Business Engine powers project management at Siemens

Case study: A new project management system from Business Engine helps Siemens Building Technologies direct its strained resources and business efforts more efficiently.

After years of struggling through too many projects with less-than-stellar results, Siemens Building Technologies (SBT) has gotten a handle on its project, resource, and budget allocation.

The $1.5 billion operating company of Zurich-based Siemens AG credits much of its success to project and resource management technology from San Francisco-based software developer Business Engine.

With approximately 8,000 employees in four divisions located across North America, SBT, located in Buffalo Grove, Ill., develops and markets a number of products including those for building automation; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC); fire safety; and security.

"We'd have 1,000 project requests come in annually, and because we had no system for prioritizing those requests, we'd only execute about 10 of them," says John Braun, manager of the SBT project office.

Lack of a project tracking mechanism not only resulted in a very small percentage of project requests coming to fruition, but the company also missed market opportunities. In many cases it failed to get products to market at all, wasn't as focused on initiatives as it wanted to be, and generally didn't invest its resources wisely.

To address these problems, the company began a search for a comprehensive project management tool that would run on Windows NT and that was compliant with the company's Oracle systems. According to Braun, the product also had to: accept data from Microsoft Project 98, already in use at the company; provide an aggregated view of projects; present views to different project portfolios; support time-sheet integration; and drill down to specific individuals' time sheets and task assignments.

After evaluating such products as Microsoft Project Central, Oracle Projects, Primavera's TeamPlay, and PlanView's PlanView SBT bought the NT-based client/server Business Engine (BE) product. BE got the nod because it had the most comprehensive set of features that matched the company's requirements, according to Braun. Among the selling points: a time-sheet system that enables project managers to collect time on a given task or project via e-mail, multiproject management, a tool to improve communication among project and resource managers, an interactive executive modeling tool for high-level design and project prioritization, and an enterprise project and resource repository.

SBT ran a pilot in its mechanical products group, where 20 people worked on 15 projects at one time. "Business Engine helped us with the initial implementation, which was relatively easy because it was a client/server installation and all our users were located in one building," he says.

The pilot project was a real eye-opener for SBT. "The first thing we realized was that we were only able to do five of those 15 projects," says Braun.

According to Braun, BE provided data to forecast the department's resource needs vs. resource availability--or more simply, demand vs. capacity. During the company's slate review process--during which executives meet to discuss portfolio decisions--participants were able to draw on the data and decide that they needed to pick the five most important projects and kill the other 10. "The tool has let us get more done by committing to less," Braun says. "It forces us to be realistic about what we can and can't get done."

The pilot project also helped Braun and his team understand the challenges of deploying the product companywide. For starters, they had to upgrade about 40 project managers' desktops, which were vintage 90MHz Pentium PCs with 500MB hard drives and 32MB RAM. Today, SBT has standardized on Dell OptiPlex GX150s, which range in speed from 1.13GHz to 2.4GHz and have a 20GB hard drive and 256MB RAM.

Also for the project managers, SBT developed Web-based training, which included instruction on how to model projects in Microsoft Project that would then be fed into BE. Whereas Microsoft Project allows SBT to manage individual projects and schedule resources for specific projects at a detailed level, the Business Engine software presents a rolled-up view of all project data across the board, thus providing a portfolio view of all projects, resource utilization, and capacity. BE also provides a bidirectional interface to Microsoft Project so that, on a portfolio level, executives can view the total project picture, determine if project teams are on budget and on schedule, and make more informed decisions. More than 40 project managers in 30 departments build Microsoft Project files, and about 30 managers view that information in BE.

Prior to purchasing BE, Siemens used a homegrown Time-to-Market Acceptance (TMA) process that specified deliverables due at specific project phases; it then adapted BE to fit within TMA's process. Together, TMA and BE encouraged a best practices model throughout the company.

Today, SBT uses BE software to manage its IT group, which supports the four SBT divisions. One recent Business Engine success story at the company involves the corporate rollout of Oracle Financials, a $2.5 million project that involved more than 100 people, both in-house employees and outsourced contractors.

"We were able to feed BE with information on capacity vs. demand and used the TMA to break the work down into identifiable deliverables to execute on time," says Braun. "Since we began using BE, we work smarter and are more focused."

Using BE, SBT has cut project times by 50 percent and reports productivity gains of $3 million annually. That's not bad for a product that Braun estimates cost about $200,000 to get started--$20,000 for the server software, $160,000 for the initial license fees, and about 20 percent of the license fees in maintenance costs.

SBT plans to move to the vendor's Web-based Business Engine Network 5.0 in October. The new version, scheduled for release in August, will be embedded with Microsoft Project 2002, in accordance with a partnership between Business Engine and Microsoft.

How does your organization keep its projects under control? What software tools and/or business process have been the most effective? TalkBack below.

Lynn Haber reports on business and information technology from Norwell, Mass.

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