One of the new key features of Act! v16 was the addition of a calculation module. I have been asked many times if these new calculation features in Act! could replace our Automatic Field Calculations add-on. My answer is “No” and here is why:
- Automatic Field Calculations works with all types of field. In Act! v.16+, you can only create calculations using numeric and date fields. When I say numeric, I really mean numeric, not even decimal or currency fields. With Automatic Field Calculations, you can use any type of field. Probably the most common use of Automatic Field Calculations is to write text to a target field. You can’t do that using Act! v.16+ calculated fields.
- Automatic Field Calculations supports more than 60 different functions. In Act! v.16+, the functions you have access to are limited to 4 by type of fields: sum, difference, product and quotient for numeric fields, days and years since/until today for date fields. If we simply look at the date functions, you can’t add a number of days to a date, you can’t calculate the difference between 2 dates, etc. Automatic Field Calculations supports more than 60 different functions, most of them are functions you are familiar with because they are similar to the ones available in Excel. You can download the Automatic Field Calculations Function Reference Guide to see all the available functions.
- Calculations created with Automatic Field Calculations can be triggered when you change a field value. In Act! v.16+, for the calculation to occur, you have to save the record. It does not react to the user changing a field value. This means that if you have mandatory fields in your layout, they need to be all filled in before you can run a calculation. With Automatic Field Calculations, you can trigger a calculation with a field change. This is intuitive and you witness the result immediately without losing any time (You can even flash the target field in red). If the result is not as expected, you simply enter another value in the field that triggers the calculation and you don’t need to save the record every time.
- Automatic Field Calculations allows you to run a calculation either for one record or for a lookup of records. There are instances when you don’t want to update all the records but one record at a time. Here is one: How to copy a set of address fields to another set of address fields in Sage ACT!. With Act v.16+ calculations, you have no control: calculations are automatically applied to all the records of the database.
- Using Automatic Field Calculations, you can build scenarios using If Statements. In a lot of cases, your calculations will vary depending on the values of the involved fields. Maybe you want to calculate a commission but the commission rate varies depending on the amount of the sale. You can do this with Automatic Field Calculations, not with Act! v. 16 calculation features.
- With Automatic Field Calculations, you can create calculation series and use calculated fields in a calculation. With Act v.16+, you can’t create series nor can you include a calculated field in a calculation. So if you have multiple calculations to run and these calculations are dependent on one another, it will be very complicated to create them. Automatic Field Calculations makes it very simple. You create your calculations, then you group them in a calculation series (choosing the order in which the calculations should run) then you choose a trigger method for your series (field change or button).
- Automatic Field Calculations allows you to edit calculations. You can’t edit a calculated field in Act! v.16+. If you created a calculated field and want to edit it, you’re going to have to delete the field, recreate it and enter your new calculation. With Automatic Field Calculations…. No, I won’t tell you how easy it is :-).
No doubt that the introduction of calculated fields in Act! v.16 is a nice feature and that it will satisfy some very basic needs. But if you are in need of serious calculations, you’re still going to want to use Automatic Field Calculations.