Exact: 35 years of technological progress

35 years

Over the last three decades, we have seen astonishing technological changes. In 1984, only 8% of households had a personal computer, the World Wide Web was five years away and mobile phones were huge things, the size of shoeboxes. And yet, people born in that year are only 35 years old today.

World-changing inventions such as the Internet and the iPhone have led to dozens of major technological breakthroughs in the last three decades. Many of these inventions have completely changed the way we approach the world and the people around us. In all these years, Exact has also made huge strides and has always been concerned with technology that unburdens entrepreneurs through automation.

The beginning: 23 July 1984 - Epsilon Automation

At the beginning of the summer of 1984, six students were working freelance at Grote Beer Software. When it became clear that Grote Beer was about to end all freelance contracts, these students came up with a plan to start their own company: Epsilon Automatisering. At that time, the Dutch software market was already flooded with around 600 different accounting packages, with Grote Beer, Unit4, Windgassen and Midas as the main players. So, it made no sense to even start with a new package. That is why the six of them looked to the future: IBM PCs. Based on this platform, they wanted to create vertical applications that could be linked to Grote Beer software. It was the start of something beautiful.

Unexpected starting capital

Nevertheless, in this first year, the gentlemen had to go back to the drawing board. The name Epsilon was already in use by another company, an error by the notary. This is how the name Exact Software came into being. In hindsight, it was a lucky accident. Because of this error, the new company, Exact Software, received damages of thirty thousand Dutch guilders, an unexpected starting capital, which certainly came in handy.

The first 10 years: 1985 - 1995

In these first years, programming was done in DOS and a lot of steps were taken: from version 1.50 to 2.15 to 3.10, which is seen by many as the most unstable version ever, to v. 3.2, 4.0, 5.0 and finally 6.1. But programming in DOS posed some challenges. Our DOS runtime did not leave enough memory to start a real debugger and 'memory leaks' were everywhere and extremely difficult to solve. New programmers were trained in 'C' which enabled them to write applications in this programming language, which was the basis of version 5.0.

Business software

Support in other times

Support also looked a bit different in those days and consisted mainly of questions about how to install the update. Some 7,500 5 1/4 inch floppies were used for 1,200 customers. We patiently explained how to insert the first 5 1/4 floppy, type A:\UPDATE, then ENTER (not to be confused with typing the letters e, n, t, e, r) and then insert the next floppy once the first one was finished. Support registration was done in Exact for DOS itself via the ‘Support boat’, and bugs were registered via the menu path ‘FoFo’.

In the years that followed, more solutions were added, such as E-Relatie, E-Pas and Globe for DOS 2.0. All these software updates were still packed by hand and sent to thousands of customers.

The world changes rapidly (1995 - 2005)

At a time of important new technological opportunities, Exact continued to innovate. For example, the company launched completely new products around 1995: Exact for Windows, including new database technology such as Btrieve and later SQL. Exact Client/Server was also introduced, the forerunner to what later became Exact for Finance. At the same time, the internet became more and more important and offered more and more opportunities to companies. This resulted at the end of the nineties in the launch of what was then called B@co, the predecessor to Exact e-Synergy and later Synergy.

The new possibilities of technology also resulted in Exact Globe 2000, a new version with a real graphical user interface (GUI). This solution was combined with e-Synergy on one database, which meant the start of integrated ERP and e-Business.

The emergence of cloud, connectivity, mobility and user experience (2005 - 2020)

By 2005, technology had already made great strides, and so had Exact. Its programmers worked on the fifth floor of a building in the Poortweg in Delft, but that is certainly not the only location where programming took place. Around the world, programmers were working on Exact from Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Bogota (Colombia) and Brussels (Belgium) to various cities in America, Canada, Germany, Austria and Spain. At the same time, global technology trends such as social, mobile, analytical, cloud, connectivity and user experience started to emerge. These developments still have a major impact on how people and businesses work together.

Business software

Launch of Exact Online

Thanks to the rapid emergence of broadband internet and additional new opportunities, Exact Online was launched at the end of 2005, an enormous step for Exact, both commercially and technologically. This first internet-based, multi-tenant accounting solution gave customers all over the world access to its functionality and their data. It was truly an internet-based service (SaaS), designed specifically for the lower end of the SME population. This solution was greatly expanded in later years to incorporate new possibilities offered by technology, such as collaboration with the accountant in a single platform. But the Cloud also became increasingly important for our traditional products, resulting in introductions such as 'Hosted@Exact' and later Private Cloud.

The realisation that SaaS is the future for ERP software companies has driven us from 2010 onwards to continue to develop. The expectation at the time was that the market would gradually switch to cloud computing. This can also be seen in the explosive growth of Exact Online from 2005 to the present day.

New technologies

With the rise of the cloud, other new technologies also came into play, such as security, infrastructural management and mobile. Managing the infrastructure and managing a hosting environment with maximum availability also brought very different developers into Exact. Design has also become increasingly important in the last ten years. We see that customers are getting used to all kinds of applications with a more consumer-focused look and feel.

Development partners

Over the years, Exact has always worked with partners to develop the software. Exact has also always benefited greatly from innovation partners that enrich Exact's technology, via the software development kit (SDK), its own customisation and links with external solutions and, more recently, APIs and web services. As a result, the partner channel has been able to develop all kinds of add-ons and customised solutions for Exact. This offers customers new opportunities to expand the use of Exact and get even more out of their investments. Since 2012, these solutions have also been actively shown through the Exact App Center.

Data, artificial intelligence, machine learning... What comes next

At the moment, technology is everywhere. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. In fact, technology is changing so fast that most of us don't even recognise the changes anymore. For Exact, too, it will only accelerate in the years to come. For example, we are launching Exact Globe+, an all-new architecture based on contemporary technology such as C#. Cloud will be available to everyone, everywhere. Companies will be driven by enormous data sources, and robotics will take more and more tasks off their hands. Environments will become increasingly complex and programming will always remain a challenge. New types of techniques and functions will emerge, such as AI and machine learning, and the rise of the data scientist.

But one thing will remain the same: Exact will always be busy coming up with and creating solutions for business software that makes the daily lives of SMEs easier. That software actually automates everything entrepreneurs don't want to spend time on and gives them the insights they need to move forward.

Jarno van Hurne
Product Line Director

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