Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Project Management Softwares

Computers are the backbone of today’s information systems which form an integral part of project management. Computers are in essence data and information processors. If properly applied and managed they can greatly enhance productivity and improve quality, providing company with a competitive advantage.

In many construction companies, most management resides in the hands of those who graduated decades ago with little exposure, if any, to computer technology. Such individuals are faced with the difficulties of understanding the value and use of computers in the daily project life.

At another level, decentralization of information technology boosted productivity of those armed with proper knowledge in their fields and in the field of computing. Proper applications of remote computing make it possible to solve problems hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the project site without any loss of details or input from the project management personnel. Advance data collection techniques provide better control on cost, time, and quality as well as future estimates. Scheduling exercises of CPM or precedence take very little time to process once the schedule is set. Estimating becomes more reliable with proper use of software that facilitates reuse of unit costs and package or work assemblies.

A large number of procedures and methods have been developed to enhance the application of project management to a vast range of industrial and administrative functions. This rapid spreading of project management is largely due to the availability of computer software packages that make it possible to quickly implement project management techniques.

Computer programs for project planning and control have been available for a long time. A software package must be able to meet the needs of a project. There are numerous commercial software packages available. Although most project management software programs can run on the basic PC computer system, users of programs with graphical user interfaces often require a more powerful system.

Some of the project management softwares include: Microsoft Project, Artemis Project, Primavera, Suretrak Project Scheduler, Open Plan, Spreadsheets, Word processing softwares, & Etc, Etc.

Computer- processing applications in construction industry are becoming more and more common as many companies have realized the benefits inherent in such products. In the highly competitive construction field, the need to reduce costs and increase speed of delivery is paramount.

Computer applications, which have been used in the industries, may be broadly classified into four major categories [David Cleland, 1999]:

Administrative softwares
Engineering & design softwares
Project management & control, and
Plant and equipment control.

With the speedy growth and development in technologies and the continuous availability of development tools, this may allow for the creation of modules or building blocks for systems which allow rapid development of individual, functional systems around a common data structure.

The cost of integrated project control system software currently available is relatively high, which preclude most small businesses from acquiring these programmes. Alternatively, small corporations will need to develop their system using spreadsheet and word processors, but the reliability and accuracy may be improper and unrealistic.

Unfortunately, these applications are mainly isolated tools that lack comprehensive computer-aided project management system capable of being integrated with the project management functions within the various functional departments of an organization.

According to the research of Ken Gregson (2001), many organizations face the problem of island-development of information system. Their information system may be individually very good but they have been developed in isolation of one another and thus there is no added value arising from the interaction of the various systems. “People use different information to take different decisions – and then is surprised when the decisions do not relate to one another… individual systems should be components of a wider system. The overall planning activity needs to establish where these sub-systems interact, where they need to overlap, where and how they need to communicate and so on especially where they need to share data”, says Gregson.

The Internet is changing how project team members work together on a project, which usually comprises a complex process of collaboration, co-ordination and communication. The Internet is playing a crucial role in ensuring greater efficiency and productivity. As professor Thomas W. Malone of MIT Sloan School of Management wrote: “The revolution under way today will be driven not by changes in production, but by changes in co-ordination”. The Internet enables project teams to connect to an integrated environment that bridges geographical locations, time zones and project domains. Virtual teams can collaborate productively at any time, from anywhere [IcFox, 2001].

Using the Internet platform for project collaboration will represent a new paradigm for the construction industry in the coming years. According to IcFox (2001), by the year 2004, it is expected that construction companies will spend up to US$1 billion (RM3.8 billion) on hosted and project collaboration softwares. In is imperative for construction companies to enhance efficiency and profitability by improving their tools and methodology to enable quantum leap improvement with lower cost.

Computer should not be used to replace traditional decision-making processes. The computer should be used only as a tool to facilitate the implementation of validated techniques. The primary value of the computer is the speed at which it will perform the quantitative analysis needed in developing schedules and generating a variety of outputs and reports.

Project managers therefore need to be aware of available and emerging technologies. Together, these lead to a development of an information strategy, which itself give rise to the development of integrated and compatible systems.

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