Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from leadership advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected]
Question A: What should we consider when selecting a report-bundling and -distribution system?
Our advice: For many organizations, a long time has elapsed since they last sought a solution to packaging and distributing reports. Historically, a third-party package or custom programs were implemented to distribute reports generated from homegrown applications or from reporting packages such as Crystal Reports. As companies upgrade their IT infrastructure, a decision must be made as to how to best deal with packaging and distribution of reports.
What To Look For
Seamless integration with report-generating applications
Self-service, dynamic interface for report consumers
Comprehensive management of reports
Audit trails and non-tampering mechanisms
Scheduled report publication, distribution, and notification
Deliver appropriate format types based on the report viewer: Excel, PDF, Word, text, HTML, XML, etc.
Distribution via the mechanisms required: printer, E-mail, file servers, File Transfer Protocol, Web
Compliance with security policies
Performance with regard to resource usage
Support for integration with other IT systems via service-oriented architecture
Vendor stability: Financial, focus, vision, support and product execution (speed of response and updates)
Fit with IT infrastructure standards
Fit with corporate information-retention and privacy policies and procedures
Support for legal and regulatory compliance, including industry-specific requirements
Report distribution can be made part of a larger information-management solution. Over the past several years, companies have implemented new business-intelligence, content-management, and document-management systems. These systems must be taken into account when considering a new report-packaging and -distribution solution. Several options typically exist to replace a packaging and distribution system:
Leverage existing information management and distribution systems.
If existing infrastructure will not suit your needs, consider a reporting package that includes packaging and distribution capabilities, such as Crystal Reports Server XI.
Several third-party report packaging and distribution solutions are available, but the effort of introducing another package and integrating it with existing infrastructure is likely to outweigh the benefits.
Building your own report-packaging and -distribution system makes sense only in rare situations.
Be careful to not lock your report users into the old paradigm of viewing static reports to make critical business decisions. Workers can make better decisions if traditional static reports are complemented with interactive business-intelligence systems. Modern ERP, business-intelligence, and reporting systems provide tools to interactively look at data, do what-if analyses, and encourage brainstorming.
Too often, valuable IT resources are expended to produce traditional static reports from modern reporting tools. These misguided efforts result in higher IT costs to generate "familiar" reports, leading to antiquated, potentially devastating decision-making.
Question B: What requirements should we consider when selecting a project-management solution?
Our advice: Any evaluation of project-management solutions needs to consider the following:
Was the product designed for our business needs? Some products are clearly suitable for internal service operations such as IT project management; some for multipartner, multidisciplinary efforts such as large architecture, engineering, and construction projects; and some for the management of service groups such as professional service automation. To paraphrase the late Johnnie Cochran, "If the application don't fit, you must forget it".
What sort of integration is required? A common goal of many project-management software buyers is to eliminate redundant entry of time-and-expense data into the project management, accounting, and payroll systems. When these duplicative data-entry efforts exist, data accuracy and timeliness suffer. Some vendors offer pre-built integration with Microsoft Great Plains software, for example. If you need connections to SAP, you may need to look at different solutions.
Do you really want to host the software yourself? More and more firms have opted for externally hosted versions of new project-management solutions, and vendors have responded well. Additionally, a new ecosystem of hosting vendors has emerged that run major project-management solutions. However, if your project-management needs are global, make sure the vendor (or its reseller proxy) has the support, reach, etc. to serve all parts of your organization.
How do executives want to manage the company going forward? Smart project-management implementations today use an enterprise view of the company. Top executives want to see greater re-use of capital assets, smarter utilization of the most talented personnel, expedited billing and cash flow, etc. These executives have a viewpoint about the future management and executive dashboard reporting requirements of the new system. Sadly, prior implementations at many firms were undertaken one project at a time, with no view of optimizing corporate performance. Will your new systems be oriented to enterprise or project needs?
Will the software work with your office automation software products? Some project-management products work with Microsoft Office 95 and later versions. Others require Office 2003. Be sure to understand exactly what software is required to get the full functionality of the new system. Avoid future sticker shock should you learn that hundreds of users will need to upgrade desktop software.
How will remote workers enter project data? While high-speed Internet access is becoming more widely available, businesses must still consider that some project team members will need to enter and review data on machines that may be disconnected from the Internet for long periods of time. Some users may be accessing the Internet via low-quality dial-up lines at 28.8-Kbps or less, while others will have superlative access. Make sure the chosen product also supports local-client versions of the software, has ways to parse large project files or only selectively apply updates (for easier downloading), and has mechanisms to synchronize online and offline entered data.
Peter Sorrentino, TAC Expert, has more than 20 years experience in consulting and software development, with extensive experience in the high-technology and financial industries: trading, cash management, and risk management. His specialties include development of business-differentiating software systems and providing consulting to IT organizations with an emphasis on applications. Consulting expertise includes joint business and IT evaluation of software offerings, business-service platforms, application architecture, and development of best practices in support of real-time business opportunities.
Brian Sommer, TAC Expert, has more than 20 years of experience in the ERP, finance, HR, project management, and services segments of IT. He was the longest-running and most senior director of Accenture's Software Intelligence unit. Brian has assisted hundreds of high-tech buyers in making the best-possible decisions for their firms. He has guided senior executives of the world's largest technology vendors, such as Oracle and PeopleSoft, and is well-known to the press, the Fortune 500, and to universities such as Harvard and the Univeristy of Pennsylvania.