International Women’s Day Celebrating Laura Nee

International Women’s Day Celebrating Laura Nee

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Here is our call to action:

Today we celebrate our President and CEO, Laura Nee, and her achievements. She has made strides in a traditionally male-dominated industry, and empowered many women whom she has employed to solve complex and technical business issues for our customers—setting a strong example for girls and women everywhere, including her nine-year-old daughter, Ava.

Having begun her career as a software developer and business analyst, Laura had always had an interest in business-process reengineering, helping companies improve their bottom line through automation. By the time she was 26 years old her father was ready to retire, and sell the company he’d founded in 1984, The Simplex Group, Inc. She was an enterprising young adult who wanted to run her own business, so when the opportunity to acquire and mold Simplex arose, she jumped at it.

At the time, Simplex was a value-added reseller for a project-management software company now owned by Oracle, Primavera Systems. Primavera is known in the engineering and construction industry for their flagship planning and scheduling products. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Simplex worked with local organizations like Westinghouse, Bayer Corporation, and Highmark, while expanding into western New York to service companies like Eastman Kodak, Rochester Gas & Electric, and Cornell University. Simplex also had contracts with organizations involved in construction like Mascaro, Dick Corporation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sargent Electric, and many others from traditionally male-dominated industries.

Laura saw the need to merge her software-development experience with her project-management expertise.

“We need to build our own project-management system, but not the way a typical software vendor does. We need to develop it with the customer, not for the customer.” In working with off-the-shelf products like Primavera, Laura had learned that people rarely used most of the functionality available within the application.
Taking that innovative approach to technology has made Laura and her organization successful. In 2008, her team launched VPO, a construction project-management system. After working with client after client, we eventually created a set of Best Practices for the construction industry.VPO
“We didn’t build an off-the-shelf system with features that we thought people would need; we built a system around processes that we knew they definitely needed.”
Laura continues, “We worked on neat projects like the North Shore Connector Light Rail Expansion Project—a light rail system built underwater. We worked with one of the world’s largest energy companies, CONSOL Energy, to manage an $800M capital-improvement program updating their conveyor systems across their mines. One of our most successful projects is for Yale University’s Office of Facilities. We developed a bid-management system that supports over 1,200 contractors who upload their bids electronically, securely.”

Laura and her team continue to work with more and more companies to deploy and evolve VPO. Right now we’re working with the University of Pittsburgh’s Facilities Management division to roll out an enterprise-wide program-management system managing their capital projects. We’re building a custom version of VPO for a construction-management firm out of Southern California, Simplus Management, to help them manage projects for their clients in an innovative way like Orange County, and the City of Long Beach. Laura’s team also recently deployed VPO for an international contractor, Venco Imtiaz Construction Company, who is building the headquarters for The World Bank in Afghanistan.

At Simplex, we honor Laura Nee on International Woman’s Day, 2017, and we thank her for being our leader. Her vision and know-how have benefited not only our clients and each other, but also our families. As are so many other women, we’re the main caregivers for our loved ones. And in addition to eliminating unnecessary overhead costs, operating from our homes for a business owner who empowers us to “work smart” gives each Simplex team member a flexible environment in which to meet our responsibilities to our company and customers, and to our families—as well as to ourselves as individuals.

#IDW2017 #BeBoldForChange #SheMeansBusiness #InternationalWomensDay

Can you use Microsoft Office 365 for Project Management?

Can you use Microsoft Office 365 for Project Management?

Does your organization use Microsoft Office 365? First, let’s clarify what Office 365 is. Some people think of Office 365 as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook apps. Some people recognize the name because it came with the PC they just bought. Some companies use Office 365 because their IT professional told them to move to Microsoft’s hosted email platform.

Office 365 is a Cloud-based business platform managed by Microsoft for hosted email, file sharing, online meetings, calendaring, and more. But what does this mean for you, and how does it help improve your business? For the past 30 years, we’ve worked with customers from various industries and business types—but they all share a common theme: project management.

We want to help you learn about the tools and features that are available from Microsoft, and show you how you can use them to improve your business. There are a lot of companies that have moved, or are planning to move, to Microsoft’s Cloud platform. But so many of those companies only know about a tiny sliver of Office 365’s capabilities.

