Profit Through Participation
News Release
October 29, 2010
For Immediate Release
Eclipse Users Group/UFO
UFO Board Meeting with Activant
October 6, 2010

Report on UFO Board and Activant Management Meeting


As promised in our last newsletter, this is a report of the meeting between the Eclipse Users Group/UFO Board of Directors and Activant on October 6.  In addition to the Board, the attendees from Activant included Kevin Roach, Penn High, Ken Hines, John Ahern, Russ Mallot, Mark Walsh, Dan Huelitt, Frank Heenan, Dave Getty and Jason Hatfield via phone.  The Board was very pleased that all of the Activant executive team took time to meet and discuss issues.


It was the intent of the Board to discuss pertinent issues with Activant and how those issues relate to our members and their business use of Eclipse and how much each user depended on Eclipse to run a profitable business. Our agenda included the issues of customer service, product development, internal resource allocations, Solar, support, personnel changes, Activant Distribution Suite and the future roadmap of Eclipse.



With regard to customer service and product development, the Board had several concerns.  We wanted to know if Activant feels like they are doing the very best for us during these economic times and if they are providing excellent services for us for the dollars we are paying.  We wanted them to understand that our members are concerned that this is not happening to their satisfaction. In this economy, our members need to make their businesses more efficient and productive and save as much money as possible. Kevin Roach stated that they are not doing the best that they can nor will they ever consider their efforts as such. He stated that this is a goal and that they are working toward this end. It was noted that Activant has a new program this year with regard to support costs. They will be giving a one month credit against the increase in support costs to help members with the new increase.  Activant feels that they are delivering a lot of value with Eclipse and sited several examples of Eclipse customers who have increased their business with Eclipse. He said that Activant actively studies our type of businesses and then works to develop tools to help operate them better. They currently have 35 open development projects and they focus on quality, customer satisfaction and innovation. Kevin noted that they are not satisfied with their NPS (Net Promoter Score) and are working to improve that score. He also noted that they are working on improving their loyalty scores at the same time. We discussed the possibility that part of the dissatisfaction may be related to the perception from their customers that they aren't getting an expected return for their dollars.


We then transitioned to a discussion regarding customer satisfaction and perceptions with regard to the "core" package of Eclipse.  The Board and our members feel that the core of Eclipse is not as broad as it should be and that some of the new innovations and enhancements should be in the core and not an add on module.  The Board thinks that it has gotten to the point where if Activant wants to add anything to the system, it is always an add on module.  Activant explained that part of the evaluation process between core and add on is whether or not what they want to accomplish is in their core competency and whether or not what they may be planning will affect the most users. They consider these decisions very important and hard to make. The Board recognizes that these decisions may be difficult and can take a lot of capital and that they have to look at new revenue streams to develop new software. However, Activant recognized that they have to focus on ways in which they can introduce more functionality into the core. Activant stated that they needed to continue to grow and develop their offerings and not slow down the functionality in the core.


The Board offered that we feel that Activant is behind the curve with regard to both core functionality and new products.  We emphasized that our conversations with our membership almost always involve making core Eclipse better and not what the newest and greatest module is available for their business. We have doubts about whether or not Activant can keep up. We discussed that Eclipse users have been talking about specific enhancements since Eclipse was the "original" Eclipse and that we are still asking for the status on some of those issues. Activant recognized this and discussed with us the need to prioritize these suggestions in order to facilitate a more detailed discussion.  The Board has always been a sounding board and we suggested that this is a strong point of the UFO.  The UFO will help prioritize these system improvement suggestions and in fact, is actively working with Activant to tie into their Ideas network. However, we suggested that in the past we have only been getting a small number of improvements into software releases and we would like to increase that number.  Undoubtedly, increasing that number would help our membership.


The belief or perception by the UFO membership that Activant is not "catching up" with regard to the core product builds of frustration. For the most part, the core is the same as it was ten or fifteen years ago and that this breeds discontent with regard to what Activant charges for services and what is needed for their businesses. We agreed with Activant's assessment that they haven't delivered to the UFO what we have been asking for. They feel that they have better tools for our collaboration. The board again stressed that the bigger projects that have been discussed just are not getting worked on.


