The project management landscape has changed with an increased emphasis on productivity, reporting, and IT. Supplying skilled people who manage projects in excel has proven to be too inefficient and no longer provides clients with a complete service offering.

Most clients demand the use of a project management platform to drive project delivery and help distill rich insightful information that better informs decision making, efficient delivery, improves project inefficiencies and sharing of the large amount of information inherent to most portfolios, programme’s and projects.

Over the last 10 years the top management consultancies and IT firms around the globe have strategically reacted robustly by investing in both off the shelf and custom project management platforms to expand their competitive edge.  Arcadis offers a customized version of InfoExchange, Mott Macdonald offers integrated systems including Deltek Cobra, P6 and Qlikview to name but a few.

Today’s project management solutions are collaborative, Web-based, real-time workspaces that let project managers keep an eye on every detail that brings a project to fruition.

The Status Quo

Project management consultancies must invest in a project management platform or inherently face a loss of income as this could be the differentiating factor between winning and losing a commission. Better to edge on the side of caution and invest as the right project management platform will provide processes and workflow configured for consistency and repeatability which will enable better decisions with better data, a reduction in wasted and misaligned effort, allow portfolio, programme and project managers to accelerate but stay in control a giving them the ability to scale to meet demand. A project management platform will also better handle multiple processes using different methodologies across multiple teams, provide more visibility into creative project progress and digital records resulting in less duplication of efforts for repeat customers.

Culture Always Wins
One important point about all project management platforms is that they must fit in with the organisations culture. Throwing a new tool at a bunch of people and telling them to use it instead of email and excel doesn’t work.  In order for the implementation of a new project management platform to be effective all the key players on the team need to support it. When that happens you can expect to see a much greater sense of ownership, take up and teamwork and probably some animated gifs and emojis to boot. Keep in mind that most project management platforms work best when people enjoy using them.

Price Matters
A company or organization’s investment in a project management platform today doesn’t always need to be large. There are free versions of project management platforms available, however, typically they will have limitations in terms of file storage and the amount of users allowed.  Still most software companies will offer trials of thier enterprise licenses that let you and your team test them out for a while to see how well they work for you before you commit to fully purchasing them.

Custom Branding

Not all project management systems are created equal. If you don’t have a wealth of server management and coding skills in your team, try to find a platform that requires minimal configuration and customization.

Holistic Review

We tested and compared seven project management platforms to help keep your projects on track. Featured in this review is Proliance, Uniphi, InfoExchange, Quick-Base, Continuum Edge, Redmine & Smartsheet.

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1. Proliance Review

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Proliance does exactly what it says it will do on the lid.  Feature for feature Proliance will stand against most competitors.  However, there is one major problem, well actually four to be precise. Proliance has a clunky interface, it’s uninitiative, uninspiring and looks seriously outdated.  Some would argue that it’s the core functionality of a platform and not looks that matter, but unfortunately not in this case. The product has also been slow to adopt browser agnostic capabilities.  As the saying goes, if you’re doing things the way you always have then you should know that someone, somewhere is figuring out how to make you obsolete. Proliance’s ship has sailed. The competition in the project management software space is riff and software companies simply can not afford to become complacent.
  • History: Proliance is part of the Trimble a Plan-Build-Operate technology solutions provider for project-based organizations, building owners, construction and engineering firms, and public agencies. The company was founded in 1993 and is headquartered in Folsom, California in the United States of America.  In November 2006 it was acquired by Trimble.
  • Target Market: Facilities management and procurement. This product is designed for companies that manage or operate large buildings, real estate developments and engineering organizations.
  • Life on Earth: Life as a project manager is already hard.  Life would be extremely painful if one was forced to use Proliance on a daily basis.  On the other hand, if looks and usability are not an issue and can be overlooked then Proliance might be just right for you.
  • Price Tag:  The price is not readily available on thier main website.  Proliance claims to have flexible pricing and deployment options that includes both SaaS and on premise options.  In our experience when the price tag is missing from a software company’s website this generally means a jaw dropping price.

