Knowledge is Power. This adage holds true now more than ever. Everyone is looking for fast and reliable information to help them make timely informed decisions. In the olden days information was filtered down to masses in a gradual manner. It took time for information, good or bad, to propagate.
Fast forward to today, the progress in information technology is nothing short of a revolution. People are exposed to the 24 Hour Cycle. It takes only a few minutes for an event happening in a particular part of the World to appear on TV screens and Web Pages across the World.
‘Analytics’ has been defined as the ‘science of analysis’. In the Corporate World, Information has itself become ‘commoditized’. Big bucks are spent to gather and ‘buy’ Information. Fast and reliable information is scarce. Insight out of the information is even scarcer. Big retail firms spend millions on market research of not only their own Products but those of their competitors as well. The research firms gather the data and present their results back to the Managers to ‘Analyze’ and act upon. Crude oil and oil futures are traded publicly. The daily output from OPEC is limited and is public knowledge. The Refining capacity for each country is generally flat. So why does an investor pay more for a future contract of Crude Oil than others? Maybe he knows more than the other investors, or maybe even less. A number of Energy Analysts look at all sorts of data related to the Production, Transportation, Refining and Consumption of Oil. They look at everything from delays in shipping lanes and unrest in Oil producing regions to weather patterns around rigs and consumption trends. Their job is to gather, refine and deliver the data to the investors to help them make an intelligent and informed decision in a timely manner.
The decision makers do not necessarily want all the minute details. What they need is the ‘Analytics’ support provided by the Analysts. They need the insight from all the data and information. It is this fast and accurate access to this actionable insight that helps companies and investors out maneuver and beat their competitors.
Business leaders have started to realize the benefits of automated software based Business Analytics in gathering information on their operations, production and transactional activities. Businesses are deploying Analytics applications that automate the information gathering and presentation. There has been increasing demand for Analytics support in a number of additional areas. One of the areas is Project Management.
A number of Enterprise resource planning ‘ERP’ Systems offer applications related to Project Management. Each ERP system offers a handful of tools in their Project Management application that differentiate them from each other. An increasing number of mid-size to large and even some small companies are deploying Project Management Applications.
ERP systems at the core help the company manage their assets, resources and most importantly their finances. As Project Management evolved and standardized in the last decade thanks to professionals and organizations like the PMI, the Industry realized the benefits of managing the progress and finances of their individual projects separately from their production /day to day management.
The Project Management modules in the ERP systems provide the functionality to itemize, track and manage the Project Related transactions for the company. As the Project Management module is tied to the Financials Module, the Project Manager can easily manage the Funding, Invoices, Journals, Revenue recognition and the costs associated with each individual project. The reporting and analytics capabilities in these Business Applications are however limited.
Oracle is first major software company to release a comprehensive Project Analytics suite. They have released Project Analytics as part of their Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 7.9.6 Release. The Project Analytics Module sources raw Project Data from Oracle EBS and PeopleSoft Enterprise Project Management Applications. It extracts and refines the data into reports and presents the refined data on the Analytics Dashboard. The web based Dashboards provide graphical and tabular representation of customizable data. Oracle Project Analytics displays Project reports related to Project cost, revenue, budget and billing among other things.
In Today’s recessionary environment the CIOs and CEOs are actively looking at ways of reducing costs and maximizing the revenue with limited resources. Oracle Project Analytics provides essential project based metrics on web based dashboards. The information is clearly laid out and gives fast fact based visibility into the Project Performance.
Anyone having access to the Dashboard, from Developers to Project Managers to the CEO can look at the insight provided by Oracle Project Analytics and act quickly and decisively to adjust resources, reduce costs and increase profitability. This comes with a prebuilt Dashboard and Data Warehouse, but the users have the ability to create custom reports and metrics in the Dashboard.
The Dashboards have role based access. The Administrators have the capability to grant access to users based on their roles within the organization. The level of access can also be controlled. A Project member can have Read access only while the Project Manager may have full edit access to the same report or dashboard.
After login the CEO may be taken to the Executive Dashboard with high level metrics for active Projects across his Organization. The Executive can go through the metrics, quickly identify the areas needing his attention and drill down to the detail level for further information.
Other individuals may be denied access to the Executive Dashboard and taken to their customized dashboard. This is extremely important because it gives the users only the information that they need very quickly. The managers do not have to sift through data and turn over pages to get what they want. The Project manager can quickly identify and address the cost variance issue in the project while the Organization Director is in a better position to move resources between projects after going through the Dashboard metrics. It helps the user make informed decisions in a timely manner.
Typically the Project financial data and status is entered into the Project Management ERP Applications by Project Managers, project team members and accountants. Working with these applications requires a level of expertise that a typical management team does not have. These applications provide a good mechanism of project management but lack the reporting flexibility. Reports are generally created though the ERP applications at the Project or Organization level. Management feeds these numbers in their spreadsheets for management review. There are a few problems with this approach. Firstly there is quite a bit of manual work and calculation required which may be prone to human errors. Secondly by the time the report filters up to the Executives it might already be too late to act.
Since the warehouse behind the dashboard is sourced from the same ERP application that the Project Team enters data into, the executives can access their favorite reports on the dashboard promptly and not worry about the accuracy of the data. This is the fundamental benefit of the fast fact based Analytics.
The Project Analytics data is currently sourced from Oracle E-Business Suite and the Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise ERP Applications. A universal adapter is also provided which can be used by the administrators to fetch and display Project data from other Source Systems.
The data in Project Analytics is tightly coupled with General Ledger and Financials data from the Source System. The users can view the Key Progress Indicators for the Projects against the General Ledger, Accounts receivables and Accounts Payables data.
One big incentive to the Managers is the implementation and maintenance cost associated with Oracle Project analytics. The Warehouse and Dashboard associated with Oracle Project Analytics is tightly integrated with existing Oracle EBS and PeopleSoft Enterprise Applications. The Warehouse is supported on multiple Databases and can be hosted on an existing Databases Server having sufficient space and memory.
The setup and administration is not overly complicated. Anyone having Database administration expertise and some web administration experience should be able to manage the administration. This helps keep the training costs in check while also leveraging the skills of the existing workforce.
Creating the custom reports and graphs using the Dashboard seems intuitive. The primary users of the Analytics dashboards are Company managers with limited SQL skills. The Project Analytics dashboard was designed with this in mind. The users can create their own custom reports and graphs with relative ease. They save these metrics on their dashboard and even make them available for others to view.
Project Analytics gives the Management team the ability to view the historical Project data. They can thus make better informed decisions and can browse the metrics for trending and forecasting.
Alerts are another useful feature of the Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition that Project Analytics can leverage. The users can add custom alerts on metrics. Let’s say that a Manager wants to be notified whenever a threshold on cost variance or unrealized Revenue has reached. The manager can set the value on the appropriate report and an Alert will show up at his next login after the alert condition is met. Furthermore, the Alert system can also be configured to send an email to the user whenever the alert condition is met. He can receive the alert notification on his personal computer or the handheld device and take the necessary action.
Although the data in the Warehouse may be sourced from one or more ERP systems at the back end, the front end i.e. the Dashboard is hosted as web interface. So there is no bulky install required on the end user’s machine and more importantly the metrics are available on any device with internet browser support. Typically anyone with access to the corporate Intranet can access the metrics on the personal computing device of their choice. A General Manager in Brussels can access the Project metrics for the big construction project in Boston just before his big meeting with the Board.
Oracle is the first major software firm to provide Project Analytics support for their Business Applications. Judging by effectiveness of the software and the demand in the industry, it won’t be the last.