of this release. We look forward to announcing a sneak peek opportunity here on our blog in coming weeks.

 Project Module Upgrade

Woah, this is a big one. And well overdue.

When we first built the projects module in Accelo, we were fulfilling a fairly narrow kind of project management requirement. Components or tasks would be allocated to individual users, while they could have sub-components they wouldn’t roll-up, and possibly most importantly the scheduling would use a simple business-days duration and dependency calculation to work out when something was supposed to get done.

As Accelo has grown with thousands of users all over the world, we’ve realized that this simplistic view of project management just wasn’t cutting it anymore. The interface we use for project planning - which we currently call workflow editing - is horrible to use, doesn’t provide feedback on deadlines and can’t handle the creation of tasks against a component. Additionally, budgets are very crude, with a very limited ability to consider non-time parts of budget such as license fees and one-off costs.

This big rock - the biggest of Q2 - is a major upgrade to the Projects Module. Some of the things we’ve got slated include:

  • Improving project scheduling. We want to make it easy to take full control of your schedule - specifying not just durations but also specific dates if you want - and showing the results on gantt chart in real time. We also want to make it really really easy to use, and also allow you to adjust schedules easily even after a project has commenced.
  • Improved project budgeting (with non-time entries and costs). Similar to our emphasis on ease of use and control, we are also going to focus in the overhaul at making the budgeting process a lot easier. We’ll be building on our rates improvements and extending them to also handle the cost-side of budgets, which could be reflective of contractor pay rates or the inclusion of non-time entries like third party licenses or other parts of a project scope. During the upgrade we'll be setting the foundation for the Contractors Module in Q3 when it comes to connecting these cost sides of the budget with users doing work.
  • Improved project planning/scoping. As our clients have become more sophisticated, their project plans have become more detailed and deliberate. This part of our projects module overhaul/upgrade includes the ability to create more fine-grained tasks within project milestones or components, and being able to set these tasks up against component/milestone types and templates so you can just snap them into a project plan and automatically have a set of tasks like a checklist autocreated.

These are just some of the things we have in mind for the projects module - feel free to add your own ideas to the Ideas Forum.

 Extranet Upgrade

The Extranet that is built into Accelo is best described as rudimentary. Your clients can log in and see their projects, issues, contracts, invoices and create new requests, but it isn’t optimized for collaborating with your clients.

Some of the things you can look forward to with the overhaul will include: 

  • A whole new interface to make your clients feel more like partners in the work you’re doing together, with the ability to see more (at your discretion), do more (make notes, comment, upload files and sign off on approvals) and share more (inviting their own colleagues into the extranet, in effect building your client database and making your business more entwined in theirs).
  • More fine-grained visibility controls. Do you want to show some clients the remaining budget on their monthly support contract, but not others? How about sharing progress on projects and milestones and real-time gantt charts depending on the client or project? With the new extranet module, you’ll be able to do all this, and more.
  • A new sign-off feature. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could send your client a link to an important design, document or other record and have them sign-off it right then and there? The new extranet will include this new feature, designed to boost collaboration and make it easier for clients to provide approval for the work you're doing for them.
  • See what they see. With more fine grained controls, it will be more important than ever to log in and see what your clients are seeing in real-time. With the upgrade, you’ll be able to click on a client, a project, an issue or a contract and see the "client view" - just to make sure you’re not sharing too much!
  • Automatic invitations. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could tell your clients to use the extranet to check for updates on a project, issue or contract instead of emailing you all the time? With the new version of the extranet, we’ll also be implementing an automatic invitations feature which will allow an auto-reply email to go back to your clients when they email support, for example, giving them details of their account access to log into the extranet.
  • Enhanced visual customizations. The extranet is your presentation of your brand to your clients. That’s why we’ll be supporting custom color schemes as well as the ability to upload your own logo... all designed to help you present your business and brand as professionally as possible.

 Multi-User Scheduling & Workload Reallocation

The most common question we get from users of our dynamic scheduling module is: can I see a list of a group of staff (or all my staff) on one screen and move work around between them?

The good news is that we’ve got this coming in Q2, building off the overhaul we’re making to activities and the upgrade of the projects module. This new feature will enable you as a manager to see one or more staff and filter their work down by projects, issues or other places where you can create tasks. You’ll be able to see their comparative workload and easily reassign tasks and components between staff members - ideal if you’re trying to optimize the resource allocations among a team of designers or similarly skilled professionals on your team.

We're really excited to be bringing this feature to you just as soon as we can get the underlying features of projects and activities improved - if you’ve got any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 Tasks, Activities & Requests in Sync

While most of these improvements apply to our Plus and Premium versions of Accelo, we’re also going to be adding a bit of extra benefit for our Sync users.

