“We would often reinvent the wheel for each new project,” is Carlos Cruz’s clear assessment of the situation in which Agile Solutions found itself in 2002. The project business, one of the mainstays of sales of the IT consultancy company with its head office in Sao Paulo, could no longer be managed efficiently. “We didn’t have a systematic approach,” explains the managing director. The young company, which was founded in 1999, found that the effort involved in planning the project, estimating demand, and making associated decisions grew with each new project. Meetings were the order of the day. The company spent a good deal of time and energy determining which consultants with which qualifications were available for how long. The company was also losing sight of the bigger picture in ongoing projects. There was a risk of overlooking errant trends, and there was no early warning system to guard against costs or working times getting out of hand. The company’s reputation was at stake. Agile Solutions was running the risk of no longer being able to provide its customers with services at a sufficient level of speed or precision.
Agile Solutions focused on its skills. The company was not merely an SAP software partner, it had also acquired the status of an SAP xApps partner in Latin America at an early stage. One of the xApps solutions provided by SAP promised to serve Agile’s requirements adequately. SAP xApp Resource and Portfolio Management (SAP xRPM) creates both a realistic view of individual projects and an overview of all projects that a particular company is managing. Agile opted for this solution and, supported by two SAP consultants, it was implemented within ten weeks in 2004.
SAP xRPM networks the data and components of existing SAP applications that Agile Solutions were already using with SAP R/3. In order to plan and monitor the status of current projects more accurately, SAP project portfolio management merges the various databases. In this way, it uses Microsoft Project to integrate the project system with the human resources, financials, and time recording solutions.
As is usual with xApps solutions, SAP xRPM also enables the applications to be configured flexibly. For this reason, Agile’s management team had to lead the way during the concept engineering phase. It set the priorities for tasks and processes during the course of the project and also set out how end users could be “won over” for the solution with minimal training.
Centralized access to project information
Managers and employees were provided with a central point of access to all project-related information. Clearly laid-out screens, known as dashboards, provide an insight into project events. A role-based view is available to managers and employees. For instance, members of the management team, project managers, or planning experts are provided with a view of data and information across all business areas that match their own field of responsibility.
Project portfolio management helps manage all phases of a project, starting from the initial planning stages and continuing right through its whole lifecycle. The planning process begins as soon as all required key information, such as cost framework, management, departmental structure, the number of employees and staff skills and expertise, have been input. Suitable employees can be identified via a skills database and the human resources system. The system also displays whether they are available and when, or if they are involved in other projects. “We are now able to deploy the right people in the right place,” says Cruz. As portfolio management constantly monitors staff capacities with regard to current project requirements, it is easy to identify if any key qualifications are lacking in a company and, consequently, which skill sets new employees must have.
Progress displayed in real time
A workflow is created for each planned project. Tasks, dates, services, checklists, and the duration of individual project steps are defined in the workflow. Quality gates can be set at specific time intervals to check and approve the intended project progress. The solution enables each approval process to be assigned to one or more responsible employees.
The system’s integration into the back-end financial systems enables Agile Solutions to monitor costs in real time. Traffic-light icons on the project dashboard serve as quick indicators of whether projects remain within the defined cost framework or have exceeded it. Over 100 Agile employees currently use portfolio management. They receive reliable data about whether requirements, resources, schedules, and personnel capacities are being adhered to. The overview and detailed information ensure that projects are carried out correctly in terms of outlay and duration.
Demonstrating solutions to customers
Agile also had its clients and business partners in mind when it opted for SAP xRPM. Like all solutions of the xApps product family, project portfolio management is based on open standards, meaning that designers and administrators no longer need to customize database-oriented interfaces. Further, the system provides an ideal basis for collaboration across company boundaries due to the fact that it can be accessed via a normal Internet browser.
Agile took advantage of this. “SAP xRPM enables our customers to monitor the progress of their project in real time, just as we can,” Carlos Cruz reports. Further, various alternative solutions and their effects on the project can be demonstrated to the customer. Customers can follow things through and can decide for themselves which solution best fits their needs. The relationship remains intact even after the end of a project. The customer is kept abreast of new developments and updates. The software is updated at regular intervals, project progress being monitored by the SAP solution.
Agile Solutions’ own experience with project portfolio management contributed to the company attaining the status of an SAP development partner and its collaboration on the completion of a Spanish-language version of SAP xRPM in 2004.
The consultancy firm is aiming to enhance its project solution. Customer relations are the central issue in this regard. One goal is to integrate mySAP Customer Relationship Management (mySAP CRM), which provides Agile Solutions with more opportunities in the after-market business. This creates the foundation for supporting customers’ applications and system landscapes via a remote helpdesk in the event of faults and for maintenance and service tasks. The efficacy of SAP xRPM has also been proven in cross-national projects. Carlos Cruz stresses that, “SAP xRPM gives us the flexibility to work with any local provider. This puts us in a much better position to be able to offer our largest customers truly global solutions.”