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2. Uniphi Review

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:  Our initial feeling is that UniPhi has not been deveoped as much as the other platforms reviewed.  Our main concern is firstly the lack of manpower as they are fairly small they run a higher risk of failing as a business. The lack of larger big name cooperate customers has no doubt hampered their speed of development. Uniphi has a basic interface, slightly outdated and it’s also a bit clunky. It’s not slick, but seems to be robust and generally easy to navigate. It’s not an intuitive system and has no system prompts to help users like Smartsheet.  It took ages to create a new project when using the demo.   So most people with a solid background in using project management platforms will also struggle and probably fall at the first hurdle. Could be a problem when training new users with no experience of using project planning tools.  Uniphi has a ton of features, there are lots of boxes to click and complete when setting up a new project.  It would be prudent to remove unnecessary functionality and only leave what is required.  Uniphi allows the phasing a budget and if issue tracking features are an important selling point for you.  You should know that UniPhi allows users to resolve issues through multiple workflows.  No two projects are the same and definitely no two companies are the same, hence UniPhi’s lack of customization is a con.
  • History: UniPhi was launched in 2011 and as such has only been around for 4 years and therefore does not benefit from a large community of users.  UniPhi was awarded an ABA 100 award in 2014 for innovation for its involvement in the Global Unite project business award.  They are on version 11 of the Uniphi software.  UniPhi can be used either on the web via desktop computer or through mobile application.  The software bundles four main solutions including UniPhi The Enterprise, UniPhi Major Projects, UniPhi Your Business and UniPhi OnSite.
  • Target Market: Project managers managing small to medium construction projects with bills of quantities or for high level portfolio management.  UniPhi current has  50 – 100 installs.  In comparison Smartsheet currently has 100,000 – 500,000 installs.
  • Life on Earth: Uncertain, similar to what is now preceding the Brexit vote to leave the EU.  Even if it may meet your requirements out of the box as your business grows, UniPhi’s lack of customization may keep it from scaling with you.
  • We simply cannot endorse this system at the moment and would need to complete UniPhi’s training course and learn more about the future of the company before drawing a final conclusion!
  • Price Tag: $50 per license inc GST.

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3. Alcumus InfoExchange

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: At the heart of  InfoExhange is a large database around which InfoExchange Engineers use its applications and a template system in its front-end content management system (CMS) to display the information based on each customers requirements.  This is similar to the way WordPress works, however, it is the InfoExchange Engineers that do the major customization and tweaking instead of the customer.  As a platform the potential is vast.  A big attraction is the flexibility Info Exchange offers.  That adaptability makes managing the system very very simple.  InfoExchange delivers real time management information that can be relied upon to provide robust, accurate information for better informed decision making and compliance management.  Less admin, easy access to key data allowing more time focused on core business improvements, staying ahead of the competition and better use of available resources are just some of the benefits of using InfoExchange.  Companies government departments & charities and over 100,000 users worldwide use InfoExchange as the core technology platform to support their GRC strategies. However, for a project management software as feature rich as InfoExchange, its difficult to understand why Alcumus the organisation behind InfoExchange has not capitalized on this by making it more easier for people to understand what InfoExchange is and what it has to offer on its main website.  This illustrates a lack of focus as a company, possibly because a lot of units operate in completely different areas.
  • History: Information Matrix Limited was founded in 2000.  In 2010 Infomatrix, was acquired by Alcumus and renamed Info Exchange.  In 2015 Alcumus Info Exchange launched new client functionality including SharePoint document management integration, enhanced Geo Mapping report visualization and an off-line data capture application.
  • Target Market:  Some of the biggest brands in retail, banking, construction and manufacturing as well as the public and not for profit sectors use Info Exchange to improve the efficiency of their critical information management processes including: Sainsbury’s, HSBC,  Morgan Sindall, RBS, Capita Group, Environment Agency, Biffa, Carlsberg, Laing O’Rourke, John Lewis, Fujitsu, Cancer Research, Interserve, Welsh Water, ASDA, Lloyds Banking Group, Marie Curie, Southampton City Council, Compass Group, East Sussex County Council, ITV.
  • Life on Earth: Pretty good. Wake up to top-level and tailored views of your business data from a central source.  This highly configurable solution is designed to follow your specific processes, using your terminology and business structure.  Heck, if the government is using it then it must be golden.  Info Exchange is securely hosted in Rackspace (UK) data centres.
  • Price Tag.  A based custom site along with full hosting would cost you around £30,000.00 to 40,000.00 a year.  That’s alot of money to part with if you’re a small to medium size organisation.  Budget constraints leave some nice features on the back burner even if it means more rework in the future.  So if price is an issue then this might not be for you.

