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How PPM software usage changes as firms grasp IT portfolio management

Nearly four in 10 large organizations use PPM software, but not all instances are created equal. New survey data shows what IT values most and how deployments mature.

Some 38% of IT shops at companies with more than 1,000 employees use PPM software, according to new research on project and portfolio management and IT governance. The top reasons why? Financial analysis and resource and project management, according to the survey of 276 large-enterprise IT executives.

Nearly half the survey respondents cited those two reasons as being very important in their decision to deploy the software, compared with a third or less for other criteria (see chart). Similarly, of 11 possible features, the most respondents (60%) cited project and resource management features as the most important in system selection, followed by financial management (41%) and portfolio management (30%).

Yet interviews with IT executives show that while organizations may start with basic PPM software functions, those that want to really get a handle on what's going on in the organization need a fuller feature set as well as broad participation to drive a PPM strategy.

Atlanta-based credit bureau Equifax Inc. reached that point a few years ago. A longtime Microsoft Project Server customer, it had come to need a more sophisticated approach for managing IT projects and wanted visibility across the organization, which had grown by acquisition. Equifax went shopping for PPM software and eventually chose Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (HP) Project and Portfolio Management Center.

"The reason we went down that path is that we had a need to go through and start managing more than just timelines and schedules," said David Galas, vice president of enterprise planning and architecture at Equifax, which has 6,500 employees and nearly $2 billion in annual revenue. "We wanted to get a better view of our financials."

Why did you implement PPM software?
Percentage citing as "very important"
To manage resources and project pipeline
To obtain more detailed financial analysis
To get metrics to measure project value post-deployment
To prioritize or justify projects
To evaluate project risk
Source: survey; N=276

Previously, Equifax had essentially developed the same project four times, once in each region, according to Galas. That resulted in a "very, very high 'keep the lights on' spend because we were maintaining all these legacy programs in each location rather than investing that money into new growth and new revenues," he said.

Equifax deployed one instance of the tool and rolled it out slowly, as each business unit was at a different level of PPM maturity. To keep business units on the same page, an IT governance board meets twice a week, with a representative from each unit. "Our governance board is there to facilitate what's going into the tool because we only have one instance of it," Galas said. "Everyone has to play in the same sandbox."

The PPM software level-sets projects across offices, such that a project is now developed in one area and then deployed across the other locations. "This allowed us to better capitalize on our development efforts and our global resource utilization while at the same time adding in a lot of technological efficiencies that weren't intuitively obvious," Galas said.

Equifax's approach to portfolio management would have been difficult without the software functions to support it, Galas said. "To go through and manage the portfolio required a lot of organization and structure that we didn't have yet and would've been a more complicated process," he said.

Moving beyond basic PPM software

The University of Utah is another organization that has taken its PPM strategy to the portfolio management level. As part of an IT centralization effort, the PPM software is helping the university prioritize wide-ranging portfolios -- 11 in all -- using software from Planview Inc.

Indeed, providing visibility across IT silos is also increasingly a function of PPM software, with features or modules for change management, resource management, time management and application management. That integration can help track IT costs for more realistic cost comparisons with outside services, among other uses.

"If the business says, 'Hey, we'd like to use Gmail [rather than internal email],' Google will provide a price quote into how much it will cost to use their service, but IT can't necessarily provide accurate information on how much it costs to deliver email internally," said Ken Cheney, director of product marketing at HP Software & Solutions. "This is a new, critical way of thinking about IT."

As PPM vendors add capabilities, though, the added sophistication makes usage more complicated. Galas recommends taking it slow.

"It's a very complicated product and you can easily get yourself mired in it, so we built a timeline of how we would go through and roll it out and worked on the things we would get the most value out of," Galas said. "We didn't go through and shotgun it -- we rolled it out in the business units that would get the most out of it."

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