Recession is perfect time for project management apps

These are brutal economic times. But for CIOs feeling the pressure from all sides to do more with less, this could be the perfect opportunity to make the pitch for one more purchase: an enterprise project management (EPM) tool.

EPM software products typically help organizations collect and make sense of data to facilitate governance and assessment of the status of projects in the enterprise. These products can also assist a company’s project management office (PMO) not only to plan and track existing sets of projects but also create a portfolio of existing and future projects categorized by such criteria as budget size, schedule, or business line.

But despite the growing number of EPM solutions in the market, many Canadian firms employ such tools, according to a Toronto-based IT industry analyst.

Virtualization technology is driving infrastructure spend, while interest in project management if fuelling investment in business decision making software but apparently not enough, said Warren Shiau, senior associate and lead analyst at IT research firm The Strategic Counsel in Toronto.

As many as a third – or 33 per cent – of large Canadian firms admitted they do not have the capability to quickly assess or re-adjust their project portfolios, according to a recent survey conducted by the research firm.

“Only 12 to 15 per cent of large Canadian firms believe that they are getting excellent value from IT, according to our recent survey,” Shiau added.

These companies, Shiau said, tend to be business that use IT risk analytics tools to determine “what’s going on in their operations.”

In responding to the economic crunch, many businesses are investing heavily on solutions geared at improving operation discipline, according to Glenn O’Donnell, senior analyst at Forrester Research.

“Operations are a huge chunk of the IT budget – roughly 75 per cent, give or take. However, my informal research suggests that that 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the energy we expend on operations is wasted through various inefficient process and poor decisions,” he said.

On the bright side though, the inefficiency presents an opportunity to demonstrate value, he said in a recent article for Network World US. “Here’s the true impetus behind efforts such as ITIL, automation and management tool improvements,” O’Donnell said.

“If you can prove a $1 million investment can eliminate $3 million of waste in your operation, your CFO is bound to approve it. But the operative word is ‘prove,'” he explained.

One Canadian EPM solutions provider said business is booming because project management applications are able to help IT executives rationalize expenditures and “defend the spend” before business decision makers.

“We see a lot of growth in the market. Our business has tripled in the last year,” said Paul Estabrook, vice-president for sales at Agora Consulting Partners Inc, in Toronto

“CIOs are constantly being asked the tough questions around spend so they have an interest in performance management as well ask desktop applications and dashboard that can provide senior managers a holistic view of the operations,” he said.

Prior to deploying and EPM system, many organizations have project managers that are oblivious of their colleague’s activities. “It’s typical for one group of project managers to be unaware of the projects being taken by others and this causes a lot of waste and duplication,” Estabrook said.

This was the situation at Dundee Wealth before the Toronto-based investment firm embarked on its EPM initiative.

Information was scattered around and project management wasn’t standardized, said Van Le, Director, project office, Dundee Wealth.

He said the situation would have been manageable if the company was only involved in two or three projects, but was chaotic for an organization juggling 30 projects. The set-up was less than ideal, especially with the increasing compliance demands and scrutiny within the financial services, he said.

Another issue was the need to extract data about projects in order to track progress, control costs, and manage risks.

Two years ago, Dundee Wealth Funds, adopted an EPM system. The system was up and running within three weeks, but users quickly outgrew it, said Le.

The company has issues with integrating the system with MS Project, Microsoft’s offering for assisting project managers develop plans, assign resources to tasks and track progress and budgets.

“Synchronizing plans became very difficult because dates were being dropped by the system and that wasn’t a good thing,” Le said. Dundee Wealth, eventually sought the help of Agora to develop a Microsoft-based EPM.

Le said the change will enable his company to save thousands of labour hours a year.

For example without an EPM system, he said, a project manager might spend an hour each week discussing project particulars with other project managers working on similar or associated assignments.

But with the new EPM system, project managers can use a Web browser to drill down, in a matter of minutes, to the most granular level of each project and tasks being undertaken by various staff members.

Staff can view assigned tasks and changes to these, or input project updates via a Web browser.

“This simple feature can save an hour a week. With a staff of more than 200 hundred that can amount to more than 10,000 hours a year,” said Le.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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