Sunday, September 16, 2007

I'm taking a DAY OFF! (and VIC CRM status)

After having unfruitfully slogged through some on some major client work this week, I'm taking a weekend off. I'm behind, and I know it, but there's absolutely no way I'll catch up if I burn out. So it's time for a breather. For me, that means visiting my mom and cooking some spare ribs, spaetzle, and sauerkraut. (The key to great spaetzle, by the way, is salt. Salt the dough until it's too salty; then it'll be perfect.)

It also means I work a bit on VIC. Yes, for me that's a day off. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain says, "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do." Modifying other people's CRM systems in Lotus Notes is what I'm doing for a living right now. I'm wading through a sticky bit of drudgework, so at the moment, it's work. Modifying my own CRM systems in Lotus Notes is what I'm not obliged to do. I'm wading through a sticky bit of drudgework, but it's challenging play. Get it? If not, you never will. Suffice to say that a day off is doing what I normally do anyway, but for me, not for somebody else.

That said, I thought I might share a little bit of what I've just done. First, I've recently introduced the VIC Launch database on OpenNTF.org. That's a big step forward, but it's not perfect. I just did some modifications to it and it's much more solid now. For the first time I actually feel good about recommending it as your Lotus Notes home page.

I modified the My Activities page. Previously you just had a list of of tasks and scheduled items, broken down into what's overdue, what's due today, and what's scheduled. You still have that, but now you can also tab to a Calendar view. I like the two-day view with a column for today and another for tomorrow, but you can use any of Notes' day, week, or month formats. And you can select in your Personal Preferences whether you'd rather start in the old list or the new calendar view by default. Here's a screenshot showing a view with one work-week. I added a little bit of experimental code to VIC Launch... basically this is going to be the home of Dashboards. I actually started out by updating the VIC documentation to describe how to do this in Boomarks.nsf, but then I got carried away and put a simple example in VIC itself. Let me know if you think I should pursue this direction.

My example is a little frameset I created to solve a problem... that being that I don't work through old Journal Entries diligently enough and can easily lose billable items. The solution is this four-pane frameset, divided into Northeast (NE), Northwest (NW), Southeast (SE), and Southwest (SW) quadrants. The West side contains revenue-generating tasks; the East side contains revenue-collecting tasks. Here's how it's broken down:
  • NW contains Unbilled Journal Entries... anything marked billable but hasn't been put on a Sales document.
  • SW contains Open Sales Orders... This is your workspace for items that will be invoiced when delivered. It's also where those Unbilled Journal Entries disappear to as you process them. As you fulfill Sales Orders you convert them to Invoices and they automatically move over to the NE quadrant.
  • NE contains Unsent Invoices. They've been created and are waiting to be printed and mailed or emailed. Once you've done that you'll mark each as "Sent" and it will automatically fall into the next frame.
  • SE contains Open Invoices. These have been sent and still have a non-zero open balance. When they're paid they automatically fall out of the frameset into one of the other views in the Sales database.
This particular frameset provides a nifty way of keeping track of those things you get paid for. Since the views are categorized by customer it's a nice way of seeing exactly what you've got in the queue for each customer, and how they compare relatively to others; and you don't have to open the Organizations' Financial tabs to do it.

BTW, what you don't see in this screenshot due to space is the fact that each quadrant contains a summarized dollar figures for each document and account, and totals. This is really cool on a big monitor. So in Unbilled Journal Entries, for instance, you see the value of the call AND any associated expenses and a total for each line item, and summaries. Sweet! You also don't see that these aren't static views... it's identical to working with four fully-functioning views at once, and you can resize and zoom the partitions to focus on any particular task.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how this works in practice. The VIC Launch database can handle as many dashboards as we wish to include. I figure you'll want to have different sets with different views for the different roles. The question is to what degree we want to be able to customize them or pre-set them. I'm open to suggestions and contributions.

I've also completed the Payments feature of the Sales database. Previously you had only a single textbox to apply a payment. I'd always intended to have a Payments grid on the Invoice, but every attempt at it has been crash-inducingly disastrous. I actually like the compromise better than the original plan... on the invoice you simply see a total of payments to date, and the balance. Then, if you like you can pop up a list of all payments made against that invoice. This keeps all the detail out of the way until you need it. Of course, your payment types are maintained in the Config database.
The invoice itself has been modified slightly for this purpose. Naturally, while mine features VIC BeaverTM, letterheads are completely configurable.I also knocked out a few bugs. Little things like the error message that appeared when you tried to convert an email to a JournalEntry. It was just an annoyance, but now you've got some great workflow available to you. Here's a scenario: customer sends you a request in email. You discuss it in mail and on the phone, documenting the discussion in VIC. Finally, you summarize the proposed work in an email, get a response authorizing the work, automatically convert that to a JournalEntry task, and assign it a due date. The task is marked billable, so upon completion it's moved onto a Sales Order with other tasks for that customer, converted to an Invoice, and sent. Nothing hits paper unless you just want it to. Just working through that scenario gives me some great ideas on how Projects will fit in when it's finished.

I think for the next release we're going to concentrate on getting Sales Orders solid, take care of some lingering bugs (like a stack overflow when creating a letter or fax that inherits from the currently selected doc), and introducing some basic new functionality to Projects. I'm hoping to get that to the point where I can manage Projects' construction using Projects itself.

Anyway, that's my weekend. Tomorrow it's back to 100% customer focus.

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