Let’s look at the apps that are available with a standard subscription of Office 365. There are traditional apps for email like Mail, Calendar, and People. There are apps for online versions of Microsoft Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. And there are so many more apps that are valuable—but only if you know what they are and how to use them.

We work with customers daily on leveraging these tools as project management tools. We can help you learn about the apps and features that relate to project management, and the value that they can bring to your business. If you’re using Office 365 today, then you may have access to these tools without even knowing it!

SharePoint App

SharePoint is an enterprise content management system typically used to develop a company’s corporate intranet or secure employee website. People don’t know where to start with SharePoint, and often the team members who help set up Office 365 are network specialists, not business analysts. It can be very intimidating to try and figure out where to start with SharePoint because, by default, SharePoint is installed as a blank site without any content.

Templates

When we work with clients to set up and configure SharePoint, we establish templates of content that can be reused within the company. For example, our customers in the engineering and construction industries use our construction project management app, VPO, as a starting point to manage bidding, design reviews, RFIs, Submittals, Change Orders, and other features. By using our template, you can get your next project off the ground quickly without the need to wait for IT to develop a project management system for you. We also use templates to help businesses set up sites for departments like accounting and marketing.  

Workflows

SharePoint is a powerful tool for managing business workflows. A workflow is a process of submitting information for review and approval. There are different types of workflows—serial and dynamic. A serial workflow sends an approval to multiple parties, and each party must approve in a specific order. A dynamic workflow allows an individual to pick whom to send the approval to, and the assignment can change at any time, as needed.

A typical workflow in the construction industry is a Request for Information (RFI), and we use a dynamic workflow setup. In VPO, we have a standard form that collects information that a Contractor would submit to an Architect for clarification. The Contractor can ask the question digitally, and an email notification is automatically sent to the Architect, notifying him or her of the Contractor’s question. The Architect can reply with the answer, and another email is then sent back automatically to the Contractor. Alternatively, they could send it on to the Owner to get their input. We call the ownership of the workflow, the Ball-In-Court.

This way, you always know who is holding on to the document for approval. You also have a list of RFIs that are visible to anyone within the project, providing transparency and an audit trail of anyone who has touched the RFI.

 

SharePoint can be used to create any workflow in a company. For instance, you can set up a workflow to allow employees to submit a timesheet for review and approval to their Manager, or an expense report and purchase requisition. The trick is to create the form that collects the information, and then train your team members on the process.

File Sharing

Office 365 is a powerful tool for managing company documents in the Cloud. With Office 365, there are two apps dedicated to file sharing; SharePoint and OneDrive. SharePoint should be used to store, and share, company-related documents. OneDrive should be used to store your own documents that aren’t yet ready for sharing. Think of it this way: if you’re going to save a document that you’re drafting, but you’re not yet ready to share it with coworkers, then you typically save it to your Documents folder on your PC. However, this location is not necessarily being backed up, so if your PC crashes, then you’ll have lost your documents. If, instead, you save that type of document to OneDrive, then it will be saved both on your PC and online, in the Microsoft Cloud where it’s being backed up.

If you’re working on a sales proposal—a company document—then you should save the document in SharePoint, in the Sales department site. You can work collaboratively with others on the document, and using the Cloud ensures that it’s being backed up. You can sync SharePoint documents with your local device so that you can edit them locally, but they are being synced online and backed up in the Microsoft Cloud.

There are many advantages to storing your documents in the Microsoft Cloud, in SharePoint and OneDrive.

  • You can access the documents from anywhere; no VPN connection needed.
  • You can sync documents, work offline, and then automatically re-sync online.
  • Version history is turned on by default, capturing an instance of every document changed by any user.

  • Searching for documents is fast and intuitive; you can use keywords to search not only the title of the document but also the contents of a document.  

Task Management

In dealing with customers in the engineering and construction industry for decades, we’ve learned well that their business success relies heavily on critical-path schedules that can be used for long-term forecasting. Some businesses don’t need such a robust planning tool; they need a simple project management tool for communicating goals and deadlines to coworkers, and for getting periodic feedback on the status of those goals.

