Sharing information and keeping track of a project’s status amongst colleagues within one building is tough enough — but it gets even more complicated when a company has remote offices.
That was the situation Enbridge Pipelines (Saskatchewan) Inc. was facing last year, according to Dwayne Davidson, the firm’s supervisor of engineering services. The Estevan, Sask.-based company, wholly owned by the Enbridge Income Fund (a trust managed by Calgary-based energy transporter and distributor Enbridge Inc.), owns and operates the Enbridge Saskatchewan System, a crude oil and liquids gathering system, as well as three other pipeline systems. It was the engineering team working on projects for the Saskatchewan system that was experiencing the effects of the inefficient collaboration methods they were using at the time, Davidson said.
“Like any company, we have a lot of people working together, trying to share information,” he explained. “We share project status, construction schedules and status, and budget information amongst a number of people” at four field offices, all of them about 40 to 80 km apart.
The company is standardized on Lotus Notes and has an internal Lotus development team that created a custom database to help organize engineers’ tasks. “But as far as a general communication tool to tell us peoples’ statuses, we had various Excel spreadsheets and Word documents that people would fill out and circulate,” Davidson said.
That method didn’t quite cut it, he added. “We had no way to track whether people had completed their paper work, and no way of keeping track of different elements of the projects.” It meant that a lot of project stakeholders weren’t able to get up-to-date information on budgets and how all the work was progressing. “A regular Word document really doesn’t have the tools in there for auditing and creating an authorization trail without putting another software package in,” he said.
In November 2003 Davidson’s team started talks with Tuscon, Ariz.-based Automation Centre, which makes project collaboration software called Tracker Suite for Lotus Notes/Domino users, as well as a version for Microsoft Outlook/Exchange, TrackerOffice. The engineers reviewed four other products but they determined that “because it was for the Lotus platform, (Tracker Suite) was the best selection” for them, and chose to implement Project Tracker, the project management application within the suite.
The solution includes tools for organizational and individual planning, scheduling, online documentation, process control, team management and access to current status reports, among other things. “What you end up with is this effect that I like to call the ‘magic spotlight,’” said Automation Centre’s CEO Steven Birchfield. “(The software) helps shine the light on an area where you are doing well, or shows you that this area needs some work.”
Enbridge completed all the necessary software agreements by the end of 2003, and, in synchronization with the new budget year, completed the rollout by about mid-January 2004. It took some customization to make Tracker Suite do what Enbridge needed, Davidson noted.