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4. QuickBase Review

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: QuickBase is a cloud platform that allows you to create custom databases (fashionably called apps these days) on the fly.  It’s a great concept. Our initial feeling was that QuickBase seemed like a good candidate for a Project Management platform.  It’s fairly initiative.  It has a relatively slick and simplistic easy to navigate interface that also seems to be robust.  At its core is an online database around which allows companies to create their own customized enterprise apps for things like project management or issue tracking. QuickBase offers a flexible platform akin to Apples iOS operating system that allows the use of an existing pool of verified QuickBase apps. However, unlike iphone apps existing QuickBase apps can also be cloned and reconfigured and redeployed for specific client use or projects. QuickBase will host the apps and if a company wants to sell an app on their marketplace, can take care of the billing. When a developer develops an app for use on apples IOS platform, they do not have the option of having that app hosted under its own private domain name.  They can however create a separate website with links to their respective app hosted on apples IOS App Store.  The same applies to QuickBase. Think of QuickBase as an online version of the App Store, only you can use the apps on a computer and directly through a phone. We could learn to use this system without any onsite training.  But would require training to create a app from scratch.  When a user creates an app this can only be seen by that user. It will not be shared with the wider community. A creator of an app must submit an app for approval, after which it will go through a thorough review process before appearing on QuickBase’s app repository.  Unfortunately at this time there is no way to have a customized URL associated with an account or application.  The URL will always end with quickbase.com.  This like most things on the internet can be overcome however, this does not feature in their current future plans.  You can create some type of overlay or portal for users to login.  Like most systems any App you choose to adopt and configure would probably require a fair amount of tweaking. You do have a better chance of locating an existing app that covers at least 50% of your requirements as there are so many to choose from which would save both time and money. QuickBase allows us to transfer apps you develop to clients through a QuickBase Manager.  They will create a new account and ownership of the QuickBase app will be transferred to the newly created account holder.
  • History – QuickBase has only been around for eight years,  but has amassed a 250,000 usebase. Intuit plan is to become the platform for enterprise apps in the cloud.  QuickBase is owned by Intuit an American software company that develops financial and tax preparation software and related services for small businesses, accountants and individuals.  Quickbase is incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in Mountain View, California. Intuit makes the personal finance programs Quicken and TurboTax, as well as the small business accounting program QuickBooks.   In addition, they produce QuickBooks Point of Salesolution for small retailers, professional tax solutions ProSeries, Lacerte, and the Web-based corporate workgroup productivity solution QuickBase.  Intuit is joining a crowded field. Salesforce.com has its AppExchange and Force.com.  Amazon has its Web services, including SimpleDB.  Google just launched its App Engine and startups like Coghead are also angling for position.  Intuit Revenue was $ 4,171.0 million in 2013.
  • Target Market: Avariety of industries including Manufacturing, Retail, Hospitality, Healthcare, Higher Ed & more.  There are currently 50 others consultancies using QuickBase.  They introduce their clients to QuickBase and develop the apps on their behalf. There clients bill directly through QuickBase.  More than half of the Fortune 100 user QuickBase 50,000+ user companies and single-person companies use QuickBase
  • Life on Earth: From a UI/UX perspective, Quickbase is a very intuitive product.  It is very easy to use and customize and the reporting is top notch! All feedback from the application is so detailed to the point where it practically resolves the issue for you.  It’s a mature product, which means that you would hard pressed to ask a question that hasn’t already been answered by one of the Quickbase geniuses in the community forums.
  • Price Tag: Most consultancies would require the QuickBase Platform – Option 3 which permits custom branding at a cost of $40 a month per user.  As the minimum amount of users for this package is 40 the total estimated cost for year 1 is $19200 (US Dollars) or approximately £13193 (British Pounds).  The cost per user is reduced as more people use the system.

