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Managing Beyond the Project with The BEN


March 6, 2003

As software gets easier and faster to use, projects seem to be remaining just as complex. In fact, it seems that more projects are needed sooner. A bigger change in the world of software development, however, has come from the fact that management within many organizations is smarter about computers, computer system, and projects. In larger organizations a project may be driven as much from the higher-level management as it is from the developers on the project. As such, there has become a need for tools that allow both, the ability for top-down planning and guidance as well as bottom-up planning and execution of the project deliverables.

In many larger organizations, it is no longer just the project manager who needs project information, nor is it just a matter of managing the timeline and programming resources on a project. More often, everyone else higher on the organizational structure such as CIOs, CTOs, and CEOs as well as managers through out an organization often need summaries of projects occurring within an organization. In larger organizations, this could be for hundreds of projects. Such information may include resources, costs, time lines, and more.

Because of the critical nature of many projects, there is also a desire to tie a project plans directly to core business operations within an organization. This includes tying the project to the business planning and budgeting activities of the company. Additionally, many projects now impact not only the internal company, but also external business partners. These business partners can also be impacted by a large-scale project, and thus are more interested in the working details.

Directly relating projects to the current business plan and budget along with adding the involvement of external business partners pushes beyond what traditional project planning tools can do. While products like Microsoft Project are excellent for managing projects and project resources, you begin to go beyond its focus when you start requiring ties from the project to non-project planned items within the company.

Tracking projects in real-time with exacting details to the true status can also be a strain on many project tools. More importantly, higher-leveled people want to have a direct impact on budgets and other resources in these projects. More likely, they may want to know the impact of changes. All of this is required in addition to the standard details needed by the projects teams and project managers. Such information and manipulation of projects and project plans requires a higher level of detail combined with the need for consolidated multi-project information begins to break the seams of standard project management tools such as Microsoft Project. Combine this with the desire for "on demand" information and you really begin to push the limits.

One solution aimed at addressing this higher demand in the project management arena is the BEN. The Business Engine Network (The BEN) is a Web-based software solution that is currently being positioned at the Global 2000 companies-companies that have the number of projects that require a heavy weight solution. This product has been positioned to allow projects, resources, budgets, people, and time to all be managed. More importantly, it has been build with the ability to customize interfaces for nearly anyone within an organization. This means that a CFO-level person can get access to the information and reports they need without being bogged down by the details that a developer or project manager would need. With the use of the Web, the solution can be configured so that employees, contractors, or even partners can be given access to the appropriate information regardless of where they are located.

The BEN provides a system for tracking nearly all information on all projects. More importantly, it provides the ability to create views into the planning and management of everything happening. Views can be created for everyone that is in need of access to the project information. This may be the executives, the project managers, the developers, or even partners outside the main organization. These views can contain planning, testing, budget and financial, or any other types of information. Additionally, these views can be tied into systems outside of the standard BEN.

In addition to the project management capabilities, the BEN also provides:

  • project portfolio management
  • Project financials including configurable budgeting rules
  • Budget support for initiatives, billable, and non-billable projects
  • Multi-budget approval abilities as well as features for project funding
  • Invoicing and billing options for working with third parties such as service providers.
  • Service relationship management
  • Customizable dashboard and CFO portal applications
  • Accessibility and collaboration
  • BI reporting an OLAP cubes
  • Audit logs and other security features
  • Ability to track and score performance
  • Integration with a number of ERP systems including Peoplesoft, SAP, and Oracle Financials.

Granted, with all these abilities and features, there is a cost. While users can access the system using Internet Explorer, it does not mean that the price is cheap. Pricing for the BEN starts at around $100,000 and can range as high as $2,000,000 or more. Most small companies will find that this is pricier than they can afford. Because of this, many of the current users of BEN are Global 2000 companies.

The BEN can be accessed using Internet Explorer. Additionally, the BEN was developed using a number of standards that allow it to be configurable as well as secure. It can support both Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle databases. Additionally, it uses SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) as well as XML for interfacing. By using these standards, it is much easier to build interacting systems with the BEN. The BEN is also .NET compliant

The Business Engine Network operates using the concepts of channels and homepages. Just like Internet terminology, a home page is generally the starting point for a person on the system. A home page can be customized for a group of people (roles) or for an individual. For example, a project team member will be interested in a completely different set of information than a CFO. As such, each can have custom home pages. Going beyond the Internet use of the term home page, the BEN provides a number of different home pages that can be used. This includes user home pages, initiative home pages, project home pages, organizational home pages, and financial management home pages. Each of these can be customized to individual users or roles with in the organization.

In addition to the home pages, there are channels within the BEN. These channels can be used. To organize information such as costs, issues, dates, links, and more. These channels are set up so that it is possible to dig into the information in order to obtain finer levels of detail. Each channel is general created with a specific functionality (such as tracking time) or to provide information to a specific role (such as systems project information for a project manager).

In conclusion

Business Engine Network is just one solution that is focusing on providing enterprise level solutions to address the complexities of projects within organizations today. By providing integration with existing technologies, plus by using a familiar interface such as Internet Explorer, the BEN has been positioned to be easy to adapt into an organization. While the price is a bit high for smaller companies, the level of functionality may be more than they need anyway. For larger companies the ability to integrate the project plans and the status of those projects into real-time systems is a critical necessity. The BEN is one solution that is trying to tie information together and to bring information to the decision makers, regardless of where they are in — or out of — an organization. Although development tools continue to get easier to use, the status of projects has become more critical within organizations. As such, the tools for managing the projects, and the organization, continue to rise to the challenge as well.

For more on The BEN, you can go to http://www.businessengine.com. For more on managing projects, you can check out Developer.com's project management section.

Screen Shots

The following are screen shots from the BEN. The screenshots and descriptions were provided from Business Engine Software Corporation.

My BEN - Executive dashboard or home page view customized for a CIO or other IT executive showing summary portfolio information. The colored symbols are triggered by pre-determined thresholds e.g. red 'stop' sign represents high risk requiring executive intervention; yellow warning signs for medium risk or that the project is temporarily off track; and a green 'go' symbol means the project is on track and on budget.

My BEN - A Project Manager home page view showing project status summary and project budget status as well as a company news channel.

Project Manager Dashboard showing a roll-up view of project status, risks and issues assigned to him/her, and Microsoft Project Gantt charts that support critical projects.

Portfolio Management - The following shows the portfolio management modeler designed to let executives or project managers do 'what if' scenario modeling and analysis. This view shows a portfolio of projects (top left) and the dates the projects are scheduled to start and end (top right). The bottom half of the screen shows the impact on resources (bottom left) and overall capacity of the firm to do them (bottom right). Users can adjust any portion to show the impact of delaying or canceling projects in the portfolio on capacity, dollars and value.

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