SharePoint allows you to manage a set of tasks that may belong to a project, a business initiative, or a department. You create the task list as you would in an Excel spreadsheet—which is what many people do. However, it’s not easy to see tasks in an Excel spreadsheet. You have to open a document to see the tasks, and only one person at a time can edit the task document. When creating a SharePoint task list, you create each task, provide a title, a longer description, a start date, an end date, and whom it’s assigned to. It can be as simple as that. Optionally, you can automatically send an email alert to the individual assigned any task. There’s no real logic between the tasks; each one can be completed independently of others, keeping it simple to set up. And you can have multiple users editing tasks at the same time. You can also add tasks to a timeline so that others can see a graphical view of the tasks.

You can indent tasks to create summary tasks, and any tasks that are late will automatically change to the color red. It’s simple to manage, easy to understand, and transparent for everyone in your organization.

We’ve even developed an app called My Tasks, that’s a personal view of tasks assigned to you from all task lists. A great way to keep on top of your assignments across any task list.

Project Online App

Many people don’t realize that Microsoft offers a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) system in Office 365. A PPM system allows you to manage your company’s projects in a single database. With a PPM system, you can see your company’s projects in one view. It’s great for team members in management, because they need a bird’s eye view of projects’ status. This way they can see if a project has an issue, and drill down into the detail of the project plan.

In Office 365, you can subscribe to Project Online, and it will provide the enterprise project infrastructure you need to manage your projects. You don’t have to purchase expensive perpetual licenses; you can simply subscribe and pay a monthly fee depending on the type of functionality needed. You can even bundle the desktop version Microsoft Project into your subscription. The advantage is that there’s nothing to install in your organization; Microsoft manages the infrastructure in the Cloud for you, and you’re always using the latest versions of the software.

With Project Online in Office 365, you can manage your projects using a web browser, without having any software installed on your desktop. You have anywhere access to the project data.

If you prefer to use a desktop version of Microsoft Project, you can check out the project from Project Online, modify it, and then check the project back in and publish it to all other users.

With Project Online, you can define templates that include a standard Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), tasks with durations and logic, and assigned resources, so that when you need to create a new project, you’re not starting with a blank page. You can build intelligence into your project templates, and use them as a starting point, and the solution will build consistencies into your company’s project plans no matter who is developing them.

Skype for Business App

A few years ago, Microsoft purchased Skype, a video conferencing leader, and now Microsoft offers Skype for Business as an application within Office 365 as a subscription-based tool. It’s included with other apps as a bundle. Not everybody realizes how powerful and useful Skype can be for project management.

First, Skype can be used to host and join web meetings. The pricing model of Skype makes it more reasonable to give to every employee within your office access to host a meeting, rather than a select few like you would with GoToMeeting. This allows for people to connect with team members no matter where they’re working from.

Skype can also be used as a video feed to share live information from anywhere. Our customers running construction projects use it in the field. The Project Manager and Field Superintendent can use the Skype mobile app on their smartphone or tablet, and show a live video feed of a problem at the job site to someone sitting in an office.

Watch this video from Microsoft to see Skype for Business in action.

With Skype for Business, you simply get answers to questions done more quickly.

Shared Mailbox

Today there are so many email messages that go back and forth on a project. It’s difficult to track down correspondence, and once you do, it’s hard to be confident that you’re reading the latest thread in the conversation or opening the latest attachment. In Office 365, we have a feature called a Shared Mailbox that allows you to set up an email address that’s unique for your project. When sending an email message to your project team, you can simply Cc the project email address, and the correspondence is automatically collected in the project’s mailbox. You can also forward to that address any email related to the project. You can assign team members to the mailbox who can see the project mailbox in Outlook, next to their own mailbox. You can search for any correspondence just like you can with your Outlook inbox.

Summary

Office 365 is a great project management tool for any organization. Leverage your investment in Office 365 by taking advantage of more apps today.

Subscribe to our VPO YouTube Channel

Subscribe to our VPO YouTube Channel

VPO Training on YouTubeWe’re excited to announce the launch of our VPO Construction Project Management Software Channel on YouTube. This channel will allow us to share valuable resources for companies interested in or using VPO.

Check out our training videos covering subjects like:

RFI Management: Learn how to add and approve Requests for Information in VPO.
Submittal Management Mobile: Learn how to add and approve Submittal items on your project in the VPO mobile app.
Overview of VPO: Learn about the capabilities of VPO. This lesson is an introduction to VPO. You will learn about the contents on the Home Page of a project and how to navigate in VPO. It will show you how to work with logs like RFIs and Submittals, and shows you how to work with document libraries like Drawings. Also, it reviews the Print and Search functionality within VPO.

