Filling the gaps
BY CAROL HILDEBRAND
Slowly but surely, a number of solutions are addressing the holes in project management software.
Make no mistake: The project management software market is solid.
Research company IDC pegged the overall market at US$3.1 billion in 2010, with a growth rate of 6.5 percent. Major players such as Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and CA have project and portfolio management solutions that tie into their enterprise resource planning (ERP) suites, providing deep, varied functionality.
But even in a mature software market, there's room for improvement. It turns out that while the number of software options steadily grows, coverage gaps still exist—and niche vendors are scrambling to fill the spaces.
“There are a lot of small and medium-size companies that focus on project management software and offer remarkably competitive products,” say Frederik Ahlemann, PhD, and Mey Mark Meyer, PhD, coauthors of Project Management Software Systems: Requirements, Selection Process and Products [BARC, 2010]. “Being more agile than large groups, these smaller companies often manage to find a niche in the market or provide more project managementoriented products, which are more attractive to project managers than a module for an ERP system might be.”
There are some basic functions that almost every product lacks, such as work package descriptions and work breakdown structures, they note. “But, in general, most products provide far more features than the average user will probably ever use.”
Instead, the market's holes have appeared in the context of emerging technology and business trends. “What's challenging for many companies is how multiple disruptive factors are making life complicated for project and program managers across the board,” says Melinda Ballou, program director at IDC, Framingham, Massachusetts, USA. “Issues such as mobile deployment, the need for easy collaboration and new platforms such as cloud computing are what is driving product differentiation.”
Ms. Ballou sees these as the biggest coverage gaps:
Mobile applications. As project management and resourcing expand globally, companies are looking to extend and integrate project management software to built-for-mobile apps.
Collaborative tools. Companies want to easily incorporate collaborative tools such as SharePoint and wikis on an ad-hoc basis. For those organizations not willing to make the ERP leap, collaborative options can be hard to come by.
Social media. “This area, in particular, remains weak,” Ms. Ballou says. “We see small companies with good capabilities, but they don't have good management. Customers want something as intuitive to use as Facebook, but they want it to be governed and secure.”
As smaller companies appear with products that plug these holes, project managers may find themselves augmenting large portfolio and project management modules with add-on software that addresses their specific needs.
“We typically see companies that excel in one area or another, but it's hard to do all of these things in one product,” Ms. Ballou says.
The underlying platform itself is evolving, as many companies look toward software as a service (SaaS) and on-demand portfolio and project management offerings as simple low-cost options for informal individual and department-level project efforts. The market leaders in this realm are smaller companies such as AtTask, Daptiv, Innotas and PowerSteering, as well as major vendors including CA and HP, according to IDC.
“It's a much younger market, but it's growing significantly,” Ms. Ballou says. “SaaS is an on-ramp to the cloud. It's a really important piece, as it helps users get used to having software available in a way that's not on premise.” She notes that for organizations with limited resources available to deploy and maintain software, SaaS can offer immediate access to project and program management capabilities.
As software providers continue to fill these gaps, project professionals will see increases in customization and ease of use. And that, in turn, will boost what matters most: productivity and efficiency.
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