An Interview with Ruth Ann Ellerbrock, Plumbline Solutions

 

For those of you that are not familiar with Plumbline Solutions, this professional services organization was spawned from many former Solomon Software employees. They offer application programming and support services to Dynamics SL consulting organizations, and perform a lot of the actual coding for Microsoft once Microsoft determines which feature sets they want to add to future versions of Dynamics SL. We have used them for overflow client support and Plumbline has always done a nice job.

I’ve known Ruth Ann for a very long time (25+ years) and can attest to her abilities as a technical person as she helped many of our clients out of tough situations-especially in the payroll area. Ruth Ann now runs one of the largest Microsoft Gold organizations nationally as COO and is someone whose opinion I value.

In this interview, Ruth Ann Ellerbrock, COO of Plumbline Solutions, will discuss some of the recent changes across the Microsoft ERP product lines-especially as those changes relate to Dynamics SL.

Jack Boyer: Dynamics SL 2011 appears to be quite clean in terms of software errors compared to prior releases. Did you do more testing or have you had just as many issues in this release as you have had in others?

Ruth Ann Ellerbrock: Dynamics SL 2011 is the best release I’ve been associated with as long as I’ve been involved in the product. It’s great to see the release being adopted at a nice rate. It speaks to the confidence the SL community has in the development team. There have only been a few problems surfacing that historically may have caused concern about the release and we’re doing our best to respond to those quickly. The release is loaded with new functionality for every customer. I believe its success is due to several things. One, we continue to enforce best practices in development and support – always a good thing when you’re in the software business. Two, we have great partners, customers and ISVs actively participating in the design and testing of the product. Finally, we have a dedicated development and support staff working closely together to capture feedback and turn it into value add features.

Jack Boyer: What is your favorite improvement or set of improvements to Dynamics SL 2011?

Ruth Ann Ellerbrock: My favorite feature is the ability to reverse General Ledger Journal batches. Every single customer can benefit from this change. I mean how often do we find ourselves making a simple keying error when entering data and we need a quick way to just fix it? It’s happened to all of us at some point or another. This feature gives the customer three choices when they need to fix a batch:

“Reversing” batch – This option allows the original batch to be reversed (meaning it will offset the original batch making the transactions null and void) by creating a reversing batch. This batch is identical to the original batch except the debits and credits have been reversed to back out the original transaction amounts. The only fields that may be edited are the Batch Handling and Period-to-Post so you can make it right for the correct accounting period.

“Reversing and Correcting” batch – This option creates a reversing batch for the original batch. This batch is identical to the original batch except the debits and credits have been reversed to back out the original transaction amounts. The only fields that may be edited are the Handling and Period-to-Post. A second, new batch will be created identical to the original batch and any field in the new batch may be edited.

“Copy” a batch – This option creates a new batch identical to the original batch and allows all fields in the batch and transactions to be edited. This makes it easy to create multiple batches that are similar in content.

Jack Boyer: How much “say” does Plumbline have in product improvements for Dynamics SL? How are improvements to Dynamics SL selected and voted on?

Ruth Ann Ellerbrock: Microsoft has been extremely supportive of our relationship and continues to include us in all discussions to improve the product. They have a deep respect for our heritage. Likewise, they own the final decisions and we respect that as they always include us in everything. Together we take input from suggestions to the Community database, technical support incidents, calls and emails to Microsoft and Plumbline Solutions management, Convergence feedback, SL User Group feedback, and monitoring industry changes. We gather all of the information into a database and then scrub it in a number of different ways. We look for features that are requested frequently, those that promote growth for the product and those that reduce pain points just to mention a few ways we view the results. Then we go through iterations of analysis and weighting to come up with a potential list of candidates for the next release. Finally, we invite the Advisory Board to review the data and help prioritize the order we tackle the requests. It is an on-going process. Items that don’t make it into a release are then considered for the next release cycle.

Jack Boyer: How has it worked for your group to support Sandler Kahne’s eBanking products? Has this been good work or mostly high stress (or both) work similar to implementing and supporting payroll?

Ruth Ann Ellerbrock: Providing support is all about helping people. It’s a great feeling to be able to answer someone’s question knowing you’ve solved a problem and hopefully saved them time. The most stressful part of providing support is those few questions where you know something is going on and you can’t figure out how to replicate it. That can be frustrating. When you finally figure it out, it is the most rewarding feeling though. Supporting the SK eBanking modules has been relatively easy work since it’s clean code and written in the Dynamics SL toolset.

Jack Boyer: Any future features you are excited about delivering in Dynamics SL with the next version or version after that?

Ruth Ann Ellerbrock: It’s early in the release cycle and we’re looking at many requests. We just released SL2011 SP1 which introduces the Project Connector functionality and we’re actively working on a Dynamics SL-CRM integration solution along with several new web services. The web services we’re focusing on include Sales Order, Project Time Entry and Project Expense Entry. That’s just the beginning. You can expect the next release to be loaded with valuable new features.

Jack Boyer: Why do you think people such as yourself, that have had to do client support work, seem to be able to add more value to software companies?

Ruth Ann Ellerbrock: You’re too kind. It takes a lot of people to make software that sustains the test of time. There were many before me who laid a great product foundation, created an incredible customization story and built strong business functionality – especially within the Project applications. Then you factor in the strong SL community and the partner channel. What a combination of synergy and years of experience communicating with each other. It’s all of these people working together and holding each other to a high standard that keep this product strong and competitive in the market. The community has been instrumental at building demand and Microsoft has been instrumental at supplying the product. I have been fortunate to have been given many opportunities to work in different roles over the years and it has helped me better appreciate everyone’s perspective. There is a huge difference between ‘thinking we know what the customer wants’ and ‘actually knowing what the customer wants’. The key has been building lasting relationships; relationships where you can have a heart to heart discussion and when the talking is done know that collectively we have a better go forward solution then we did as individuals beforehand. These haven’t always been easy conversations and yet, I can’t think of one that I regret being a part of.

Jack Boyer: Plumbline has picked up support for Dynamics AX. Has that been a good thing for your group so far? How are Dynamics SL and Dynamics AX similar? How are they different?

Ruth Ann Ellerbrock: Our commitment to Dynamics SL remains as strong, if not stronger than before and expanding our reach into Dynamics AX has been great for us and for the Dynamics community as a whole in my opinion. We’ve been able to take our knowledge of the market, software development and customer satisfaction to a new level in a way that strengthens the Dynamics community. With our partnership with Sandler*Kahne on the eBanking suite, we’ve been able to bring functionality to the AX market where there has been a gap. That has allowed Microsoft to continue to focus on core functionality, partners to onboard with Dynamics AX and customers to implement solutions that allow them to focus on making their businesses profitable. There are a lot of similarities in what customers look for, their business needs, their pain points, and they’re all looking at investing in Dynamics to help them run successful businesses into the future. Dynamics AX customers tend to have more complex business needs and often process a higher volume of transactions. Plus, Dynamics AX implementations tend to be larger and often request more development and integration services.