The spring is coming, even though it’s hard to see it yet from here in Toronto. As I write this on March 25th, the streets are full of snow and temperatures are still below freezing! Sometimes it feels like winter will last forever...
Though looking at all of the stuff happening here at Wild Apricot, I am excited and hopeful!
In this month's Software News:
- Version 4.5 Update
- Version 5.0 Update
- API Development
- Improving our Account Management / Billing
- Mobile Roadmap
- Versions 5.0.50, 5.1, and beyond
- Client Surveys
Version 4.5 Update
Version 4.5 is scheduled to launch on the last weekend of March, and will enable the use of a number of additional payment systems. Many of them are US-focused, but there will also be new online payment processing options for Canada and other countries -- e.g. 2Checkout, Moneris eSelect, IATS, Skrill. (See this post for a detailed list.)
With so many payment system options, the selection field on the payment settings screen is becoming a bit intimidating - good thing that you would normally only need to set it once!
Version 5.0 Update
Version 5.0 will be our next major release, focusing on improvements in the website design/editing module (aka CMS). To get an overview of what is being planned, see our help document overview.
I am very excited about all the new capabilities it will bring to our users to customize their website - but I am also scared of the sheer scope of the interface changes we had to make to support these new capabilities. So for the last 18+ months we have been trying to find the balance between our desire to launch this new version as soon as possible - and striving to ensure great user experience, given this overhaul of the system interface. Perfect is the enemy of good and I suspect we might have gone overboard with ongoing reviewing and redesigning the new interface - and the launch date suffered. Now working with our team to rebalance this, postponing all nice to have but not essential functions
This is our biggest challenge at the moment and with a lot of development still on-going, the launch timeline is not yet finalized (my best guess now is ~ September).
Here is a screenshot from our new interface for managing website pages (click to enlarge):
API stands for Application Programming Interface - basically a way for other software to interact with the Wild Apricot system. Our Phase 1 API will allow external systems to access and read member/contact data from Wild Apricot. For example, let’s say that in addition to Wild Apricot, you also maintain a separate database of members in Microsoft Access for some custom functionality. With our API you will be able to write Visual Basic code to automatically retrieve your member records from Wild Apricot on a daily basis to update your MS Access database.
We are completing the design and analysis stage of this and plan to start development in April.
(click to enlarge)
Improving Wild Apricot Account Management / Billing
Billing is one of those ‘mundane’ things which is invisible and seamless when it works well - but can be a huge time consuming hassle when it doesn’t. As our client base has grown to almost 6000 paid accounts, we’ve begun the process of designing improvements to our automated billing system which we hope to develop and roll out by end of this year. These enhancements will take some of the pressure of of our support team which currently receives numerous billing-related inquiries that they currently have to deal with manually.For example, we are now getting more and more organizations using Wild Apricot for all/many of their chapters and we provide them with certain discounts based on the number of accounts. This is currently not automated in our billing system and takes quite a bit of work from our diligent support team!
We’ve been focusing a lot of time and energy on mobile - with lots of design, discussions and decisions on this in the last few months, especially on the features we are considering for mobile-friendly Wild Apricot backend. Here is a small sample of our work in progress, currently being considered for Version 5.1:
At-the-door registration for events (click to enlarge)
Versions 5.0.50, 5.1, and beyond
Things I have already listed above keep us plenty busy - but we have to think farther ahead about subsequent product enhancements, including:
- Version 5.0.50 - will contain some of those “nice-to-have” things we wanted to include in version 5.0 but had to postpone. This version is planned for roll out within a few months after 5.0
- Version 5.1 - once version 5.0 is out of the way, we can finally start addressing long-outstanding wishlist requests. It is too early to say what will be included but we have compiled a list of 22 top candidates which span across all Wild Apricot modules, e.g., from relatively simple things like export in XLS format (in addition to our current XML Spreadsheet format) to much more sophisticated things like setting limits on specific event registration fields (for example for limited capacity break-out sessions).
- Adding new modules - for example online store. We had to put this on a backburner for a while but will have bring it back into focus in the second half of the year to target development and launch in 2014
I also wanted to thank all of our clients who take their time to participate in our client surveys. What we do each month is select all accounts with the renewal anniversary in that month and send a survey to all administrators on those accounts. With ~3000 emails sent each month, we typically get a couple hundred replies. We then allocate all of these surveys between myself and a few other senior people. We read each survey, reply to clients with follow-up questions to better understand their feedback -- and then share the summary of results and key comments with everyone in the company. We also share the summary ratings and some comments on our website.
(We love getting praise and positive comments - but we also highly appreciate all of the suggestions and criticisms as they are a great source of insight for us in making plans for further product development and other areas of our business!)
Let me close this blog post off with a handful of comments I picked from the surveys we processed in February:
- “I have been pretty pleased with the ability to get support when I have a question. That is one of the most important benefits of using this software. In your target market, it seems to me there must be a lot of part time administrators & webmasters who are not "working" their sites enough to really stay current with how they operate.”
- “Praises for your doc and videos! Once I understood it's very simple to set up. Still working on it but no problems so far. Site is mostly consistent in how pages work. Very good. Keep going!! Yes, I”m becoming a fan :)”
- “I feel that WA has a good balance of newbie features, yet still allows significant customization for those that know how.”
- “It is not exactly for dummies, but close!”
- “Great job on design. Mostly intuitive, ANY product is going to require a learning curve. We started officially taking members on 12/1/12. We have ~114 members and 250+ contacts. Now accepting online payments. Without WA, I'd be pulling my hair out.”
- “A lot of the heavy lifting is done for you. Coding and the like is not needed. Everything you need to get up and running is in one spot. It is also easy to continue to run the sites and to bring in others to help administer it.”
- “The software is easy to configure so that it takes only minutes to set up your first event. There is a website that comes with it that can be your organization's main website or your event/training headquarters. It sends reminder emails ti participants so you don't have to!”
- “Great for small nonprofits, you can do events management, membership, donations, website all in one platform.”