Subscribe to our Channel today!

VPO logo Small

Is your Project Data Safe in the Cloud?

Is your Project Data Safe in the Cloud?

The world is embracing the Cloud for storing documents, information, and managing applications. It seems eerily similar to the technology model we had before when mainframes (servers) were doing all of the processing and sending data to dummy terminals (thin clients). Either way, there are many advantages to managing data in the Cloud; data accessibility from anywhere, disaster recovery, and managed services.

There are many vendors who have embraced the Cloud early on like Salesforce.com, a leader in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software space. Other vendors like Oracle, Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon are investing billions in Cloud platforms around various services like Data Warehouse and Management Solutions for Analytics, Cloud Infrastructure Services, and Public Cloud Storage Services. They are all “betting on the Cloud” and gaining momentum. If you’d like to review the analysis from Gartner, a leading independent research firm, review it here.

All Clouds are not Created Equal

If we look at vendors specializing in project management software, and even more specifically construction project management software, we are talking about companies who are much smaller than Amazon and Google. It seems like every time you turnaround a new vendor pops up in this space. These companies have smaller budgets to invest in the infrastructure required to make sure your data is protected. Many vendors offering project management software in the Cloud do not publish much detail about their Cloud infrastructure and your protection of data on their websites. Buyers of construction management software often evaluate the features and functionality of project management software and may overlook, “who is managing my data?”.

Companies need to prioritize the importance of the Cloud vendor and consider:

  • What happens to my project data if the vendor’s system is hacked?
  • Can the vendor lock me out of my own project data – for reasons like I am late paying my bill?
  • How do I access my project data if my vendor’s data center has a power outage?
  • What happens to my data if the vendor goes out of business?

It is critical to review the Service Level Agreement (SLA) from any provider that is managing your software-as-a-service (SaaS). It is critical that vendors offer proactive methods in protecting your data. You’ll see how common a cybercrime is in this video; Cybercrime: A story of vulnerability, deception, and security.

That is why we chose to deploy our construction project management system, VPO in the Microsoft Cloud. Microsoft has invested heavily in building their Cloud on these principles:

Microsoft Cloud Principles

Your data is yours to Microsoft. Is your project data yours to your current provider? Review the Microsoft Trust Center and make sure you are getting the service and protection you deserve.

Are you using Primavera Contract Management? What does the future of it mean to you?

Are you using Primavera Contract Management? What does the future of it mean to you?

Primavera Expedition

I remember back when Primavera Expedition (now Primavera Contract Management) was “the market leader.” Our biggest competitor at the time was probably Prolog, and even that product was barely competition. People who used Expedition, LOVED Expedition. It was their bible for managing construction projects. Our customers who used it were primarily General Contractors. They needed a way to manage their contracts, keep track of RFIs, submittals, drawing revisions, and track information from the field like daily reports and punch lists.  At that time, Primavera Expedition was installed as a client/server application or just standalone on a Windows PC.

Pressure to move to the Web

After some time, companies like Prolog continued to focus and increased their market share in certain sectors. Prolog offered one Primavera Expedition for the Webproduct whereas Primavera offered several products including their flagship planning and scheduling software Primavera Project Planner (P3) which would later become P6. Prolog was the first to move to a web-based platform, and Primavera was forced to do the same. In my opinion, Primavera did not have the time to take a step back and truly architect the system for a web-based platform. One advantage of moving to a web-based platform is the open architecture it provides. When they moved to the web, the interface was a bit quirky since they essentially ported a Windows-based application to a web-based application. Also, the product had two flaws – no audit trail and no concurrent licenses which discouraged collaboration between Owners, Designers, and Contractors on a construction project and is now the foundation of construction project management systems.

Enters Oracle

Oracle purchased Primavera Systems and took on all of its products including Primavera Contract Management. One of the first improvements that Oracle made was to the user interface – they cleaned it up and made it consistent with their other products. However, clssic_PrimaveraContractMgmt_lgin future releases, they increased technical requirements by introducing an Oracle report writer that required major database upgrades and rewriting custom reports. The technology was just getting more and more complex and challenging for our traditional General Contractor customers to maintain Primavera on their own on premise environment.

