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 Many vendors offering project management software in the Cloud do not publish much detail about their Cloud infrastructure and your protection of data on their websites.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

Is CPM Scheduling Critical in Construction?

Is CPM Scheduling Critical in Construction?

Many of our customers are looking for a quick and easy way to develop a construction schedule. There are many complex software programs on the market today (and the list keeps growing) that offer resource planning, cost-loading, s-curve reports, earned value metrics and more.  However, many of our customers in construction do not need all of those features –they are just looking for a simple, easy-to-use tool to plan out the timeline of their projects.

Yes, critical path scheduling is truly “critical” in construction so that you can see the impact of changes as they occur throughout a project’s duration. Some people do not know the steps involved with creating a CPM schedule and how easy it can be to use –especially to your advantage. I’ve outlined the steps below.

How to Develop a Critical Path Schedule

To develop a critical path schedule, you just enter tasks with their planned duration (usually in days) and establish predecessor and successor relationships between tasks in a scheduling program. Let the scheduling software work for you! So many people try to develop a schedule by entering the start and finish dates for each activity. That is NOT how you develop a CPM schedule or a good schedule! We suggest no open-ended activities except for the Project Start and Project Completion activities in your schedule. Once you hit a button to “schedule” your project plan, a value called float or slack is calculated for each task identifying how many days late it can be before impacting your project as a whole.

(Click on the image to view full-size)

Critical Path Schedule for a construction project

The critical path settings vary depending on the scheduling application that you use. Tasks are critical usually when the float or slack value is less than or equal to 0. This indicates the number of days that need to be made up to get the project back on track. For instance, if your float or slack is equal to (-2) for activities on the critical path this means that you have to make up 2 days in your schedule to meet your project finish by date. 

Use Templates to Develop a Project Plan

It does not have to be hard to create a schedule for your projects. We always recommend starting with a template so that you are not starting from scratch every time. If you have repeatable steps in your projects –even if they are generic –use them to help you with the planning process. It is much easier to edit tasks, and the process can act as a checklist to make sure you are not missing anything. In a template, you can save as much information as you know such as a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), task descriptions, durations, logic and more. It can take a few minutes rather than hours to develop your project plans.

Baseline a Project Plan before Updating

Now one of the most important steps that many people skip is the baselining process. If you do not baseline a schedule, when you update your project you will overwrite your planned start and planned finish dates with actual start and actual finish dates. In fact, it will appear as if you are always “on-schedule” when you are not. By baselining you can create visual views to see where you thought you would be on the project and to where you are. Baselining in a software tool is as easy as hitting a button, so don’t skip it!

Updating a Project Plan

I was just speaking with a company who said, “We always develop a schedule but on one ever updates it.” That happens far too often for many who do not take a disciplined approach to scheduling. You need to update the schedule on a regular basis on a frequency that makes sense for your projects. It may be weekly or monthly depending on how long your projects last. Some of our customers in the energy industry managing nuclear power plant outages update their schedules hourly!

It can be a daunting task to get updates into your project plan –that is why so many people skip this step. However, it can be an easy process with a little bit of preparation. If you develop a view specific to the fields that you want to update, it makes it simple for anyone to provide the updated information. For instance, we suggest a simple view like you see in the screenshot below. We try to make it look as simple as an Excel spreadsheet (but it is not!).

(Click on the image to view full-size)

Updating View

Use Reports to Communicate with the Project Team

Throughout the duration of a project, it is important to make sure to share the information with the team.  During a team meeting, you walk through progress information and review any issues or risks on the project. You can generate simple reports to share during the meeting. Many people use a report called a look-ahead report i.e. a 2-week look ahead report. This is a report that is a filtered list of activities about the period in review. You can also use a bar chart report to view slippage in your project plan in a graphical format. In the screenshot below you can visually see the impact on the schedule as a whole when the second activity did not start on-time. All of the tasks that are dependent on it are affected. Again, the idea is to capture what’s happening so you can work as a team to resolve issues before they happen.

(Click on the image to view full-size)

Tracking View

Why use a CPM schedule?

