Monday, 23 March 2009

Shock - Pivotal does not use Sedna

Last week I was doing a Webex with Pivotal support, and the support user shared his desktop.

I presume that he should not have shown this, but I saw my support incident in all it’s glory in the application that I assume they use for support.

I was amazed to discover which application they were using as their support application.

The cynics amongst you would probably say Microsoft CRM, Saleslogix or Salesforce. Wrong. Come on, even Pivotal would not be that silly. I am sure Pivotal license don’t cost them an awful lot.

The optimists amongst you, and this includes myself, would hope that they would use Pivotal 6, the latest and greatest patched up version with all the bells and whistles. Wrong.

The realists amongst would say that a year is not long enough to migrate an application from Pivotal 5.9, hence they will be using Pivotal 5.9 Rich Client. Not bleeding edge, but stable, customisable & only one step behind the current platform. Wrong.

The pessimists amongst you would be right, I was aghast to see Pivotal WAM. Not sure what version (I am an optimist, I’ll say 5.9), but it was definitely Windows Client. A heavily customised form with lots of tabs, very unlike the OOB support incident.

Surely, as a forward thinking company, they should be using the product they want us to migrate to? Surely they should be ditching WAM in favour of Pivotal 6 (or is the migration too costly and tricky?).

Could this be the ideal training ground for Pivotal Support to get their teeth into a real system so that when I ring up they know what they are talking about? If they did that, would they also see all the little issues that really annoy me? Would they be able to write some nice and shiny implementation guides? Would they get so frustrated with the poorly written documentation, they would force someone to write some excellent documentation which results in a lower number of support incidents raised?

If Pivotal can not get their support system using Pivotal 6, then what chances have the rest of us? I would love to here the reason for it from Pivotal. I would suggest they would come up with excuses about the number of users and the complex business logic, but that is no excuse, and is what the rest of us have been asked to deal with. They should really be at the front of their own technology. I know that internal systems are usually the worse supported for application developers, but they have had over a year to implement their Pivotal 6 system and several more to implement Rich Client.

Shame on you, Pivotal, shame on you.

Monday, 16 March 2009

I’ve had another comment.

After you have got over the shock of 2 comments in less than a month, let me tell you it is in reference to a rather old post (October last year) I made about the search terms used to get to my little blog. Pivotal sucks was number 4 in the list of search terms to find my blog back in October and I used this fascinating fact the basis of a post (I will use anything to conjure up a post). Currently this term is number 3, behind “Pivotal CRM” & “Pivotal 6”. Anyway, this is the comment in full.

Regarding the out-of-the-box system, it is completely unusable without extensive customization.

Next they will not support you because your system is customized (Catch-22)

Licensing costs (Pivotal+SQL Server+Win Server+Hardware

Absolutely nowhere to get help beyond the feeble tech support people in India...lack of a customer community.

Servers randomly shutting down, spitting out incomprehensible error messages.

Limited ability to upgrade, performance of Pivotal 6.0 sucks on the desktop!

Regular loss of data (specific to mobile and satellite synchronization)
Anonymous posted this, and I respect him or her not posting their contact details. I also thank them for their frank rating of the product. Rather than replying to their comment directly, I am going to give my view on each part of their comment.

Regarding the out-of-the-box system, it is completely unusable without extensive customization.
I totally agree. The CMS is limited, but the whole point of taking on Pivotal as a CRM application is that you tailor it to your business needs. This is one of the big positives for all my customers. They are not required to alter their business processes to match what the product says they should be. No two business processes are the same, regional differences aside, and I feel that the CMS code should be used a starting point and reference for your business analysts & developers to tailor and rework to your specifications.

The CMS was produced back in R99 days and has not changed significantly since then. Yes they have added more features, but at it’s core, the same functionality has just been ported to the new versions. Because of this, I believe that the CMS should be started again. Other vendors do not have the history with their CMS, which tends to them not having to worry about backwards compatibility. Revisiting the CMS would take a while, but would make the CMS more in tune with the way companies view CRM today.

Next they will not support you because your system is customized (Catch-22)
Sorry Anonymous, but I have never seen this. If you have used their tools to customise, I have never known support to quibble about something that is not working. If you import data directly to the database or change table structures via SQL directly, then I can understand why they would not want to support you. I can understand them not supporting your code, it is up to your developers to ensure the business logic meets your requirements, but if a method in the provided functionality does not work as expected, there should never be a problem getting support. Maybe you could give us an example of where Pivotal support has not supported you? I will be discrete and put my spin on it if you so wish to keep your anonymity intact.

Absolutely nowhere to get help beyond the feeble tech support people in India

Total agree. As a European customer, the closer of the Luton support office nearly made me cry. (I do need to get out more). The guys in India don’t come anywhere near the mark set by Luton or the Professional Services guys I have dealt with. I am sure not all of this is a communication issue. I believe support and trainers should have some real world experience of developing the system they are supporting. You ring support asking for an expert who can quickly diagnose your problem, not go through the required stages until a more knowledgeable 2nd or 3rd level support guy is put on to your incident. This is always the case when I raise an incident. It takes at least 2 days to go through the motions, and then final get a meaningful response from R&D.

