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Tapping The Right Tools

By Pimm Fox
April 22, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The numbers are frightening. Half of all IT projects fail to meet objectives, and half are delivered over budget, according to Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. Meanwhile, Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston reports that 30% of IT projects are canceled prior to completion and 90% are delivered late.

Combine these results with the $275 billion spent each year in the U.S. on some 200,000 software development projects, and it becomes evident that effective project management—and the proper tools to track these efforts—are vital to keeping these projects within scope.

At Wilmington, Del.-based Du Pont Co., project management software from Tucson, Ariz.-based Automation Centre LLC helped increase the submission rates for project time cards from 50% to 97%.

"We were always dogging engineers to do their time cards," says Ronald F. Carrick, CIO of engineering at Du Pont. "Now, they can use it for invoicing, expense reporting and resource management tied to specific projects."

Installed in January 2000, the software suite is used by engineers on-site. Because Du Pont projects are funded and managed by individual business units, project management software allows Du Pont managers to define the scope of each project, measure the units of work and track hours against project plans.

So far, about 700 engineers at Du Pont use the project management software, while an additional 1,400 to 2,000 contractors posting time cards from all over the world have access to the system.

Previously, Du Pont had built project management software for its Digital Equipment Corp. VAX environment, but it was a terrible application, recalls Carrick.

"People were late with time cards, project accounts were out of kilter, billing for projects submitted over time sometimes weren't valid, and there was no way to look up valid project codes," he says.

Billing accuracy is an important component of project management.

"If I have 2,000 engineers working on a project at a nylon plant, and I miss year-end hours being posted to the project because of an invalid project code—if that's a capital project, that has big tax and profit implications," says Carrick. That "could be the difference in a year's depreciation" on a project's value, he adds.

Profitable Project Tools

Indeed, sound project management includes looking under the hood at the tools used to oversee these efforts. But measuring the returns from these systems isn't always easy.

"It's a little like asking, 'What is the return on investment for your car or your house?' " says Carrick. "One way to look at the return for a necessary function is to evaluate what it would have cost for another system, for example, from SAP or PeopleSoft."

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