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New software takes ACT online

Small-market CRM vendor ACT is taking its software online, partly to pose an alternative to popular hosted services like

Contact management software maker ACT is introducing an online iteration of its widely used sales force automation platform.

The division of Best Software Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz., will officially release ACT for Web on Tuesday. Company officials said the online package offers a near-mirror image of ACT's Windows-based contact management system. Existing ACT users must pay a one-time fee of $249.95 per user for the Internet-based software.

ACT is introducing the online offering to better position itself against Web-based sales force automation and CRM application service providers (ASPs) such as, Salesnet Inc. and NetLedger Inc. One of the advantages ACT says it has over these ASPs is the ability for users to host their own data.

"The data sits inside the company network, and we think that's a huge benefit with the critical value of keeping proprietary data protected," said Beth Nagengast, vice president of product marketing at ACT. "We also feel the pricing model holds up well next to someone like, who charges a monthly fee for this kind of service."

Aside from security, ACT is also touting widespread customization of general contact management functionality and user interfaces.

ACT is already piloting the Web package with a number of existing customers, including Salt Lake City-based commercial builder Furst Construction Inc. According to Furst marketing manager Jenny Kofoed, the system is useful in allowing sales reps to log on remotely and spend more time in the field with customers.

"It's particularly useful for the sales team, as our geographical presence is growing and we have more people working outside the home office," Kofoed said.

Kofoed said that 17 of Furst's 50 employees use ACT for Web. The company has been running ACT contact management software for more than a year and deployed the Web package several weeks ago.

According to at least one industry analyst, the new product should sit well with existing ACT users and give the vendor a more solid footing in competing with the ASP crowd, as well as new CRM entrant Microsoft Corp.

"This broadens ACT's accessibility and sends a message to and others that [ACT] is not going to be left behind in terms of functionality," said Kelly Spang Ferguson, principal analyst at Current Analysis in Sterling, Va.

According to Spang Ferguson, the Web package may even help ACT attract users that remain concerned about putting data in an ASP's hands. Spang Ferguson believes the release is aimed at the ASP CRM providers more than it targets newcomer Microsoft.

"You can't ever discount Microsoft as a competitor, especially looking into the future, when they've had more time on the market," she said. "But this is an answer to the growing aggressiveness in the ASP market for sales force automation."


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