Get to your project information in REALTIME
by Charles C. Howe, Contributing Editor
IN FOUR SOFTWARE REVIEW columns in 2000 I reviewed some low-end to medium-sized project management software products. This column presents a very strong product that will be a great addition to any company that takes project management—or perhaps management by projects—seriously. This product puts a whole new twist on project management.
I have found that what most organizations look for in each project is simple enough:
What do we need to do to make our goals?
If we have multiple projects running simultaneously, how do the projects affect one another?
How do we project and track our priorities?
What is our skills inventory, and where are the skills used?
Here's a sweet little suite that let's you view all projects easily.
At least one company has stepped up to the plate to assist organizations to handle complex and simple projects with a heavy set of functions and interfacing capabilities. (One might add that NASA, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing are just a few large organizations using this theory and the tool mentioned in this column.)
The Company. Advanced Management Solutions is a leading supplier of powerful and easy-to-use tools for project and resource management. Founded in 1983, AMS is an independent software company serving a broad range of clients and industries. The company has an impressive Website and delivers software upgrades “over the wire.” This makes it especially nice for those of us who hate opening the mail, inserting the disk, and all the other mundane installation and upgrade tasks.
The AMS REALTIME™ suite of products (see Exhibit 1) is used at a number of leading companies to ensure effective project delivery while optimizing the use of labor, funds, and other resources. AMS products are widely recognized for providing a powerful combination of functionality, flexibility, usability, and high performance.
Charlie Howe, CQA, CSTE, is a contributing editor on various project management, quality assurance, and configuration management topics. He is an independent IT consulting based in Houston, Texas, and can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. Comments on this column should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Exhibit 1. This graphic depicts the manner in which the AMS REALTIME products interface for a full-featured “management by projects” tool.
The Installation. I didn't receive the actual software to demo the product, as I would have to have Oracle installed on my computer. I received a demo CD that was well worth the time to run. The CD was the AMS REALTIME demo labeled “Managing the Present ... Planning the Future.” This CD provided me with the look and feel of the real thing—it was truly a very informative demo. The company also offered to walk me through an online demo assisted by the personnel in its Redlands, Calif., USA, office.
Platforms. In many organizations several hardware platforms may be in use. Forcing most users and entire companies to change is another potential barrier to implementing any enterprisewide system. AMS REALTIME runs on Microsoft Windows 95, 98, and NT, as well as Windows 3.1, if anyone still has it. It also runs on Apple hardware and some Unix flavors. The software and data are completely compatible across these different platforms, so any company can use a mix of different systems with the same data.
Exhibit 2. AMS REALTIME provides a simple graphical means of defining working calendars and shift patterns to any level of detail and complexity. Calendars can schedule against the organization's fiscal calendar, including the definition of accounting periods for the summarization of resources and costs. (Notice the holidays and ranges tabs.)
The Flagship Product. Of course, the product would be named AMS REALTIME. It seems very versatile, offering the links to multiple projects, which would help a company get a view of all projects. This in itself would bring real-time enterprise visibility. My initial response was that most companies are using Microsoft Project or Primavera Project Planner, so how would this product help?
When used together, AMS REALTIME and Microsoft Project can provide a solution for managing projects and resources that addresses the needs of the organization. AMS REALTIME can extend and enhance Microsoft Project by providing some very useful interfacing functions. All of the plans are housed in a central repository with role-based security. This also allows centralized resource definitions and personnel availability shared by all Microsoft Project users.
Reader Service Number 059
For other project management software, AMS REALTIME offers a complete suite of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to enable integration of your business information systems with the project and resource management capabilities provided by AMS REALTIME. The REALTIME APIs are complete with published documentation and can provide access to all REALTIME information stored in your databases. Furthermore, this suite of APIs is fully documented and available for customer use. This use of the API will allow the projects to have integrated systems that ensure business logic and rules are applied when exchanging data between different systems. This ensures updates to all databases so that the integrity of project information is maintained.