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5. Continuum Edge Review

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Continuum Edge is a collection of Modules designed as standalone applications. First impressions: It is relatively new platform.  In our opinion they have developed a respectable product with enormous potential.  However, because this is relatively new technology and they have a narrow client base, there is a greater risk that you may encounter software bugs. You could end up being test subjects as they seek to evolve and develop new modules to suit your cause.  Their website is clean and well laid out. It describes the product clearly. They have a paypal payment box on the main landing page which is amateur.  The test site was pre-loaded with a lot of components/modules which made navigating the site difficult because of the share amount of options available and drop down menus.  It’s a good looking platform with a progressive interface, however, our feeling is that it may not be as robust a software platform as some of the other systems we evaluated. The shear amount of options leads to confusion. We would definitely require a couple of training sessions to feel confident about using the system.  It does not currently benefit from system prompts/pop ups to help users.  Once you succeed in locating the “new project form”, its plain sailing from thereon as the system provides the users with clear steps to follow to set up a new project. ContinuumEDGE may require far more configuration than the other systems  reviewed to make this work for you. Continuum Edge does not allow phasing of the budget. Portions of the budget will therefore need to be attached to tasks within a schedule.
  • Target Market: Their client base is principally industrial businesses. ContinuumEDGE is a newbie in software development and therefore does not benefit from a large community of users or online user impartial feedback.  ContinuumEDGE  has been designed for industrial businesses.  They are fairly new and understandably want to spread their wings. However, doing so will mean either re-engineering their software at its core, or bolting on add-ons and quick fixes to meet customers requirements.  This all comes at a cost. There is a massive risk that customers may encounter a bug that grinds operations to a halt, or worst still that the software company ceases business in which case you would be left with your raw data, but no system.  In comparison, if this were to occur with Info Exchange you would be able to continue using whatever version of the software is installed and would also have the rights to the source code. They have handhelds to log, or queue information changes in the field and synchronize with the master database when connectivity resumes. Providing full functionality without any internet connection. When the user returns to an area with web access, the system automatically ”pushes” those changes into the system. This is one of Continuum Edge’s greatest advantages.
  • Life on Earth: Lonely, the system is not established enough and one would feel extremely vulnerable as there isn’t a large community base to tap into for support. There is also a lack of unbiased user reviews.
  • Price Tag: The price is not readily available on their main website.  In our experience when the price tag is missing from a software company’s website this generally means a jaw dropping price. You can expect to pay ongoing costs related to customization, configuration  deployment and maintenance over the lifetime of the product which will inadvertently fund overall development. In a marketing leaflet it states “The cost of the implementation of both RFID and ContinuumEdge® is low in comparison to many of the business systems currently deployed and in use at industrial facilities.  The ROI typically is achieved with in the first six months of deployment and the improved efficiency continue  builds past this time line as users understand and utilize the power of these tools.  Continuous improvement contributes to additional operational and maintenance benefit during the following 3 to 5 years.”