The construction schedule is meant to be a business intelligence tool to the project team. It is intended to bring the foresight of issues before they happen. It is a communication tool to discuss what’s going on in a project with the team and stakeholders. It is a very critical component of construction projects and doesn’t have to be that hard with a little discipline and planned approach. 

If you’d like to learn more about our VPO project scheduling tools, please visit our website at http://vpocloud.com/project-scheduling/ for more information.

Any questions or comments, please email me at lnee@simplexgroup.com.

Find more time in your day.

Find more time in your day.

As project managers, we’re always trying to balance three elements: people, time, and money. If only we could find more time in a day.  Scheduling a meeting can take days or even weeks, depending on who’s invited and what their calendars look like. As the organizer, you have to propose a few dates and times, and wait for invitees to reply. Even then, there may not be a single option that works for everyone; you might have to start the whole process all over again.

Enter FindTime, from Office 365. An Outlook add-in, it can help you find workable meeting times by looking at your invitees’ available free/busy information, and creating a poll so that team members can vote on your proposed times—or even suggest new times.

 

If your company uses Office 365 you can start using it today –for free! Recipients that you invite to meetings do not require any special software. They only need Internet access and an e-mail address.

So start saving your valuable time today, and spread the word. You won’t regret it. Yet another reason to love Office 365. For installation instructions, please visit Microsoft’s website at https://findtime.microsoft.com/.

Finding the Value in a Construction Management System

Finding the Value in a Construction Management System

Many construction professionals wonder if there’s really anything they can do to help their projects run more smoothly and efficiently. To improve communication and information-sharing, to keep everybody on the ball–to trim the fat, so that their whole program of projects functions like a well oiled machine. A profitable machine. Chasing down people and paper is exhausting, and it’s effort poorly spent. If everybody on the team could use one “place” for all project talk and work, then many costly mistakes and delays could be eliminated.

Chaotic WorkflowOne of the biggest challenges is making, and sharing, decisions—wisely and quickly. While somebody’s looking for the latest information, everybody else is waiting. Everybody’s waiting for somebody else, and nobody can move forward with work on the project. But when up-to-date project data is right at the whole team’s fingertips all the time, and being routed automatically to next-in-line decision makers, then critical decisions can be made carefully and quickly. shutterstock_156525005

 

The Construction Industry Institute estimates that $15 billion is spent annually on rework—often because some project team members are accidentally referring to outdated drawings during builds. It’s a common, and expensive, problem—with an elegant and easy-to-use solution. Version control and change history give everybody a full and clear view of the whole picture. Knowing exactly what has happened helps everybody to collaborate on plans for the future, as an informed team. 

For decades, technology developers have assumed that construction teams would resist adopting new Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, so this segment of professional planners has been underserved—until now. With VPO, construction management is becoming streamlined and sleek, because project information is more than available; it’s being managed proactively.

If timely reviews and approvals of documents are critical to the success of a project, for example, then the process by which those documents are circulated should be standardized and automated—using communication methods, such as e-mail, which are already in everyday use by team members; and document formats which are familiar and intuitive. VPO provides a secure, online workspace that project stakeholders use for viewing and privately publishing up-to-date information, and measuring progress—while streamlining cumbersome processes like Bid Management, RFIs, Change Orders, and Submittals, that commonly diminish success on projects. VPO allows team members to access information on a mobile device as well –keeping everyone connected to the latest information no matter where they are working from.

Office 365 LogoBy leveraging leading Cloud-based solutions from Microsoft’s Office 365 suite like SharePoint Online, Project Online, Exchange Online, Office, and Skype for Business, and combining them with project management expertise and content, VPO packages a scalable project management system that works for small, fast-paced projects as well as for large, complex projects–and for a combination of both. 

VPO logo Small

Construction management teams deploy VPO quickly by using proven content that can be customized and enhanced over time–to develop a system that is truly built for them. And VPO takes a hands-on approach, to support our customers and the people whom they invite into their systems. We help clients focus on what they do best: managing their projects.