Projects are becoming ever more complex, with pressure on cost and deadlines constantly increasing. “This requires more than just efficient project management from SMEs, they also need to retain a thorough, transparent overview of all project-related expenses and costs,” explains Marcel Walter, CEO of the Swiss SAP Solution Partner Consultinform.
Recording all costs
A company must therefore know whether the services rendered in the course of a project are economical and profitable. “In order to uncover any added costs at an early stage, the entire expenditure in terms of time, organization, and human resources must be recorded,” Marcel Walter continues. This is why the SAP Solution Partner Consultinform, based in Uitikon near Zurich in Switzerland, developed Project Account – a software package for project controlling – over ten years ago and now specializes in this field.
The solution is aimed primarily at SMEs that render and invoice project-, client-, or customer-specific services. These include for instance consultancy firms, IT service providers, architects, engineering companies, PR and advertising companies, IT departments in large companies, organizations and associations, public sector institutions, schools and educational establishments.
Monitoring and managing life cycles
“Our solution provides SMEs with the greatest possible transparency to monitor and manage all life cycles of a project – from tender through to completion, including the final invoice and actual costing,” explains CEO Marcel Walter. Projects can thus be costed, monitored, managed, analyzed and invoiced with precision. This also includes ancillary project processes such as the maintenance and control of working time, vacation credits, or project workers’ expense accounts.
Consultinform programmed an interface using the Software Development Kit (SDK) to link the functions required for project business with those of a state-of-the-art and powerful business software solution. This links Project Account with the SAP software as an add-on and enables the effective exchange of data. Project Account directly accesses the address data of SAP Business One. Project invoices can be processed by the project manager in Project Account and viewed electronically. All account allocation information is passed directly to SAP Business One. Basic data from SAP Business One (such as cost centers, revenue accounts, sales tax codes, currencies, terms of payment, articles) are only recorded in SAP Business One and used directly in Project Account. “SMEs can thus profit from the benefits of both solutions,” reports Marcel Walter.
Faster project launches
In order to launch projects quickly, smoothly, and in compliance with the contractual terms, Project Account offers corresponding standard templates (termed “master projects”). Recurrent orders can also be quickly adapted to the current project-specific circumstances. The specifications for the handling of the entire project are recorded centrally in the project master data. These include for instance customer and project manager information, project status, project team, project type, and specifications regarding the service catalog, valid expense/ external costs items, additions and deductions, and controlling and invoicing.
Project Account enables orders to be set up and precosted as early as the quotation phase. This also immediately records advance organizational or technical services, the costs of which firms seldom take sufficiently into account, if at all, and these are included in the monitoring of the effective project costs. “Firms thus receive a comprehensive overview of all costs incurred for a project,” explains Walter.
Efficient reporting and controlling optimizes processes
Project Account’s project controlling provides clearly structured analyses and overviews of all projects at all times. All important project information can be accessed quickly and easily and can be displayed in different depths of detail and levels of aggregation. Special access rights and a four-stage hierarchy model (management, cost center manager, project manager, employees) ensure that each user receives the analyses and valid information relevant for their respective task. Thanks to special selection criteria, management receives sales analyses by customer or periods, jobs started, or project returns. Project managers can access information on the project and billing status and actual/target comparisons. The head of the department receives profit center analyses, productivity figures, cost center statistics, and the project workers’ work time statistics and overviews of their absences and vacations.
Further, separate additional authorizations e.g. for invoicing and posting in financial accounting, are supported. The analyses are collected and can be accessed directly under the respective program functions or in full and in clearly structured form in the analysis module (analysis browser). Its manifold selection options enable Project Account to provide key information in concentrated form at the push of a button. “Project hierarchies” are formed in sub-projects that are specifically taken into account in controlling, analyses, and invoicing. Budgets can be broken down to employee level, for instance from the total budget per main project to the hourly budget per employee.
Project managers can also analyze the current status of a project at periodic intervals and record it in corresponding reports. All main project transactions and processes (productivity figures per employee, department, and company) are thus optimized and the ongoing projects monitored, “which creates the prerequisites for project success,” Walter emphasizes.
User-friendly and quick to implement
The user-friendly solution offers different recording options – either centrally via the client software, decentrally (e.g. via a notebook), or online via Internet/intranet with a standard browser. The client application is available in German, and the web application also comes in English or French. Depending on the level of organization and complexity, the implementation process (installation, implementation and organization consultancy, training) for Project Account takes between three and six person days. According to Consultinform, the companies who use Project Account usually have a workforce of between 15 and 150.
In terms of system requirements, Walter explains that a “contemporary IT infrastructure” with a network structure and a central server in a Microsoft environment is sufficient. An MS SQL database is used for data storage. The recommended operating system is Windows2000 Server and above. The license price varies according to company size and the modules or function packages required. The price per user is in the region of 600 to 1000 Swiss Francs (around €385 to €640). “That means that Project Account isn’t just an ideal enhancement to SAP Business One, it is also extremely cost-effective,” Walter stresses in closing.