Constructing an Optimized Project Performance Management Solution

by | Jul 23, 2014 | Budgeting, Business Intelligence (BI), Construction, Data Analysis, General BI and Data Management, PowerOLAP

With the World Cup over–and what a great final match it was!–Brazilians (once they get over their team’s collapse) will surely refocus on the huge cost overruns and un-readiness of the building projects associated with the event.

The projects you manage may not match the scale of those in Brazil, and might not even concern the construction industry, but the experiences and challenges will be familiar: trying to keep track of progress, costs, resources utilization, timeliness, “at completion” and other important KPIs. You probably rely on some standard reports obtainable from your ERP system, especially if is tuned for project management, and maybe you use Crystal as well. That said, it is a certainty that you and others on your team rely heavily on good old Excel for all kinds of project reporting, analytics and planning.

Like so many others who use Excel to run a business, you will also have first-hand knowledge of its over-runs, utilization headaches, and increasing unmanageability. Essentially, a spreadsheet-based system will always topple over for at least these reasons: Excel is a personal, not a collaborative productivity tool (even if you are using SharePoint); there is no direct connection to underlying data, and; the complexities of your own business will overwhelm even the most cleverly multi-tabbed rendering of a project management model.

That’s not to say that Excel cannot be part of a solution—more on that momentarily. The point to make here is that an ERP, a report-writer, and Excel, in any combination, will never adequately address system requirements for robustness, flexibility, and collaboration.

What is needed is a fast way of organizing financial and non-financial metrics together, in a modeling environment that can accommodate Project Managers, the Finance team, and any other key project participants. Our own experience points to a Business Intelligence – OLAP solution that, in the first instance, leverages the ERP system, which is designed to capture and store transactional project data. An OLAP cube component next allows for exceptionally fast consolidations and calculations (replacing those thousands of Excel cell calcs), which are what managers are most interested in. Typically, such a solution will also allow “drill-through” to transactions when requested.

Users should be able to access any reports or analytics via a preferred client interface, including Excel, and be able “slice and dice” their data any way they wish, with full self-sufficiency to understand how to do their job better. They should also be able to define metrics they require, and either be able to create them on their own or direct skilled staff to create/distribute those metrics, online, in a matter of minutes. Chalk this up as another advantage: because calculations are stored in a shared, dynamic model, countless hours are saved from having to reformulate reports to point back to new date and/or copy calculations across hundreds of spreadsheet cells.

It’s worth mentioning here that PARIS Technologies’ latest offering, Olation, implements in the same environment as the ERP, so both the transactional and calculated data is likewise dynamically available to all front ends: Crystal, SSRS, other report writers, dashboards, PowerOLAP, and even other Business Intelligence products. (As well, for a fully optimized planning component, Olation provides full “write back” capabilities for users, also from any front end available, as described below.)

One final, critical point: an optimized solution of the sort envisioned here must accommodate planning, budgeting, and forecasting; no need to build out an entirely new system or introduce a separate planning software. Plan models derive from Actuals, so the reporting/analytics models must feed directly into Plan. And users should be able to enter new forecast numbers, and see results, in real time, with variances clearly evident. This in turn allows senior management to have a total view of overall performance, with their own “write back” capabilities—whether targeted metrics or comments—also providing a mechanism to communicate their vision across the enterprise.

In sum, whether your business concerns performance management of construction or other project activity, a Business Intelligence – OLAP solution will enable you will to realize enormous value, obtain on-time metrics, and make speedier, fully informed decisions. It could even result in positive headlines that reflect this kind of glowing customer satisfaction:

This solution frees our project people up to do what is important… quickly identifying bottlenecks so we can deliver our projects efficiently and on time. We are able to empower our project teams to be in control, not to be controlled.”