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-- by James E. Powell
InterAction is the most powerful contact manager we've tested to date. Although lacking built-in calendar features (it links to Microsoft Schedule Plus), its management of names, addresses, notes and e-mail is unsurpassed. InterAction can let individuals or groups throughout an enterprise share all the information necessary for effective management of customer relationships.
The program's associative capabilities made loading records into the database easy. When we added a new customer to the database (InterAction requires a Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle or Sybase database), we first entered the basic information: name, company name, business and home addresses, phone numbers and so on. We clicked on OK after completion, and InterAction asked if we wanted to create a company record. The program automatically took the information we had entered for the customer and built a new, separate record for the company (similar to a separate SQL table). When we entered additional clients from the same company, all we did was type a few letters of the company name and click on the Associate button; the program looked for possible matches within its database and linked the client record with the appropriate one.
InterAction leverages the relational capabilities of SQL Server and the like. You don't have to enter duplicate information. If the company changes its address, you only need to make the change in one place (not in each client record). Although InterAction is designed for corporate data sharing using a SQL back end, you can access information from your own personal database, too. You can even keep public and private notes about any client, a key feature in situations where confidentiality is a priority.
InterAction has some flaws when it comes to importing existing data. Its visual interface is weak, and mapping is rather slow (one record every 2 seconds in our tests). Oddly, there is no import filter for dBASE files, which is almost a standard format among databases. The most serious problem, however, arose when the import function didn't automatically create the company records for the customer records imported. We had to import a second time, omitting any mapping of the last name, in order to get our company records into the database. This procedure wasn't obvious and took considerable digging through the Help file to uncover. Even after adding company records, we had to associate the contacts with companies-a tedious process that should be automatic. Without this capability, importing large databases is too time consuming and should cause any group with existing contact files to think twice about making a switch to InterAction.
On the plus side, the Mapper lets you create custom fields on the fly, insert default text, and add text before and after an imported value. For example, we were in the middle of mapping fields when we realized we needed a custom e-mail field; we simply added it to the field-mapping definition, then imported CompuServe addresses while specifying the source field and forcing the custom field's description as "CIS."
Overall, InterAction is incredibly flexible. You can add fields to the database-not only text fields, but date, drop-down menu, list box, numeric, option button and Boolean fields. Additionally, you can create a record of activities, such as phone calls, e-mails and faxes (and make the data available globally); filter the display to view your activities by user name or date; and create your own links to other programs.
Although InterAction's user interface is well designed and uncluttered, there are some minor issues its developers should address. Toolbar modifications aren't drag-and-drop simple, and the report writer hides under the Print command, which doesn't follow Windows convention.
For both large enterprises and small companies, InterAction has many unique and powerful features. When Interface Software fixes the import utility so that associations occur automatically, we won't hesitate to recommend this program whole-heartedly.