in the construction business often come into focus around
issues of individual projects and their execution. But successful
companies stay on top of the game by keeping an eye on the
larger view to balance resources across multiple projects,
all of the time.
After years of concentrating on project management, scheduling
and collaboration tools, an increasing number of software
developers and Web services providers now are developing tools
to enhance the enterprise-level view. They are developing
products to either gather, integrate and analyze data generated
by multiple tools, or they are offering single-database, across-the-board
solutions for all business operations.
"Enterprise" and "dashboard views" are
buzzwords now. But some users say there is a lot more to it
than just buzz and words as they put new systems in place.
"A lot of our systems were out of date, so we made a
giant leap into something else," says Dale Moore, the
vice president managing a conversion of business systems for
Shive-Hattery Inc., a 300-employee, six-office architectural
and engineering firm based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The firm
started going live with a multi-function product from Deltek
Systems, Herndon, Va., on Dec. 1 after 18 months of planning.
"We were looking for a single integrated database,"
Moores goal was to eliminate duplicate entry of information
and to draw diverse interpretations from the same pile of
However they are built, most enterprise products seek to
make the process of extracting data as instant and as invisible
as possible. The goal is to come across to users as super-intelligent,
multi-function, analytical business tools.
Moores company was having problems coordinating isolated
pools of information in databases for customer relationship
management, accounting, project management and other business
functions. "We had to enter data up to seven times,"
Moore says. With the Deltek Vision system now being implemented,
data is entered only once, but is available for any other
business functions that require it. Moore says single entry
will "obviously increase efficiency," but also should
improve accuracy. "The actual information gets updated
and populated in the course of what we do in processing a
project," he says.
Weekly project updates also are more simple to produce. Accountants
no longer have to spend two days running the numbers. With
the new system, Moore says he can click on a report template
link and the information is immediately available to anyone
who needs it, generated from up-to-the-minute data in real
The only part of the old collection of products Shive-Hattery
retained is its human resources program. Specific information
about individuals and their pay grades that may be needed
to put together projects and proposals is mapped from the
database of one system to the other so updates can be automated,
but personal information stays isolated for now, Moore says.
For the project-level view, many systems create a dashboard-like
homepage for managers so they immediately can see where they
stand in their work when they log on each morning. But they
generate a different view from the same database for executives
who may need more of a top-level perspective. The systems
summarize all operations, but also give the boss the ability
to drill deep into any item to examine details.
PAGE Hardin says unified system aids standardization.
(Photo courtesy of Hardin Construction)
Atlanta-based Hardin Construction Co. LLC decided its best
approach to getting a unified, multi-function enterprise system
that suited its needs was to collaborate with Toronto-based
software developer Computer Methods International Corp. to
develop a line of project management, collaboration and enterprise
products for the industry.
"Weve gone from a dozen of assemblies of databases
for project information to a single bucket for almost all
of it," says Danny Bensley, chief information officer.
He says one side effect is that project set-ups are being
standardized, now that all company offices are working on
the same database.
Hardin also is testing a CMiC module that Bensley thinks
will save the company a tremendous amount of time when creating
proposals and doing resource planning. "You enter an
opportunity, a project on the horizon, and...while we gather
information, [the system] compares it to similar projects
we have done and finds personnel who have similar experiences,"
says Bensley. "Then we use those projects to help evaluate
whether we should pursue this one. You would be amazed at
the amount of energy that goes into that process, and the
amount of energy that goes into jockeying back and forth."
Enterprise data integration also is turning out to be more
than just taking down walls that isolate information as fresh
insight emerges on how data can be used to help firms function
Software and Web solution vendors with large, diverse customer
bases such as Primavera, Bala Cynwyd, Pa., and Meridian Project
Systems, Folsom, Calif., are enhancing their enterprise products,
features and integrated data for single point accessibility.
Meridians recently released Proliance Web-based enterprise
business system, and Primaveras Enterprise, which has
seen steady enhancement of its analysis tools, both are targeting
the needs of large-scale owners and companies seeking to integrate
diverse sets of data with sophisticated software. Other long-time
players, such as Dexter + Chaney, Seattle, with its Forefront
line of offerings, and Computer Guidance Corp., Scottsdale,
Ariz., are broadening their lines of financial management
offerings to enhance the enterprise view.
But smaller companies also are trying to improve the enterprise
view. Cyntergy Technology, Tulsa, Okla., maker of a product
called Thumbprint CPM, has even brought in an artificial intelligence
twist. Thumbprint is a unified database, program management
system. But instead of working from rigid templates for business
activities created during implementation, it learns your business
patterns and asks for explanations whenever you make changes.
If, for instance, you start setting up a project in a new
state that has different permitting requirements from states
where you have set up other similar jobs, the system will
query you about the changes. It also will define a new process
to apply if you set up more work in that state again.
Thumbprint was developed within a design firm, then split
off as a separate operation about two years ago. The main
customers today are that same design firm and Wal-Mart Stores
Inc., which uses it in capital planning and construction at
its offices in Bentonville, Ark.
"My department is the first using this software,"
says Patrick Carroll, Wal-Marts director of realty construction.
His group, which is managing more than 600 active construction
projects, handles conversion of company properties no longer
needed for stores. Other departments, including the new-construction
wing, will adopt Thumbprint soon, he says.
Carroll says the system is great for enterprise resource
planning as well as program management. It also has eliminated
duplicate data entry and put all of the departments
project data in one spot, rather than on spreadsheets that
had to be constantly updated, he says.
But the learning aspect of the program also is really appealing.
"People who touch it, like it," Carroll says. "It
learns on the fly as it maintains its database. It has made
our process a lot quicker and things are not falling through
the cracks because it picks up on it when you leave something
out. It will tell you, hold on, why did you do that?
It works like its supposed to, and its a neat