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Integrated software is rapidly becoming the new must-have for construction project management.

When it comes to IT solutions, the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry might not be considered cutting-edge. But economic turmoil, coupled with an increasingly connected globe, has wrought some significant changes in how project management software is implemented at many AEC organizations.

Project management software use in the sector is now widespread, at 82 percent, according to the Construction Financial Management Association's (CFMA) 2010 Information Technology Survey for the Construction Industry.

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Organizations in the construction sector are turning to technology to manage projects and operations more efficiently in the face of shrinking margins and revenues. To do so, they need project management software that works with other mission-critical systems within the company.

“The age of knocking on trailer doors and selling a job-site solution is over,” says Brian Sommer, president of Vital Analysis, a technology research company in Batavia, Illinois, USA. “Stand-alone project management is not where it's at anymore. Companies want to do things like increase asset utilization across projects.”

With systems integration on the rise, project managers and IT staff need to look for solutions that tie into other systems within the corporate IT infrastructure. According to the CFMA report, “Almost 50 percent of respondents sourced their project management software from accounting software vendors, thus providing a foundation for integration. The improved efficiencies, effectiveness and accuracy that can be gained in business operations through the use of integrated applications are being recognized.”

The second driving factor lies in the increasing ability to connect via phone and the internet from even the most remote sites.

“In the past, construction project managers often had to be quite self-sufficient,” Mr. Sommer says. “Software couldn't deliver a lot of value in the face of environmental restrictions like spotty phone coverage or electricity outages.”

The connectivity factor means that cross-functional collaboration is on the rise, as on-site project managers can work closely with colleagues in remote locations.

So what project management packages resonate with the AEC industry? Here are a few of the more popular applications:

Oracle's Primavera Contract Management and Primavera P6 Enterprise Project Portfolio Management
Oracle is one of the best-known names in the construction industry, particularly among large companies that utilize Primavera P6 Enterprise's wide array of features and tight integration with other products to provide visibility into resources, schedules, budgeting and costs across an entire project portfolio. Its Contract Management software focuses specifically on construction project management, with document management, job cost and field controls. One-third of CFMA respondents with revenue over US$100 million report a Primavera installation of some kind.

Sage Timberline Office and Master Builder
The CFMA survey found that Timberline office held the largest market share overall, with 16 percent of respondents using the product. It has been a solid player in the construction industry for years and is particularly suited to larger organizations. Smaller companies may do better with the more affordable Master Builder, which includes estimating, reporting, scheduling and accounting capabilities.

“Stand-alone project management is not where it's at anymore. Companies want to do things like increase asset utilization across projects.”

—Brian Sommer, Vital Analysis, Batavia, Illinois, USA

Meridian Systems Prolog and Proliance
Meridian has a strong base in the construction industry, particularly among general contractors—14 percent of whom reported using Prolog in the CFMA survey. The software is comprised of automated daily tasks, real-time budget tracking and role-based access to project data. It integrates well with Microsoft Office products, a plus for users of collaborative software such as SharePoint. The company has also built in a lot of support for U.S. contractors bidding on work from the American Recovery and Rehabilitation Act.

Within an industry as varied as the AEC sector, it is impossible to arrive at any sort of de facto standard for project management software. So organizations need to consider how each product addresses specific requirements.

“A company that does architectural work is going to have a different view of a project than that of a contractor,” Mr. Sommer says. “Then there are those more non-traditional AEC players that want to manage a property over the course of its life, from construction to building management. They'll want more of an infrastructure life cycle management solution.” PM

PM NETWORK JUNE 2011 WWW.PMI.ORG

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