If the project administrators wish to export the information to other databases, such as MS SQL Server, other Oracle or MS Access, the REALTIME tool also supports ODBC. Also, this will allow you to “hook into” data exchange between your project and other ODBC-compliant business applications, such as Microsoft Access, Excel, corporate ERP tools, financial accounting systems, and so on.
The Missing Link in Most PM Software. Most project managers are plagued with keeping the plan updated. This chore includes updating all percentages of each task, verifying milestones, and running around the project obtaining input from all the resources. Vacations, sick time, and time off are usually not planned, so all of these factors have to be plugged in manually. The answer: integrated timesheets. With AMS REALTIME, stand-alone timesheets may be used, or one could use a web browser to automatically update the status of plans. Project participants receive one timesheet to book time across multiple Microsoft Project plans, as well as on nonproject work. The tool has many needed features for time booking, including “estimates-to-complete,” annotation, expenses, graphical calendars (see Exhibit 2), and personal task displays. Most of these displays are available in the traditional Gantt charts or a very intuitive calendar screen. After all this is complete, the manager can have an approval mechanism with the time sheets, if that is desired.
REALTIME offers a complete suite of APIs to enable comprehensive integration of your business information systems with the project and resource management capabilities provided by REALTIME. The REALTIME APIs are complete, published, and provide controlled access to all REALTIME information. Furthermore, this suite of APIs is fully documented and available for customer use. This allows our clients or our consultants to deliver integrated systems that ensure business logic and rules are applied when exchanging data between systems. This guarantees that the integrity of information on both ends is maintained.
Where Are My People? What Are They Doing? With today's lean work force and demanding markets, we are faced with more and more decisions for assigning tasks. This can cause a project manager to occasionally over- or under-assign tasks. This task can take a large portion of time from other project duties. On a large project or combination of simultaneously running projects, chaos can abound. One of the greatest challenges most organizations are up against is the ability to paint an accurate picture of where project resources are located, how they are being used, and assess the ability to take on more tasks. Using the Workforce Browser™, REALTIME can assist with this solution. Workforce Browser will enable Microsoft Project users from various projects to query and select needed resources from a centrally maintained database. The Workforce Browser allows an overall view for the managers to support different methodologies to manage time and resources. This may also assist the project manager with the difficult tasks of matrix management and setting up dedicated project teams.
Other Goodies. The product has some excellent reports. If more were needed, one could build them internal to the tool or use the ODBC link to export to other tools. With the REALTIME database structure, one could even use Crystal Reports or link to MS Access and write Access reports.
Context sensitive help is available online, or you can choose “show me” videos to demonstrate everyday tasks. REALTIME has online documentation to keep the trees alive. They will even provide company-specific manuals for project management procedures online as well.
AMS REALTIME SUITE™
A full-featured project management tool for medium to large organizations. Uses centralized repository for multiple projects. Has ODBC connectivity to enable use with many other tools. SQL compliant database back end requires knowledge of Oracle.
Price: Single user can be as low as $100 per seat. Normal 50-seat license for around $40,000 which includes one year of support, implementation, and training.
Pros: Very mature and powerful software suite. Very open interfaces to most other PM tools. Very intuitive screens and well-designed package. International tech support is available.
Cons: Large package may not be a fit for small companies. May be pricey for small installations. Not primarily for use in a stand-alone installation.
Advanced Management Solutions, Inc
Toll Free: (800) 397 6829
THE “TECHNO-GEEK” in me likes to work on projects with some powerful project management tools like AMS REALTIME and/or Primavera Project Planner. I have worked on numerous projects with Microsoft Project (and a couple with P3), and have gathered a full complement of my “helper” utilities to overcome some of its shortcomings. Nonetheless, if your company runs multiple projects and has the need to stretch resources across those projects, AMS REALTIME appears to be a “must have” tool. ■
January 2001 PM Network
PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.