Software solutions continue to mature

Project managers are in a tight spot these days.

Already on the hook to save taxpayer dollars, those employed by the federal government have now been charged with managing multiple IT networks, reducing project overlap and eliminating risk factors that could upset long-term goals.

It's a big job. And, increasingly, it all begins with software selection.

'Keeping track of staff and resources in an Excel Spreadsheet, making lots of phone calls to check on availability and preparing quarterly reports in [Microsoft] Word has been the typical approach to [project management],' said Matt Light, research director for IT research firm Gartner, of Stamford, Conn. 'Project managers have been trying to muddle through using these home-grown solutions, but typically they are aware that this is primitive.'

Over the past decade, he notes, many have adopted tools developed specifically for project and portfolio management.

Indeed, a number of software developers have begun marketing products tailor-made for government agencies. All address the various disciplines of project management, including: cost and risk analysis, resource management and project prioritization. But some perform better than others.

According to analysts, the hottest off-the-shelf programs today include Primavera's Teamplay software, Niku 6 and PlanView.

Simply put, they provide the most reliable and current information about resources, projects and programs, said Melinda-Carol Ballou, an analyst with IT research firm META Group, of Stamford, Conn.

'If you want to scale up to many thousands of users doing project management, only the high-end programs have done that,' she said.

Light views Prosight as another top contender. The company's Portfolios software, he said, has catered to the government sector perhaps more than its competitors, focusing largely on front-end justification ' helping agencies go from proposal to cost justification. In short, it's designed to help agencies fill out the Office of Management and Budget documents now required for project approval.

While it's a heavy hitter in the portfolio analysis arena, however, Ballou cautions ProSight is not a one-size-fits-all program.

'They provide a really rich functionality around portfolio analysis, so it's a very good framework for being able to set priorities and do what-if analysis,' she said. 'But you don't have other data feeding into the ProSight system. '

That means project and program managers who utilize the software must be prepared for the added expense of integration and training.

Ballou sounds one other note of caution to buyers of project management software.

In her latest report on the industry, she said, even the frontrunners are still 'somewhat low on the overall curve with regard to functional maturity, since product capabilities in this young market are evolving (along with process and organizational maturity on the part of users).'

She expects to see additional vendors join the leaders circle within the next six to 12 months, as more products mature and new competitors enter the space.

Indeed, a handful of players are already jockeying for position. Among them: Artemis' Portfolio Director and Views programs, Pacific Edge, Business Engine Network, Microsoft Project, Lawson Services Automation, Changepoint, PeopleSoft Enterprise Services Automation and Primavera's second product called Evolve. All are also designed to help organizations prioritize resources and align technology investments to broader business objectives.

Like ProSight, Ballou said Pacific Edge and Artemis focus on portfolio analysis, but they also offer capabilities in the other four areas of project portfolio management: project, program, people/resources and processes.

Finally, the new kid on the block, Kintana, is sure to make waves, according to Light and Ballou. The company, which sells 'Portfolio Manager,' was acquired last August by business technology firm Mercury Interactive, of Sunnyvale, Calif. Its portfolio analysis software offers so-called niche functionality, pooling quality assurance and testing data together.

Shelly K. Schwartz is a freelance writer from Maplewood, N.J. with 10 years experience covering business- and finance-related news.

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