Project managers must
understand the risks,
accept the challenges and
further develop the skills
necessary to ensure
technology is a benefit,
not a liability.
by PETER FRETTY
photos by SETH AFFOUMADO
Manager for RFID
t he worldwide market for enterprise mobile device platforms will reach $12.3 billion by 2008, according to Natick, Mass., USA-based Venture Development Corp.’s recent report, “Enterprise Mobility Solutions: Mobile Devices, WLAN Infrastructure, Software and Services.” Given the anticipated boom, technologies including mobile computing, local area network (LAN), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and telephony could significantly affect project managers’ value in the corporate world.
➔ Integrating the latest technology will provide project managers with better control, now and in the future.
➔ Understanding the limitations of technology is essential.
➔ Project managers should prototype new technology to reduce risks within wide-scale implementations.
➔Not only will project managers generate technology, but the enterprise will benefit from it, as new hardware could facilitate and streamline operations, processes and information flow, according to Mauricio Gomez Melendez, a senior project manager and operator of Tres Rios, Costa Rica-based Res Danza del Sol. “These devices enhance the decision-making process, data gathering and what-if analysis to benchmarking data,” he says. “If we do not fight its integration, it will provide project managers with better control, strong support through portfolio management and a strong data center for future decisions.”
Despite the double promise of increased profitability—both from bringing new products to market and from the efficiency gained by implementing them—these primarily wireless technologies are ripe with challenges that significantly change a project's landscape. For instance, retail powerhouses such as Wal-Mart, Metro and Tesco have mandated widespread projects to implement RFID to accumulate and automate supply chain data. RFID remains one of the most publicized and least understood new technologies.
Yet, early adoption of newer technologies really means opportunity for project managers and the enterprise in terms of business process improvement, says Marlo Brooke, president of Irvine, Calif., USA-based Avatar Partners. For example, while implementing RFID technology brings its own headaches, once in place, project managers themselves should benefit. “The concept behind RFID should be to introduce a new technique of collecting massive amounts of real-time data and having it available in a highly accessible format,” she says. “RFID will give to project managers the most critical element of analysis: information.”
The project manager adds value by determining how and when to sort through this data in a way that will benefit the company. This distinction is especially important in light of the most recent release of Lawrenceville, N.J., USA-based EPCglobal Inc.’s Gen2 specification, which calls for all parties involved in creating and reading RFIDs to commit to interoperability.
As a prime example of technology's capabilities and limitations, Redwood Shores, Calif., USA-based Oracle recently completed a project for NASA at the Drydan Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. Charged with improving hazardous materials management, Oracle decided that the best way to address all of the activity monitoring and security concerns was to combine RFID technology with an array of sensors and mobile computing devices, according to Peggy Chen, group product manager for Oracle RFID Sensor-Based Services.
“From a project manager's perspective, the key challenge was to make sure that all of the components could work together,” she says. “In this situation, there were several instances where it was not possible to prepare for the actual conditions in a pilot environment.”
While some readers were housed inside typical warehouse environments, others were attached to the outside of smaller storage sheds, which created its own complete set of variables and risks. “Many of these readers are not designed to operate outside in desert conditions, so the question is, how accurate are the results?” Ms. Chen says. “Another challenge occurs when you combine various mobile computing technologies with the RFID technology. Before and during the rollout process, you need to make sure that no two components share the same wavelength or your results will not be accurate. Project managers must consider these risks before the enterprise system integration.”
|UNFORTUNATELY, TOO MANY |
PEOPLE CLAIM TO BE SYSTEMS
INTEGRATORS WHO ARE
ACTUALLY LEARNING THE
TECHNOLOGY ON THE JOB.
|Michael Guillory, |
Principal, Strategic Action Consulting Services,
Hickory Creek, Texas, USA
Based on her experience on a project that combines wide area network (WAN), LAN, wireless laptops and Internet protocol telephony (IPT) phones, Kay M. Fleischer, president of Chicago, IL, USA-based Fryklund Group Inc., firmly believes that these mobile technologies should not affect the overall project implementation process, nor should they demand that the project manager modify the existing skill set. “The impact that these technologies have on project management is that you need to have the resources or proficient people in place to make sure that the project moves forward successfully,” she says. “People tend to forget that project management is a process that is relatively the same regardless of the project requirements. As projects become more technology-oriented, it simply means that project managers need to more closely align themselves with a very solid systems integrator.”
