A close look at four project management applications reveals they offer an abundance of features and capabilities.
There's a quiet revolution going on in project management software. The monolithic, one-size-fits-all package is out; focused, agile apps for clearly defined audiences are in. Its role as a planning tool to manage projects makes it a harbinger of what's to come: The demand for ubiquitous service delivery requires information to become increasingly encapsulated and portable. Project management software is delivering on that promise now.
To be effective, project management software doesn't need to reside on every computer in the company. Unless you're a small shop, the cost of placing it on every desktop can be prohibitive. Project management software does, however, need to communicate with everyone in the company who's responsible for implementing and reviewing projects. To work effectively, it must, at a minimum, enable communication about a project's progress, goals, and costs, and availability of personnel. Today's software does this, and more.
We set out to review project management software and decided to do a roundup-style review. We asked nine vendors that are driving the project management revolution to send software to our Rincon, Ga., partner lab. AEC Software's FastTrack, Arena Solutions, AtTask, and Primavera Systems agreed, while Genius Inside, IBM (Lotus Notes and Rational Project Management), Intellisys, and Microsoft didn't respond to our invitation. Genesys Conferencing's offering of online meeting software, while interesting, wasn't appropriate for this review.
The latest round of project management software is able to consolidate multiple projects, do comprehensive calendaring with schedule conflict analysis, support multiple work calendar formats, manage product life cycles, and integrate it all into the existing software base. The Web footprint of these products also has expanded, moving from traditional boxed versions to Web hosted, or at least Web enabled. Several offer Web hosting as an option, and one is strictly hosted.
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Product: AtTask 3.5
Price: Web-hosted at $30 per month per user; installed from $350 per user
AtTask 3.5 is the first platform-independent product we've seen.
Project managers deal daily with input and requests for project information from executives, accountants, and line managers, sometimes on one project but more often on 15 to 20. That's a lot of information that needs to be communicated in several ways. Line managers want to know what they're doing today, accountants want to know how much expenditures on a project are and what products are shipping; executives want big-picture project summaries and to know if the project is on track, on budget, and the reason for any holdups. Project management software needs to provide concise answers to all these questions.
Pricing for project management technology varies considerably and depends on the problem you're trying to solve. Conventional wisdom is that it can't get any better than free. However, it's been our experience that very few things in life are truly free. Typically, open source software costs time as your IT staff learns and implements the technology with little or no vendor support, because vendor support definitely is not free.
Arena Solutions challenges that concept with its free five-user license for workgroups, good for one year with tech support. Web-delivered with no infrastructure other than the setup for Internet access makes Arena's Product Life-Cycle Management a remarkably good deal for manufacturing communities, given PLM's focus on managing a product and its components. Median pricing for the products we looked at is about $500 a seat. Top-end pricing for turnkey systems with complete integration can go into the $400,000 price range.
We found a fairly wide range of capabilities in the products we looked at. Our evaluation scenario was based on a company changing Internet service providers, tracking time lines provided by two vendors, and tasking for internal staff and help-desk support. We gave each of the software products the vendor-recommended hardware and expected the software to exchange information.
Changing ISPs can be exciting, especially when the process involves bringing a co-location site live at the same time. Lots of things have to happen before the shift: equipment in, configured, and located in the right place; vendors coordinated (telecom lines in, tested, and ready for use); personnel in the right place at the right time (local and remote site personnel, communication channels established prior to the shift, and notifications sent regarding services affected); and help desk personnel trained (what we are doing, what can go wrong, what will be affected, workaround procedures, and points of contact). After the shift, there's always IT work (making sure that databases replicate, Web services work, routing functions correctly, failover testing). It's a fairly complex scenario.
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