 

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6. Redmine Review

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: How many times have you had an employee leave taking vital project information with him or her?  Redmine includes a wiki style format for creating and sharing project information.  The filtering in RedMine is quite useful.  It has very limited functionality and its interface is extremely clunky, uninspiring and looks rather dated.   You could probably achieve some sort of task management in Redmine, but this isn’t a clearly defined function of the software.   Additionally if grouping tasks to projects or setting task priorities is a requirement for you, this would not be the best choice.   Redmine lets administrators define roles and limit access to users depending on their position in the hierarchy.  We used TestRail for test case management and the ability to export issues from RedMine and import into TestRail wasn’t straightforward.  The product worked well for our QA team and organization but we ultimately moved to another solution recently.  Redmine is good at tracking design issues.  That’s it. However, what do you expect you get what you pay for.
  • History: Launched is 2006.  Redmine is reported to have more than 80 major installations worldwide.  Among the users of Redmine is Ruby and has claimed to be the most popular open source project planning tool.  The design of Redmine is significantly influenced by Trac, a software package with some similar features.  Following concerns with the way the feedback and patches from the Redmine community were being handled a group of Redmine developers created a fork of the project in February 2011.  The fork was initially named Bluemine, but changed to ChiliProject.  After the leader of the fork moved on from ChiliProject in 2012 and development got stuck, the project was officially discontinued in February 2015.
  • Target Market: Redmine is targeted at large public projects which do not want to spend money on expensive proprietary software.  It also targets tech-savvy organizations where employees are willing to give back to the development community in terms of bug reports and problem suggestions, and are willing to do without a dedicated support department.
  • Life on Earth: Simply couldn’t face using this piece of software every day. However, if issue tracking features are what’s important for you above all else and you have a zero budget, then Redmine maybe for you.  Without the shine of more popular project management apps it might be easy to write it off as a dated tool.  Give it a bit of time though and you can customize it to fit your needs.  Various Redmine plugins are out there which you can install for any specific use that might come in.   Again, you have to be extremely wary of the compatibility of these plugins with the version you operate.  Redmine is not a good planning tool but it never claimed to be. You can however convince yourself with the workarounds.
  • Price Tag: Redmine is open source and free, it has no usage plans or restrictions on usage and can be downloaded from the website. Much like WordPress, Linux, and other open-source tools, the ruby-on-rails powered Redmine is designed to run on your own servers.

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7. Smartsheet Review

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Still using spreadsheets?  We found Smartsheet to be the perfect union between Spreadsheets, Project Tools, & File Sharing.   Smartsheet is an online project management, productivity and team collaboration tool.   It’s slick, initiative, and user friendly.  Creating a sheet is straightforward and can be done in a variety of ways.  It’s core functionality includes: Recording and organisation of data, task management, notifications, alerts, and emails, gantt charts, web forms, and report and File sharing.  Smartsheet combines functions found in Microsoft Excel, Project, Access, and SharePoint into a single application. Smartsheet is accessible anywhere via the internet. This tool will be beneficial when teams are not co-located in one place.  Smartsheet provides fine grained access control to sheet data by providing multiple levels of account credentials and permission levels to data stored in Smartsheet.  In essence Smartsheet helps teams ensure operational requirements around governance, secure collaboration and administration for clients are met. Reporting with Smartsheet is much more than just reporting. You can generate reports within Smartsheet on everything across any of your sheets. However, If you create a lot of sheets, you will quickly find yourself frustrated with how Smartsheet handles sharing. The biggest downfall of using Smartsheet is the lack of email integration. This is an area where Smartsheet fails miserably compared to some of their competitors.
  • History:  Smartsheet was Initial released in 2006. As of November 2014, Smartsheet is used by 5 million people at 55,000 organizations.  As of April 2015, it has about 200 employees and is headquartered in Bellevue, Washington.  It operates data centers in Texas, Virginia and Illinois.  It raised $26 million in funding in December 2012 and another $35 million in May 2015. With that kind of funding brought to an already thriving company, we expect some serious updates and improvements to be added.
  • Target Market:  Smartsheet fits small teams that need simple shared task lists. Chances are you will outgrow it quickly.
  • Life on Earth: Working in Smartsheet just feels natural, simple and fast. The application is beautiful and the functionality is smooth. That is an effective combination when it comes to project management.  An easy, familiar spreadsheet interface like excel means that implementing Smartsheet will have minimal impact to operational staff.  Users can invite people (both inside and outside of the company) to collaborate on the entire project by sharing an entire sheet with them, or simply sending them a row with all attachments to get updates.  Smartsheet enables project teams to centralise and collaborate on all stages of the project. Users can easily switch to see projects from the familiar grid format to a Gantt chart or a calendar view whichever you prefer. Smartsheet allows you to set automated alerts to remind you (and others on your team) about upcoming tasks and approaching deadlines.  The Smartsheet WorkMap is an interactive tool to visualize your work and the people you are connected to in Smartsheet. Smartsheet has excellent support and they clearly care about their customers.
  • Price Tag: Smartsheet offers a low risk, high value adoption solution when compared to other Project Management Platforms reviewed.  With recent updates to Smartsheet’s price structure, things have gotten a little confusing. Still, you will find that pricing is reasonable and very scalable. Basic $7 per user per month when paid annually.  Smartsheet also has a free 30-day trial, which allows up to ten sheets and provides 3GB of storage space. Take a look at how you want to manage projects and the actual results you want to get from a PM solution.  If you need the power of Gantt charts, then you’re going to be looking at Smartsheet.