➔Michael Guillory, principal of Hickory Creek, Texas, USA-based Strategic Action Consulting Services, has a different view, stressing that unless project managers are familiar with the nature of the technology, dealing with its unique demands and understanding its limitations can be daunting. “You must understand limitations or project performance will not meet expectations,” he says. “Unfortunately, too many people claim to be systems integrators who are actually learning the technology on the job. While it is important to surround yourself with partners who can work with you to apply the technology in context with the process changes, you cannot go into the project blind. That approach puts far too much faith in others.”
Computers can't smile. In this world of e-management, project managers must keep communications as open, honest and personal as possible. “While our ability to be open, to learn and to share information and knowledge all have increased as a result of the latest technologies, this does not reduce the importance of face-to-face interaction,” says Mauricio Gomez Melendez, senior project manager with Res Danza del Sol, Costa Rica.
Clearly, skilled project managers can obtain more information from a gesture than a complete report or conference call. “We must find the way to cut that cold feeling that technology has,” says Adolf Cruz, program manager with San Jose, Costa Rica-based Isthmus and president of the Costa Rica PMI Chapter “Projects always should be a matter of people dealing with people, face-to-face work should be necessary regardless of how technology grows. We need to go back to the basics, and understand that technology provides tools and techniques, but there still are people making decisions.”
While mobile communications provides an advantage because of the possibilities that it offers to the project manager, it also can present a problem. “Far too many think that technology is the solution for everything, forgetting that it is only a tool,” Mr. Cruz says. “The success of the project cannot depend on the tools or technology. This means that as more people work remotely, there is an increased need to understand behaviors, cultural differences, communications skills, traditions, religion and politics.”
As mobile computing, WIFI, WAN and ITP technologies continue to evolve, project managers must establish two distinct resources, according to Ms. Chen. “The first is within the partner community in which you build an ecosystem that allows for smooth end-to-end production,” she says. “The second rests with the project managers and team that actually builds the projects. Regardless, understand the underlying network and make sure that you are using technology to its fullest so that customers can accomplish their goals while still keeping an eye on the future.”
For instance, companies may want to install Gen1 RFID readers—primarily because of their current availability and maturity—however, the day certainly will come when customer mandates or operational demands will require a switch to Gen2 compatible technology. “To make this transition smooth, you need to make sure that you have things in place to limit the change,” Ms. Chen says. “This means being able to select all of the correct architecture in the first place. You cannot do this if you do not personally have a working knowledge of current and pending technology architectures.”
Another challenge occurs when you combine various mobile computing technologies with the RFID technology. Before and during the rollout process, you need to make sure that no two components share the same wavelength or your results will not be accurate. Project managers must consider these risks before the enterprise system integration.
Undoubtedly, the most publicized risk associated with wireless technologies revolves around security. However, the level and capability of security options has continued to mature proportionately along with the hardware advances. “Obviously, the array of security measures needed to protect information and access levels depends heavily on the requirement of the project at hand,” Ms. Chen says. “But, in most instances, it is easy to address security using both hardware and software technologies as well as employing due diligence throughout the design and implementation phases.”
➔Project managers should be more concerned with what they do not know because many of the technologies the customer base demands have yet to be field-proven, according to Robert Mick, vice president of emerging technologies at Dedham, Mass., USA-based ARC Advisory Group. “This means that they need to be watchful that problems will arise,” he says. “They need to be treated with care. The best approach is to run small pilot projects that possess a prototype nature so that it is possible to reduce the risk when looking at a wide-scale implementation.”
The common risk associated with all technology pioneers is dealing with bugs on the system. For this reason, Mr. Melendez prefers implementing technology that is not at the “bleeding edge,” but at a level where it still is possible to obtain positive ROI during the project life cycle. “You do not want inferior technology, but going just to the edge and having the ability to scale up is optimal whenever it is feasible and agreeable by the stakeholders,” he says.
Mr. Guillory stresses that many newer technologies, including RFID, may have built-in levels of scalability but few are plug-and-play. “For instance, while the Gen2 standard may promise interoperability, you still cannot assume that readers can fit within any location,” he says. “You cannot see interference, so you need to be diligent with test consistency and reliability before considering any test successful. This is something that project managers—not integrators—need to understand. Without this general understanding, it is difficult to avoid the risk of failed expectations.”
Executives must realize that most users are not ready for the changes these technologies tend to force, meaning that project managers must consider transition planning from day one, so that everyone understands how their jobs will change as a result. Otherwise, the team may have a new project: dealing with a very high level of user dissatisfaction. PM
Peter Fretty, a Whitehall, Mich., USA-based freelancer, has appeared in more than 40 trade and consumer magazines including Advanced Manufacturing, Continental In-Flight, Food Engineering and Industrial Engineer.
PM NETWORK | AUGUST 2005 | WWW.PMI.ORG