Enterprise Software

ActiveProject makes the team

Managing a large, enterprise-wide project and keeping it on track takes enormous effort. Phone calls need to be made and conversations logged; meetings need to be scheduled and decisions communicated; and documents need to be created and edited.

When team members work from different locations it is even more difficult to collaborate, especially when you are working on architectural drawings or product specifications that require approval from several co-workers.

Project-based organizations, such as engineering companies or product development organizations, can benefit from managing projects and sharing information with a collaborative Web site. ActiveProject 5.0 by Framework Technologies lets project managers create a Web site that enables team members spanning several locations to share ideas and stay abreast of current changes and important information, cutting down on the time wasted by traveling or waiting for documents to arrive by mail or messenger.

I was thoroughly impressed with the beta version I evaluated. The solution was easy to install on both the server and the client and required no special technical expertise to use. What’s more, users can post large documents, such as CAD drawings, on-line and mark them up with a pen. This latest version brings added features, including Web conferencing, project news reporting, multi-document handling, searching, server-side messaging, and the capability to send a request for information (RFI) to other team members.

ActiveProject consists of two easy-to-use modules: ActiveProject Server and ActiveProject Builder. ActiveProject Server, which runs on Microsoft Internet Information Server 4.0, enables users to host and share projects. The browser-based server administration tool makes it easy to set up users and groups.

ActiveProject Builder enables project managers to easily create a project framework. Using this tool, a project manager can create an impressive Web site very quickly without HTML or other programming skills. ActiveProject Builder provides several ways to lessen the learning curve, including an on-line tutorial and a wizard-based project builder with industry-specific templates.

The Project Builder interface is basically WYSIWYG; what you create looks like what you will see through a browser. There are tabs for each section of your project. A project is organized into categories, such as site information, schedules and RFI log. Each category has multiple elements or items of information that can be shared among team members, such as floor plans, photos and documents. To add files to the different elements, I simply dragged the corresponding files from my hard drive and dropped them in place. Once I completed my project, I published it from a menu selection to my Web site. The generation process created all the necessary code.

When you create a project Web site, a data repository of all project-related documents, correspondence and images becomes available for all team members to access via a Web browser. ActiveProject integrates with Microsoft’s NetMeeting for hosting on-line conferences as long as RealTime Review — an add-on from Frameworks — is installed. It is also possible for team members to send e-mail to one another directly from the site or add comments to all areas of the project.

New to this version is a Project News category, which allows users with proper access to add news and information in a newspaper-like format. It is a great way to bring attention to new issues about the project. Team members can subscribe to areas to be informed by e-mail when information has been added or changed.

As part of my testing, I participated in an active Web site that Framework Technologies created for beta testers and was impressed with how easy it was for anyone at any level to participate. When examining CAD drawings for a large office building, I was able to drill down to the specific floor. I made comments on the drawing and notified the appropriate team members of the changes, which was a much quicker way to collaborate than the mail.

Another key advantage to using ActiveProject is the price. With a one-time purchase price of US$16,495 for 15 collaborator licences, project managers can create an unlimited number of customized projects without incurring additional costs. In contrast, a service bureau usually charges about US$100 per user to set up each project, plus a US$100 subscriber fee per user each month. In this scenario the costs can quickly escalate, especially when you manage large teams.

ActiveProject is well worth a look for managing large-scale projects that involve many people collaborating on ideas, meaty files, a range of details, and tight deadlines. It will help you keep all your team members informed and avoid lengthy delays that can occur from miscommunication, duplicated work or lost documents.

— IDG News Service