I just don’t want to move!

Incidentally, I still have one customer who never upgraded from Primavera Expedition version 8.5 –the Windows version. While in the minority, there are still people who prefer to use the older product and won’t stop using it until it is broke!

Oracle continues to add to their Construction technology stack, but they are leaving their core product alone. A few years ago they purchased a company offering a product called Unifier who was getting traction in the large Construction Owner market. Oracle most recently purchased a company called Textura to complement their construction products for payment application and contract automation. However, these tools are not built for the traditional General Contractor.

What do companies who have invested in Primavera Contract Management do now?

Well, like one of our customers, they can stay with it until it breaks! However, another option is to move to a different offering.

Most companies in the market for software today desire a Cloud-based solution that is hosted for them so that they do not have to invest in hardware and perpetual license fees of project management software. They prefer a Software-as-a-Service model that is managed and supported –even for the people that they invite to their projects –encouraging collaboration. They want an interface that is familiar, intuitive and requires little or no training to use. They want a system that they can add any construction documents to and make it their own as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.  Moreover, they want something up and running yesterday because their project has already started and they are under the gun to start tracking the project!

Well, look no further, a different offering is VPO. We have migrated many customers who were using Primavera Contract Management to VPO, and this is what they have to say:

“What used to take multiple steps in preparing submittals (in Primavera CM), now takes just one step in VPO and saves our staff so much administrative time.”

Just one advantage of VPO. Explore VPO to find out how your projects and people can benefit from it too.

VPO

Is Virtual Reality, a “Reality” in the Engineering & Construction Industry?

Is Virtual Reality, a “Reality” in the Engineering & Construction Industry?

Virtual Reality in Construction

Communication is key to any construction project. However, how better can, you communicate a building design than allowing someone to see themselves actually “walk” through a potential building? Certainly BIM has changed the way companies are designing buildings, but is Virtual Reality the next technology?

Virtual Reality is most common in the gaming world, but companies are starting to grasp the technology to use in the commercial industry. Can you imagine how much time and money you can save by engineering a motorcycle without building a physical prototype?

MotorcycleFigure 1 Microsoft HoloLens Video

Now imagine a high-rise urban village like the one Real estate developer Skanska plans to open what it says will be the world’s first holographic real estate leasing center for its 2+U high-rise project in downtown Seattle.

2+U high-riseFigure 2 http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/techflash/2016/04/microsoft-skanska-give-seattle-world-s-first.html via @PSBJ

How is this possible? Introducing Microsoft HoloLens

Microsoft HoloLens is the first fully untethered, holographic computer, enabling you to interact with high‑definition holograms in your world. “The HoloLens headset will transport users into a fully immersive first-person perspective – as if they were walking through the project – while allowing them to stay visually and emotionally connected to the sales representative in the leasing center,” Studio 216, a digital agency whose Founder Partner Boaz Ashkenazy said in a press release.

Companies like Lowe’s are investing in VR technology like Microsoft HoloLens to help consumers build out a new kitchen in their home.

Lowe's Kitchen DesignFigure 3 Microsoft HoloLens: Build 2016 Keynote

Microsoft HoloLens and Autodesk Fusion 360 are helping improve collaboration across the product development process, enabling engineers and designers to iterate together in real-time.

Autodesk Fusion DesignFigure 4 Microsoft HoloLens: Partner Spotlight with Autodesk Fusion 360

Here is my favorite quote from the Microsoft HoloLens video:

“Because when you change the way you see the world; you can change the world you see.”

Another reason to invest in Microsoft. The technology is here and in my opinion it is just a matter of time as to when it will impact your life. I appreciate any comments and hope you enjoy exploring the virtual realities in the materials I have referenced below.

Recommended Materials:

Microsoft, Skanska give Seattle world’s first holographic leasing center (article) http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/techflash/2016/04/microsoft-skanska-give-seattle-world-s-first.html

Microsoft HoloLens (video): https://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-hololens/en-us#vgvideo-vg_0

Microsoft HoloLens: Partner Spotlight with Autodesk Fusion 360 (video) https://youtu.be/Hx6biWE2VsM

Microsoft Build 2016 Keynote (video): https://youtu.be/mM1P41qeVGs