As we draw our conclusion it’s important to understand that no single system can do all things. The chosen system is intended as a Project Management Platform with a much wider application with differing clients requirements. 

QuickBase

Various options and alternatives were analyzed above to determine the best way to leverage technology to meet clients’ needs and give maximum ROI value for the money.  QuickBase is initiative, user friendly, robust, excellent at cataloging information and making it easy to retrieve,  analyze and the pricing is very accessible.

Since the entire platform is online there’s no software to deploy or database server to manage,  making QuickBase ideal for smaller businesses and personal users who don’t have dedicated database administrators on-hand.

Benefits include:

  • Proven success – is used by Google, Walmart, Amazon, US Government, and number of consultants.
  • Scalable – is flexible, adaptable, and can be changed as demand grows
  • Improved collaboration – the entire project team can work with anyone, anywhere at anytime
  • Flexible – can be moulded to fit our work style
  • Requires less development – benefit from existing pool of
  • Interactive – allows us to track spend and access project progress with interactive reports
  • Complete transparency – provides a bird’s eye view of activities with real-time updates
  • Connectable – can link with existing data systems
  • Branding – can be branded
  • Reliable – no need to worry about back-ups
  • Increased accountability – automates workflows, drives accountability and increases productivity.
  • Peace of mind – will give our clients peace of mind, access to status updates, and let them see who is working on which component of a project at any given time.
  • One version of the truth – only ever provides one version of the truth

Little to no experience required to create something useful.  Sharp, intuitive front end for the end user. There isn’t one app in the QuickBase repository that would fit all our requirements. However, if we make use of multiple apps then we are able to cover a variety of difference client needs. There were 180 apps live within the QuickBase repository in 2015.  Today there are more than 850 apps.  Scaling does not seem to be an issue.  According to Quickbase DC government currently has over 36 thousand users and uses a thousand QuickBase apps concurrently.  In addition, Amazon, currently the largest retailer in the world, also uses thousands of QuickBase apps concurrently.

Cost:

QuickBase – Option 3 permits custom branding at a cost of $40 a month per user.  As the minimum amount of users for this package is 40, the total estimated cost for year 1 is $19200 (US Dollars) or approximately £13193 (Pounds).

You can try out QuickBase for 30 days as a free trial.  Getting started with QuickBase is easy.  A wizard helps you create your app either from scratch or with a template. You can also import a spreadsheet to enter data on which to base an app.

Scaling vs Cost:

The cost per user is reduced as more people join your account.

The same tools don’t fit everyone’s needs.  Odds are, you close unneeded toolbars in your browser, add your company’s design touches to your website and emails, and have a set of keyboard shortcuts that make your computer work the way you want. That’s what makes your tools personal, perfect for your needs.

Project management is no different. There’s dozens of tools out there for every type of project—and yet, there may not be one designed for the way your team works.  No system is perfect, but some are pretty good.

The bottom line:

Don’t just consider a project management platform as one solution, rather, include it in the overall picture and toolset to help your business reach its goals.

 

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