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Project forecasting & resource management

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One of Portal’s customers has been a supplier of defence electronics systems for over 30 years to the UK Ministry of Defence, as well as to major prime contractors and directly to customers overseas.

Key points

Complex operations and reliable information

With wide-reaching expertise in turnkey projects, integrated system design and niche product solutions, our customer is well-versed in the use of in-house technology, specialist third party products and commercial-off-the-shelf technology.

The challenge

Like all large businesses, data underpins every aspect of the business’s activities, and with so many autonomous units effectively operating as a series of projects, it has to cope with a great deal of data.

The more complex the company’s operations became, the greater the need for reliable information upon which to base its resource planning and forecasting systems. The company had previously developed a forecasting process using IBM Cognos Enterprise Planning Analyst and IBM Cognos Enterprise Planning Manager. The solution was delegated to a team of project managers, with each one having ownership of a library that contained the forecasting model. As the business continued to expand its operations, new libraries were being created for every new project manager that joined the team resulting in more and more maintenance during the monthly forecasting cycle. The expansion was so great, that at one point the company had as many as 58 separate libraries to maintain and update with actual data.

Describing the challenges of maintaining the previous system, a spokesperson for the company said: “Making changes to the models was unnecessarily daunting. A minor change would need a structured project delivery approach, with increased risk of losing data as the model expanded across the project management team. The administration of the system was taking so long, we continuously came close to missing reporting deadlines at month end.”

The requirement

Our customer required some guidance on how to manage the increasing demand on its forecasting solution. The time to maintain and update the individual libraries was increasing, resulting in the project managers losing time to update their figures and meet the deadlines set by the Finance team. The model management time therefore needed to be reduced. In addition to this, the project managers had lost confidence in the results produced by the system, and a lack of trust in the data became widespread within the Project Management team. Therefore, a defined model template needed to be rolled out across the team to ensure consistent results for each end user.

What was needed was a system that with simplified and streamlined administration functions, that would automatically update overnight, and which would provide reliable data to allow more accurate forecasting of the people and resources needed on particular jobs.

The solution

Portal was pleased to take on this challenge and collaborated with the customer on the delivery of the project using their knowledge of the existing IBM Cognos solution. This input helped speed up the design process, as the forecasting requirements remained consistent. Portal’s solution involved presenting the forecast model in the form of a web-based application using IBM Cognos Contributor. Each project manager would have visibility of only their own projects using the security functions inherent in the software, and would be able to input the forecast data at the required level of detail. A hierarchy was created in the structure of the application that consolidated all of the project elements such that each project manager could see the overall view of the projects that they are responsible for. In additional to this, the senior managers would also have visibility of the divisional forecast data where all project manager data is consolidated instantly.

In terms of maintenance, the new solution was built on one template model in IBM Cognos Planning Analyst. This template was distributed to the project management team using IBM Cognos Planning Contributor. Maintenance is massively reduced, as the single library is the only object to be maintained as opposed to 58. In addition, a series of macros are scheduled to run overnight to maintain the actual data being imported, to maintain the project structures and project manager allocation of projects within the solution, and to ensure the project managers are working with the latest data.

Portal encouraged the customer to manage the on-going maintenance of the application themselves. To empower them, Portal developed an Administration front end using IBM Cognos Planning Manager that is used to access the template application. Using this, the customer is able to reduce the risk of making incorrect amendments to the template, and to follow the guided approach to maintenance that has been developed in the final solution.

How has it made a difference to their business?

Prior to implementing the Project Forecasting solution on IBM Cognos Contributor, the customer operated another system to manage project resourcing. Since developing the web-based solution for project management, Portal was able to develop a simple solution to integrate project resourcing with the project management solution. The project resourcing application presents a different view of the data entered by the project management application in that the data is presented to resource managers who are responsible for the resources used in the projects. The resource managers use this data to see what the demands are on their teams at different periods of the year, giving them the tools to make decisions on reallocating resources or hiring more employees to meet project requirements.

By integrating a complimentary application to the project management application, the customer has the confidence that the data being used across the organisation is consistent and reliable, with a level of accountability spread across the organisation. “We had never planned to implement a new system, but from the rollout of the Project Forecasting application, we saw how easy it would be to integrate new solutions using IBM Cognos across the business. We are now getting more value from the investment,” the customer’s spokesperson explained.

This was a situation that led to inaccuracies in both costs and resourcing forecasts that have now been eliminated, and efficiency gains have been achieved.

Also now the forecasting is in real-time and the movement of resources and costs can be seen almost “live”.

How did Portal assist?

One approach to helping customers overcome situations like this is to simply fix the problem – to tick the box and move on.

Portal prides itself in understanding its customers’ problems and finding effective ways of solving them in a more sustainable way. Which sounds great of course, but unless it’s an outlook backed up by action it could be hard to demonstrate.

The customer also took out a support agreement to help them both during the critical month-end process and if the system underperforms or requires maintenance. “Part of the implementation was to ensure that we could maintain the model ourselves, but there will be times when we can’t fix the problems that may come up. Having the support in place gives us the confidence that Portal will be on hand when we need it, both from a technical perspective and a modelling perspective. Portal's consultant got his support team involved at the end of the project to walk through the model and review all documentation, giving me the confidence that the knowledge of our processes and environment was shared with the team.”

So, how did Portal bring this outlook to life for the customer?

Portal helped to design and build the solution used for forecasting and continues to advise on enhancements. Portal helped to integrate the cost forecasting and resourcing models into others already designed and built. Portal also supports the customer’s Cognos environment and with the upgrade from IBM Cognos Enterprise Planning Series 7 to IBM Cognos Enterprise Planning 10.

Rather than just deliver a system that did what the customer was initially looking for, the Portal approach was to empower the customer. To help overcome any lag with user-adoption, the customer was fully involved in the project. This meant the customer was able to spot, and record, any potential difficulties they were having.

Empowering the customer is important. The ownership of the solution is handed over to them. This collaborative approach keeps costs down, gives the customer more control and leaves a positive legacy, which although inexpensive to maintain, has the support available from Portal where needed.

This customer is using: Cognos v10 – IBM Cognos Enterprise Planning (Analyst, Contributor, and Manager