...lack of a customer community.
Another one I agree with. Whilst this is not all CDCs fault, a community can be established without the support of the vendor and often do, other vendors actively encourage communities, allowing users to access the application (on a 1 or 2 user license) at no cost. This leads to developers playing and coming up with innovative solutions for people to use free of charge or pay the developer for if they think it will work for them. I would love Pivotal to do this and they could do with little cost. No one can run a CRM system with 2 licensed users (OK, maybe a 2 person company, but I am sure they could work more effectively with an Excel spreadsheet or A**ess database (I think A**ess is the worst swear word there is))

The only people developing Pivotal are those that are paid to do so. There is an awful lot of talent out there in other communities that use the tools as they enjoy it and may get some recompense in the long run for their efforts. As a developer I do not have time in my life to play with Pivotal outside of what I need to do in my current position. I am sure that everyone else is in the same boat. Give the application away will allow other to play such as students and others who have more time on their hands.

That said, there are still communities out there, official & unofficial forums, but exchange of ideas do not seem to happen, in my experience anyway.

Servers randomly shutting down,
Not sure I have ever seen this apart for the license manager. I have always found them quite stable, as long as the environments stay the same.

spitting out incomprehensible error messages
Well, that I agree with. Error messages are not anywhere near the quality they should be. When you have not set or incorrectly set the filepath and then try to assign a license, you get a message about not being able to connect to the DSM and to look in the relation.err file. I have never once seen this file have anything meaningful in it. It is not a DSM issue but because you did not set the filepath. I am tired of second guessing what the errors mean. Pivotal 6 has made this worse with incomprehensible errors with lots of information, but you have to look out for the error icon in the bottom frame. How does a user know what is going?

Don't get me started on other documentation. If you have not had experience in the product, you have not got a chance to understand what is going on with the methods & properties that are available to you.

Limited ability to upgrade,
Anonymous does not say what system he is currently on, but I will take a stab at it being a WAM system and again, Pivotal has dropped the ball. Upgrading to 6.0 from 5.9 Rich Client is not easy, but at least you don’t have to re-implement everything.

WAM to Pivotal 6 - you may as well start again. The only thing that is of any use is the table structures, but I think I would even scrap most of these. Yes, they have your data in them, but the methods used in Pivotal 6 would probably make you rethink the way data fields are used.

I also think that they have removed the ability to customise the system by a non developer. Pivotal agents are something a primary school student could understand, with nice arrows connecting blocks. It led to some awful implementations, but a BA could do it. Now, you need a competent C# developer to do the simplest of tasks. I haven’t even mentioned the data import routines.

performance of Pivotal 6.0 sucks on the desktop!
I have to disagree with you here, Anonymous, but if I am right that you are on WAM, then i bow to your judgement. Pivotal 6 vs Rich Client performance is certainly a win for Pivotal 6 in my experience. This is assuming you have a cached copy of the form etc. First time through it is painful as it caches the business logic, after that it is lovely. I have no experience of WAM vs Pivotal 6. I have not seen any data from Pivotal on this either. You would have thought there would be pretty graphs showing the differences between loading a company record in Pivotal 6 vs 5.9 WAM vs 5.9 RC. Are they hiding something?

Regular loss of data (specific to mobile and satellite synchronization)
Mobile & satellite synchronisation, when administered correctly, is a god send. The administration of Mobile systems relies on Sales people or other users syncing regularly, and this is where the problems start, in my experience. I have not really seen problems with satellite syncing when the system is design with Satellites in mind. If you can segregate the users on each satellite and don’t have the same data frequently updated on both servers, then everything is fine. Poor segregation (or where a system is not designed with Satellites in mind from the start) have caused me numerous problems in the past. I now assume that all my systems will evolve into at least satellite systems in the future and design accordingly.

Anonymous – thanks for your comment, at the least I have enjoyed responding. If this post is read by those within CDC that can make changes, I hope that they see that it is not only me that has problems with Pivotal and the path it seems to be taking.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Activity Usage Monitor

A positive post, for a change.

I have just watched the recorded webex from Pivotal on Activity usage, available on the link below

This is the stuff I wished there was more off. Yes, it is an add-on that you have to pay Pivotal a bit of hard earned profits for but it gives you an idea of what is possible within Pivotal 6.

The Activity Usage functionality, I presume, adds code to the events when certain things happen in your system – ReportRequest, SearchLoaded etc, and then stores in a table what, where & when so you can make some pretty pictures from the data added to the tables. I am sure there is a lot more to it than that, Pivotal have to earn the cost of the add-on for something. I am also positive that a good developer will be able to create this functionality, and add more detail, with ease.

Often I see client & server side logging of information, mostly for debugging and error capture, but this takes it one step further. Want to know when the last time a piece of functionality was used? Bring up a graph and take a look. Users complaining that a report or search is taking too long? You now have the figures to prove it is not the system, it is the fact that they are using search conditions that make the search take an age (wild card searches for example in a large memo field). It also gives you an insight into where to improve performance, adding indexes to tables or search terms that are frequently used. You can now make informed decisions where to spend your development budget from the areas that are constantly hit, rather than who kicks up the most fuss.

I just hope that it is coded in such a way that performance is not degraded significantly to make the use of the tool a detriment to the users. Have Pivotal produced figures to show the change in performance by using this tool?

It is a lovely piece of functionality. Do I encourage anyone to buy it? Depends on the cost (something that is not apparent in the Webex), if it is less than 3 man days of developer time, then no. That is the time I would estimate to do this in Pivotal 5.9 or 6 on my current system, it may take more or less time on your system, but this is a good ball park figure for anyone.