Around the middle of this quarter we'll be enabling Sync users to create tasks and activities in Accelo, making it easy for them to create notes, schedule appointments and send emails to clients in Accelo as well as manage a client-oriented task list.

In addition, we’re also going to be enabling the Requests Module for Sync users to make it easier for multiple users on a Sync account to track shared conversations with clients around specific issues.

We’re hopeful these improvements will make Sync even more useful as a place to get work done and encourage more and more Sync users to upgrade to Plus and even Premium to really take control of the work they and their teams do for their clients.

 Requests Module Upgrade & Autoconversion

Another module which has become more important and heavily used than we originally expected is the requests module. Designed originally to be a simple queue of requests that would be either be dismissed or quickly converted into sales or issues, the requests module has now become an important place where users actually collaborate and manage their reactive client service work.

A few of the improvements slated for the upgrade to the requests module include:

  • Improvement in the user interface. The listing format with expanding rows was a good start, but we think we can do much better now, particularly making the interface more useful for keeping an eye on requests that have a bit of interaction and history behind them.
  • Auto-conversion to issues & sales. One request we get regularly is the desire to automatically convert a request to an issue or a sale of a specific type and with a specific status and even custom fields set. This way, requests that come into a special address - such as [email protected] - can be automatically converted to a high priority, a short deadline and with an email re-sent to the critical response team letting them know something really important just came in.
  • More conversion options - while converting to an issue or a sale is nice, we want to extend the ways you can migrate a request from the queue and turn it into work that needs to be follow up on. With this improvement, you’ll be able to convert a request to become a new project, a new component on an existing project, or merge the request in with an existing project, sale, issue or contract/retainer, keeping all the conversation history, attachments and more in tact as you do.

 Gmail Integration/Gadget

While Accelo has a lot of magic for capturing and sharing emails between your team and your clients, it has never tried to replace your main email client; there’s just so much non-client email that still flows into our inboxes it hasn’t made sense to go to the effort and duplicate the awesome features of Gmail just to give you another inbox.

However, this has created another challenge - you can’t easily see the conversations tracked in Accelo while you’re in Gmail. This means it is all too easy to reply to an email to a client that a colleague has already replied to, even more frustrating because Accelo already knew about it, but just couldn’t show it to you.

Well, help is at hand, at least for Gmail users. Early this quarter we’ll be releasing the first version of what’s known as a Gmail Contextual Gadget. What is it? It is a cool window that loads below an email when you’re reading it in Gmail which can tell you helpful thing:

  • Has someone else on your team has already replied to it, and if so, what did they say?
  • Whether the contact who sent the email is already in Accelo, and if not, give you a simple quick form to add them - all without leaving Gmail.
  • Should you create a task (for you or someone else) so you don’t forget to do some work? Sure thing - just give it a deadline and an estimate of the time you need to complete it, and you’ll see it automatically appear on Accelo’s todo list and schedule.

Of course, this only works for those users lucky enough to spend their lives in Gmail, but we’ve got plans later in the year to improve the usefulness of Accelo as a parallel inbox, making it faster and easier to do all your client email reading and replying... watch this space for more ;-)

 Schedule Customizations

The dynamic schedule - found in Accelo Premium - is a powerful, adaptive tool for forecasting resource load and demand. However, currently it assumes that everyone in the business is working a regular 5 day week from Monday to Friday, which isn’t necessarily true.

In Q2 we’ll be introducing an improvement to the Scheduling module which will allow individual users, as well as the business as a whole, to have their work schedule days customized. That way, public holidays, part time workers and locations where weekends fall on different days will all be automatically accommodated in the scheduling view.

 Desktop Timer/Stopwatch

While we’re remaining an avowed cross-platform, browser-based and cloud technology company, upcoming improvements in technology are enabling us to move closer and closer to the desktop.

During Q2 we’ll be releasing a feature built on Google’s new Chrome App functionality that will allow you to have an installable, desktop based and automatically loading timekeeper. You’ll be able to see a list of the tasks you have in Accelo and be able to run a timer and toggle between tasks as you’re working, all on the desktop, and all in the background.

What’s really exciting about this is that it is still 100% browser-based (meaning no security issues), cross-platform and still cloud-based (even though it works offline!). With more than 2 in 3 of our users already using Chrome to work with Accelo, we’re confident you’ll love this feature too.

 Weekly Activity Summary Email

While many of us who use Accelo a lot know its power, there are still quite a few users who don’t check in as much as they could. So, to make their lives easier, we’re going to be taking the kinds of insights and critical information they’re missing out on now to them with a regular weekly email update.

Imagine getting a weekly email telling you the clients you worked with the most, who else was working with them last week in your organization (especially when they were conversations you didn’t even know existed), and making it easy to just follow a link to get right back into Accelo and get involved in the conversation.

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