We also discussed the issue of placing a new product on the market when the product has some weaknesses and how long it takes to fix the weaknesses.  We feel that it takes Activant too long to correct those weaknesses. Activant said that they don't release any product that they do not believe is 100% materially defect free. This is based on the "sprints" they conduct during their scrum process. They related that they are not fielding as many complaints in this area.  They explained that they also have to make a decision about when to put a product into the market based on the need to recoup their investment in the product. We pointed out that a product may indeed be fundamentally free from defects but that all the tools needed to adequately utilize the product may not be available and it can take a long time for Activant to revisit the product and make needed changes.


We discussed Solar Eclipse and issues related to a WOW factor, return on investment, pricing, training and documentation.   If Solar is the Eclipse product of the future, then Activant needs to bring Solar up to a point where existing Eterm users will say . . . WOW, I need to move to Solar.  What is there in Solar or to be added to Solar that can make this statement?  We recognized that the pricing for Solar has been decreased but a decrease in price doesn't provide all the impetus to transition to Solar. We explained that currently, there is no concrete way to measure both the hard and soft costs of a transition to Solar so that a return on investment can be quantified. Activant sales said that when discussing this with potential new customers, they have the tools to show value but they don't have one for Solar and they need one.  We suggested that moving to Solar is not a "no brainer" like it was for moving from Unix to Linux but that it probably should be.


We discussed the need to provide better communications with regard to what is actually in Solar, what are best practices in Solar and to be sure that documentation is detailed and complete. We mentioned that we had a briefing on Solar and weren't aware of many of the features in Solar.  We also mentioned that Activant needs to take a more pro active role with regard to program customization and how that affects a transition to Solar. We felt that Activant needs to really help when a customer performs their due diligence regarding Solar so that they will not be surprised at a later date.


We discussed the future path of Eclipse for both Eterm and Solar. As Activant has said in the past, there is no "drop dead" date for Eterm as Activant does not want to force any customer to change.  They will provide support as long as their customers operate Eterm. Activant said that it is important for customer to know that they will never "not support" the customer. It must continue to be recognized that Solar will continue to be their feature ERP product and this is where most of the development will be channeled.


After Don Sarno left Activant, many were concerned about the effect this would have with regard to ongoing product development.  We were assured by Activant that they have reviewed product development and are very confident in the new structure. Bill Wright leads the way as product manager for Eclipse and will continue to work closely with the UFO.  As part of this conversation, we asked if Activant has the personnel resources to adequately pursue all of Activant's goals.  Kevin assured us that they do. He said that they have around 1,800 people in the company and spend $40,000,000 on R&D and are always working to prioritize those dollars.


We briefly discussed the progress they are making with the Activant Distribution Suite. The ADS is their vision of the future and how they will develop new products. They want to take advantage of this technology to make new offerings more modular so that they can be added with fewer errors. They have built several solutions that they are getting ready to launch. This includes Zoom 360 which revolves around customer profitability, Proof of Delivery, which is a wireless capable delivery signature and information capture system, Service Dispatch which manages service aspects and BPS or business process score card.


We concluded the meeting and both sides commented that we should touch base again in the near future and examine how to best measure progress.


From a personal standpoint, I'd like to make the following observations.


I think this type of meeting between Activant executives and the UFO are very good and we will continue to schedule these meeting a couple of times each year.  The Board is determined to measure future meetings against the discussion of past meetings and see if any progress has been made. We want to make progress in our desire to improve the core product, improve the productivity and efficiency of Eclipse and work to keep our cost of utilizing the system as low as possible. You should know that we mentioned again that much of our membership thinks that support charges are too high and that Solar should be a core product with no extra charge.  They may be valid arguments from our point of view but we have to realize that Activant has their own business plan and although we may be able to influence it, in all likelihood we can't change it. I think that Activant was responsive to our concerns and wishes to please their customers. We will continue discussing the issues and hopefully, time will show that Activant has reacted favorably to our concerns.


One last comment and this comes as an exhortation to the membership.  As we unveil the new enhancement process through the IDEAS web site, it is CRITICAL that our membership participate in the process.  We need as many members in this process as possible so that Activant can accurately see what a priority is and what is not.  Please review the short videos on the UFO web site and begin voting on the ideas!


Thanks for your participation and keep you ideas and comments coming!!


Larry McMullin

Board President