Any organization that undertakes the majority of its workload as distinct projects probably has a rattle bag of tools and methods to keep all the elements required on time and budget. From managing day rates paid to contractors or freelancers, to procurement of materials or outsourcing, right through to the financial detail of POs and invoicing, workloads dot around the company, bouncing from Gantt chart application, to Excel sheets to cloud-based time tracking, and back again.
While every company works uniquely, there are identifiable “norms” in just about every project-focused business, from the construction industry to the startup software development house. That’s why, in technology terms, there is a typical prevalence of applications like Smartsheet or Project (project planning), DropBox (filesharing), Excel or Google Sheets (general figures, quantities, and so on), and Xero, Quickbooks, or Sage (finance). Outside those givens, tools tend to get more specialized according to the industry or individual company.
Some organizations have the time and resources to commission bespoke software to run the business more efficiently. Or they might try low-code application development, creating “citizen developers” in-house who create apps crafted to the individual organization’s methods of keeping projects on track.
Very large enterprises can use one of the powerful ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications like Oracle NetSuite or Workday to provide full oversight into every aspect of their project-based work. However, most will find that although the initial costs of those big suites are manageable, it’s the tweaking and further development required to mold the software to a company’s specific methods that come as a nasty shock.
Furthermore, once locked into a Salesforce, SAP, Workday, or similar environment, it’s near-impossible to exit the ecosystem once there have been a couple of additions or addenda made to the stock platform. On-going license costs start to form a significant chunk of OPEX, and as the company scales, these never seem to diminish as an overall percentage of revenues.
At Tech Wire Asia, we are looking hard at the range of project management solutions available to organizations of just about any size, from the five-person outfit right up the multi-million-dollar turnover company. We are specifically interested in solutions that adapt without alarming cost to different companies’ requirements.
Separating strategic change from technology
To what degree software should reflect an organization’s existing working practices is debatable. In our experience, we know the emplacement of new technology will not help organizations change inherently flawed business practices.
The solutions presented here are all capable of driving efficiency if efficiencies are there to be made. No single piece of technology will suddenly turn an average company into a roaring success overnight. But the following providers have, we feel, unique takes on systems in which proactive and adaptable companies can become more agile, responsive to change, and aware to a profound degree of exactly how work is moving through the company.
Any solution considered by project managers has to be amenable to all affected employees and digital tools already in place (so-called legacy solutions), so interoperability at a technical level are at least as important as workforce buy-in. Engaging with end-users for whom any solution is destined is a critical part of any technology project; at least as important as ensuring that the chosen platform will work in any organization’s unique digital setup. Any vendor of project-based technology solutions should offer a trial period, an in-depth demo of their platform (or a significant part of it), and certainly should be delighted to listen to any prospective customer’s specific requirements, existing pain-points, and what is envisaged as an outcome.
Bringing together the disparate parts of a complex project to hit desired way-points and deadlines is a series of tasks that can be made more efficient and, therefore, quicker and more profitable. Technology has the power to handle those tasks but putting it in place should be a carefully monitored and overseen operation, and we urge readers to involve any vendor’s people on the ground as much as possible under current circumstances.
Unlike large ERP systems that have traditionally been the go-to solutions for project-based workflow management, the ProWorkflow platform is a specialist platform developed only with this single business-type in mind.
Although it is a web-native SaaS, it remains highly adaptable to each organization, either by means of the use of modules specific to particular uses, or from the options available out of the box in each module. Base modules cover projects (and their component tasks), time, contacts, reporting functionality — and of course, the whole suite is fully mobile-friendly for remote teams, workers on the ground, and the new WfH generation.
Companies pay only for the base packages and then add required components either as the company grows or as the platform proves itself. And as specialists in the area, the ProWorkflow team offers focused help, support and advice borne of years’ working with organizations like yours.
The solution integrates brilliantly with many of the applications and services that companies already use, so this is not a tear-down-and-start-again platform: but its advantages are such that practices like sharing static Excel documents with dozens of stakeholders (with “latest version roulette” an inevitable by-product) will soon be thing of the past.
Tech Wire Asia is taking a deeper dive into ProWorkflow here, so read on if your organization is looking for a dedicated project-centric powerhouse to help drive efficiency.
What sets Workato apart is the way it combines different technologies—a next-gen iPaaS, API-led RPA, low code API management, and chatbots— on a single platform. A true low-code/no-code platform, Workato empowers both seasoned developers in technology teams and non-developers in other business functions to lead and own the automation of their workflows for faster business transformation.
Workato’s founders, with backgrounds in companies like Oracle, Skype, and Splunk, understand that technology must become simpler so more people in project-based organizations can use it. This is why Workato operates on plain English and drag-and-drop. The result? Workato users (nearly half of which are in non-IT functions) love the platform. No IT department needed here.
As industry automation standard-bearers, Workato is also the only company of those featured here that has appeared both in the Gartner Magic Quadrant and Forrester Wave as leaders in integration platforms. It specializes in bringing together existing technologies for project planning and management, and does it as market-leader.
The company has recently announced it raised a further US$110 million at a post-money valuation of US$1.7 billion, so Workato is clearly a name to watch.
The Tableau offerings are designed with different user-types in mind. Whether your C-Suite wants to approach a problem from a macro-perspective or have an individual business-minded project manager or talented employee write bespoke automation routines on live data streaming from multiple sources, the platform has it covered.
This is achieved by defining various roles in a company: viewers, explorers, and creators. That series of roles may exist in a single team or spread across business functions. For project-based workflows, that encompasses the broadest possible range of managers, stakeholders, partners, contractors, sub-contractors, freelancers and outside agencies.
For viewers, there’s the visualization and oversight they need; explorers are more confident moving deeper into the layers of information to pull out underlying business logic; creators are the people with a flair for seeing the bigger picture and solving problems quickly.
Tableau can be deployed at a massive scale in cloud-based clusters or private data centers. The company has split its platform’s availability into four apps: Desktop, Prep, Online & Tableau Server. Learn more about the gold standard Tableau here.
Zapier initially presents as an IFTTT variant (if-this-then-that) taken up several levels: but despite its ease of use for even novices, its real power is waiting as users gain experience.
In the Zapier vernacular, data interchanges are known as “Zaps,” comprising a trigger, followed by action: if a new email arrives in an Outlook account, then send a message, for example. This is known by Zapier as a “Task.” So far, so much an IFTTT deployment, albeit one with 1000+ app instances drawn from a range of standard and easy models. Zapier integrates with tools that predominate in project-focused businesses, using the existing stack of technology, but letting users make interconnections at will to inform and collaborate.
Paid plans (starting at $20 per user, per month) allow integration to “premium” apps, which include just about enterprise or business application and service under the sun: Salesforce, NetSuite, and most SQL variations, plus To-Do apps, databases, online services, HRM, PM and every other flavor of acronym soup. Paid plans also enable multi-step Zaps; thus, to continue the metaphor, IFTTT and T and T and T, too.
Part of Zapier’s power is recovering when interconnections suffer from a brittle nature: after all, if an automation comprises half a dozen applications dependent on one another, it only takes one stumbling internet connection or small point upgrade to break a workflow.
Zapier’s approach is very much citizen-led, and here at Tech Wire Asia, we envisage users starting to automate everyday tasks and then cross-selling plans to their colleagues, teams, and departments. That way, there’s pressure from the coal face up to decision-makers.
There’s Zapier for Teams for those larger deployments, allowing sharing and collaboration on Zaps without having to pool individuals’ logins to the various services. There’s a free trial available to test, too.
*Some of the companies featured on this article are commercial partners of Tech Wire Asia
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