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High-end PPM software, not just MS Project, finds place in midmarket

Though Microsoft Project predominates among midsized firms, hear why some IT shops have adopted higher-end PPM software.

Just one in five midmarket organizations uses some sort of PPM software, according to new research, and of those, a third use Microsoft Project. But when businesses and IT projects grow more complex, some IT shops -- even midmarket ones -- look to more expensive PPM solutions for their greater functionality.

PPM software usage varies by industry, according to Sanjeev Pal, who oversees the project and portfolio management practice at Framingham, Mass.-based advisory firm IDC, which divides the PPM market into segments.

In the largest -- architecture, engineering and construction -- "we've been seeing a slowdown because of the economy, and a slowdown in construction," Pal said.

But PPM in the second segment, professional services, has grown considerably. "We predict, once the economy recovers, that this segment will go faster than others," he said.

This is due in part to outsourcing. "When you're managing projects remotely, this segment helps you do it more efficiently," he said.

Among PPM software users in's survey, the industries most represented were manufacturing (30%), financial services (13%), and business services, retail and government (8% each). -- K.C.

The project and portfolio management (PPM) and IT governance survey found that the top reasons for implementation were the need for project and resource management functions, cited by 69% and 67% respectively. Next was the need to develop metrics and methodologies for project evaluation post-implementation. Cost estimation also ranked high on the list. The survey, conducted in May, had 236 respondents from companies with 100 to 1,000 employees.

The midmarket results differ somewhat from the enterprise, where financial analysis took the lead as most-used feature.

Interviews with PPM software users show that most organizations either start with or at least consider Microsoft Project, but they move to more enterprise-class applications when their environments grow more complex.

Dalton, Ga.-based Shaw Industries Inc. consolidated various project platforms, including Microsoft Project, when it moved to Compuware Corp.'s ChangePoint. Shaw, a manufacturer of flooring products that had grown by acquisition, had 10 types of PPM software across its 10 remote locations, said Greg Livingston, director of IS planning and systems development. These included Evernote version 1.0 (a tool used to manage Scrum projects -- "a good product, but not an enterprise PPM solution," Livingston said), Jira (an open source application) and Lotus Notes.

The different systems meant projects weren't consistent, and business partners had a difficult time deciphering all the reports.

"When we work with our business partners, all the reports always looked different, the prioritization processes looked different -- no one knew what to expect," Livingston said.

A much-needed process and procedures standardization rollout, coupled with the need for a more thorough tool, got the ball rolling for the decision to invest in a single type of PPM software. More specifically, Livingston said, Shaw was looking for financial analysis, thorough project request management, development cycle management and application portfolio management features.

"MS Team Foundation Server was utilized for our Microsoft development environment and included some PPM functionality," he said. "But we needed a product that was more independent of platform for our enterprise solution."

Higher-end PPM software from the beginning

Phil Bertolini, CIO of Oakland County, Michigan, has had PPM software since 1996. The county included Microsoft Project in its initial product review and then again when its contract with CA Inc. was up in 2002, but it has stuck with CA's Clarity product.

"There were still features and functionality [Microsoft Project] didn't have," Bertolini said. "And at that time, we would've had to take a step back from what we already had."

Bertolini said he used the tool to help navigate a $1.5 million budget cut by determining priorities. He and his team rely on the financial analysis feature to allocate resources and ensure all financial commitments are met; they review the data weekly.

"With regard to our workload, if we didn't have a good accounting of our resources and the planning for them -- always knowing what we're working on, how it's being executed -- we couldn't deliver," Bertolini said. "It's huge as a service delivery."

Other important features include project scheduling and weekly tracking and analysis. "This validates the schedule," said Janette McKenna, chief of IT internal services for Oakland County. "And our No. 1 priority is to stick with the schedule and stay on budget."

Surviving sans PPM software

But formal PPM tools are not always the answer for many midmarket organizations -- in fact, many more medium-sized businesses survive without them (some 83% of survey respondents don't use PPM software).

Exclusive Resorts LLC, a luxury vacation membership club, is one such company. It doesn't rely on formal PPM software to keep projects on track and on budget, but rather agile methodologies, ScrumMaster dashboards and scorecarding. It typically has six projects under way at any given time.

According to Charles Livingston, senior vice president of technology, Exclusive Resorts considered a more formal PPM tool but found the available options expensive when the agile methodologies were already working well for the 200-person company.

He said the incremental projects keep the team engaged and members of management happy, because they can easily see the continuous forward movement.

"This is healthier from all angles," Livingston said. "The person working on the project can stay focused, and others can weigh in on the progress -- especially important as the business environment or economy changes."

In a combination of the success of the current system contributing to the bottom line and the economic situation giving rise to prudence, Livingston said he will stick with the arrangement for now.

"If you only have a small stack of chips, you better be betting on the right investments," he said.

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