Juggling workflow

Professional service organizations, companies that sell staff services instead of goods, normally have little use for traditional ERP solutions because their production cycles focus on managing human activities rather than material or assembly lines.

An internal IT department is much like a PSO within a company. Both replace customers with users, invoices with cost charge-backs, and customer service with help desks. Their objectives are pretty much the same: to coordinate projects and resources to offer the best service to their customers or users. Therefore, it’s no surprise that many PSA (professional service automation) vendors offer the same solution to both service companies and large IT organizations.

Tenrox, one such vendor, recently released Projeca 7, the latest version of its modular PSA suite that offers a wide range of functionality that includes managing projects, time sheets, personal expenses, purchase orders, and invoices. It can also be integrated with widely used applications such as Accpac, ADP Payroll, Great Plains, SAP, even Microsoft Project.

In addition to the numerous features, powerful management tools, and browser-contained client of previous releases, Projeca 7 can handle multiple currencies and all major databases. Plus it adds an interesting business-intelligence module based on objects dynamically downloaded over the Internet when needed.

We reviewed a Tenrox-hosted version of Projeca and found that the solution leaves little to be desired for a service organization and is equipped to meet the most demanding requirements of project control and integration with other software. Overall, we gave the offering a Deploy rating.

Complexity simplified

Although it may seem contradictory, the two aspects of Projeca we appreciated most were its simplicity and its complexity. Full access to the numerous functions of the solution fills one’s browser with possibly hundreds of menu entries (we couldn’t count them all).

The entries are logically grouped by major areas, but navigating that labyrinth of choices might be overwhelming, even for the most skilled users. A well-trained administrator can use the extremely flexible setup tools to subdue that complexity and present users with simplified, customized screens that contain exactly what they need for their work. But setting up will take some effort.

Fortunately, Projeca’s administrative tools are reasonably easy to use, although they reflect the complexity of the design. For instance, in addition to typical settings such as descriptions of departments and locations, Projeca can classify staff members according to their skills and what team they belong to.

Desperately seeking DBA

Projeca’s accurate census becomes very important when starting a new project, because it enables the quick selection of staff members according to their technical expertise , their familiarity with certain activities, and current workload. Using this functionality, a manager might discover that the best person available to correct a database problem in San Francisco might be a local database administrator who works for the support team.

For a small organization, this search functionality may be overkill, but for an organization with hundreds of people, quickly finding the people who can get the job done means wrapping up activities and projects faster, hence making the service more productive.

From the user perspective, a browser is all one needs to host the Projeca client.

After logging in, the user immediately sees a summary of activities that need attention. The content varies according to each user’s settings, but it’s quite plausible that every user will have a time sheet to fill, personal expenses to report, and to-do items in that summary.

Users can submit the time spent on each activity on their daily time sheet or bring up an expense report form. One helpful feature allows users to keep the unobtrusive browser window open on their time sheet and use the onscreen stopwatch to measure how much time passes as they work on an activity. That approach is much easier and more efficient than trying to remember all that at the end of a busy day.

What can managers expect from Projeca? Approving or rejecting documents, creating or monitoring projects, and assigning activities to co-workers are a few examples, all of which tie in to another interesting feature: workflows.

Go with the workflow

Workflows in Projeca define the approval process for online documents. Each document is assigned a status, such as New, Approved, Rejected, or Closed, which a user can input or change based on his or her rights.

For instance, Joe in the purchasing department can prepare a new PO (project order), selecting items from catalogs of approved suppliers or, for internal orders, from a list of inventory. Projeca will automatically calculate the cost of each item separately, as well as the whole order, taking into account discounts, local state tax, and shipping cost.

However, Joe’s rights restrict him to assigning to his order the status of New. His supervisor Jane will find that PO in her summary window for approval. If she were to reject the PO, the order would not move on to the company’s integrated financial system. (We did not have this integration in place on our system.) The online document would reappear in the summary screen as Rejected. Projeca has dozens of other workflows ready to use, and administrators can add more, thereby giving companies an effective, consistent way to maintain control of various workflows within an organization.

Testing Projeca 7 proved time-intensive, but our overall impressions were favorable.

We do, however, have a few complaints about the solution. Response time was not always snappy, and scrolling some long lists made essential buttons disappear from the screen. But its complexity reflects the multifaceted, sometimes chaotic working environment of IT departments and service companies.

Projeca can bring order to chaos and boost organizational efficiency and response time.

The bottom line – deploy.

Tenrox Projeca 7

Business Case: PSOs and companies with large IT staff can improve efficiency and reduce costs with Projeca’s extensive project-and resource-control features.

Technology Case: As a hosted solution, Projeca has minimal hardware and software requirements and is compatible with most browsers. The licensed version may require a more complex installation, but it can be smoothed by built-in integration with popular packages.