BY PETER FRETTY
It's an all-too-common and frustrating scenario: Not long after an organization invests in and deploys an enterprise-wide system, its leadership finds itself longing for more. While these comprehensive packages often cover core components such as asset utilization, accounting and inventory control, even the best have shortfalls. In a worst-case scenario, system shortcomings can lead to project failures; even in the best cases, they prevent project teams from operating at peak performance. That's where add-on modules come in, covering just about any need an organization might have.
Today's trends—mobile tools, social media and the big data explosion—all point organizations in the direction of analytics and collaboration modules, says Laurie McCabe, partner with Northbrough, Massachusetts, USA-based SMB Group, a market research firm focused on small to medium-sized business technology. “In most instances, this means stakeholders have far more interactions and through different platforms, including mobile and social. As a result, the number of data points continues to climb. Unfortunately, most businesses do not use this data at all and most have no idea what they even have.”
The growing social media craze has brought about a number of providers, and many offer free services. Yammer, for instance, provides organizations with a private, secure social network. Google+ is showing great promise with its customizable Circles, Messenger and Hangouts, and recent integration with the suite of Google Apps.
The lack of out-of-the-box enterprise resource planning integration serves as the primary limitation to the numerous free collaboration tools. To address the issue, some of the larger foundational providers have introduced free collaboration modules, including Chatter on Salesforce.com and SAP Streamwork with SAP solutions.
Almost every piece of equipment produces data that organizations collect yet often fail to use, she adds.
Take a manufacturing firm as an example. Production equipment provides daily reports, and quality control and inventory control systems offer even more data.
“However, the only time most companies ever slow down to look at the data is when they receive customer complaints,” Ms. McCabe attests. “At that point they are looking in the rearview mirror with pressures to figure out a problem they do not understand.”
And that's detrimental to the overall portfolio. When prioritizing and selecting projects, “an organization should not be making decisions that do not allow it to see real-time data,” says Cindy Jutras, principal with Mint Jutras, an independent analyst and research firm in Windham, New Hampshire, USA. “Real-time data is crucial, especially in time-fluctuating markets. The picture can change significantly, and operating on anything less than real time can ultimately skew a project's trajectory.”
This is where business analytics modules make sense, Ms. McCabe explains. “Whenever an organization lacks the ability to mine data intelligently, it often results in missed project opportunities,” she says. “Ideally, data mining leads to predictive modeling as well as helping guide new product development initiatives or improvements.”
A word of caution, though: “Analytics is a big bucket,” Ms. McCabe warns. “These modules can be pricey, and each business has its own uniqueness. So it's important to start by targeting solutions that fill the biggest area of need.”
The goal when adding analytics is to find system-applicable dashboard capabilities, Ms. Jutras says. “Whether it's at the project, portfolio, program or enterprise view, a good dashboard needs to pull everything into one spot so the user can stay focused on the role, project or portfolio of concern,” she says.
Another popular add-on option is a collaboration module, which can close any disconnects between departments or virtual project teams. Most medium-sized businesses understand the need for integrated capabilities, according to SMB Group's 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communication Study. In fact, 43 percent already have a collaboration module integrated into their project management office, and 23 percent intend to integrate one in the next year.
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When prioritizing and selecting projects, “an organization should not be making decisions that do not allow it to see real-time data,” says Cindy Jutras, Mint Jutras, Windham, New Hampshire, USA.
“Collaboration becomes most relevant when silos exist,” Ms. McCabe says. “Without communication between the layers, these issues end up becoming customer-facing problems. In most instances, the actual tool isn't as important as the ability to make the business processes streamlined with views integrated from all layers. It is a matter of bringing everything together to capitalize on your assets.”
On software development projects, for example, “collaboration tools can empower team members to check in or check out code, so two people are not working on it at the same time,” Ms. Jutras says. “Or they can offer smart document sharing with real-time engagement between project managers and stakeholders.”
While some foundation software providers develop their own analytics modules, many established analytic tools also integrate well with enterprise systems.
SAS Business Analytics
Known for its easy-to-navigate dashboard and customizable reporting capabilities, the SAS solution provides analytics embedded in a framework that supports the entire decision-making process. The company is well-entrenched in manufacturing, healthcare and financial environments.
IBM Cognos Express
Designed to provide midsize businesses with in-depth analytics, Cognos Express provides integrated reporting, analysis and planning capabilities to drive greater efficiencies, manage costs and identify growth opportunities.
The Avaya solution works well for organizations adding call centers into the mix of collaboration layers. Known for its ability to integrate with IBM, SAP and others, Avaya gives users always-available access to real-time enterprise communication capabilities. This desktop software client works well for users who communicate frequently, manage multiple calls and set up ad-hoc conferencing. PM
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