Engineering project management: How Microsoft SharePoint and dashboards can help

Aggregating and sharing information from multiple sources helps motivate teams and deliver projects on time and budget, according to DMC Inc., at the CSIA Executive Conference.

05/09/2012


DMC Inc. offers Microsoft SharePoint consulting services. Courtesy: DMC Inc.Engineers can better control projects by using dashboards created with Microsoft SharePoint, explained Rick Rietz, Director of Consulting Services, DMC Inc., Chicago, Ill., speaking at the 2012 CSIA Executive Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.

With more than 100 million users worldwide, Microsoft SharePoint is the dominant business platform for collaboration and document management, Rietz told attendees at the Control System Integrators Association annual meeting. However, most businesses don’t realize that SharePoint also can be a project manager’s weapon for configuration management and automatically aggregating and sharing information from multiple sources. SharePoint Dashboards motivate teams and deliver projects on time and on budget. Rietz delivered the following advice about using the browser-based project management software toolset.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) can be built into the SharePoint platform to automatically aggregate data from multiple systems.  SharePoint is also great for remote workers, because users can contribute content as the project progresses, no matter where they are.

There are many practical uses and many associated applications that can be made accessible via Android and Apple iPhone platforms.  

Functions include intranet use, document control, collaboration by inviting partners to portions of the project, development of team project collaboration sites, display of key milestones, and alerts when there are changes or when certain tasks are completed. Audit and version control can be set, along with a list of tasks, issues, documents, and contacts. Templates are available for faster project starts.

Document management functions save time, protecting against mistakes by avoiding use of outdated documents. Rather than emailing multiple versions of a document, one document can be uploaded and links sent.

Workflow is useful for structure, consistency, and efficiency of business processes.

Searching for something also is faster than navigating through a traditional folder structure. The software can index every word in every document on a network drive or within a SharePoint Portal, using a parametric filter panel for quick and easy filtering of search results (including indicators  of duplicates in the search results). Wikis, in a web page format, can be created for standard operating procedures (SOPs), with hyperlinks to related areas.

SharePoint dashboards allow management by exception, with automated processes of whatever needs tracking. Often three to five dashboards can be established for each organization or department, pulling data from multiple systems with updates every few minutes. Forecasts can be compared to results, showing red, yellow, or green, driving cultural change, improving communications, and motivating employees.

Personal KPI dashboards can be created so employees can accumulate points for incentives. Projects can show the amount of assets allocated, time, budget, and other important criteria.

SOPs and best practices can be linked, and newer employees can click in deeper for more information instantly, saving time and getting up to speed more quickly.

For very large projects, Microsoft Project software may be needed. For many projects, however, Microsoft SharePoint project tools may be enough, showing milestones and synchronizing tasks with Microsoft Outlook.

For executing the project, internally and externally available documents can be controlled by using metadata, which can force appropriate classification when a document is created. Lists for risks, issues, and defects can improve tracking and include version tracking.

Documents can be managed and workflow approved. Configuration management tools track and document changes to system features.

When starting a SharePoint portal, it’s best to begin by creating an intranet with wikis to document and share SOPs.  Next, select a select business area to improve and choose a set of KPIs. Sales departments often go first, followed by projects. Plan first, and phase in features over time. Don’t jump right in with everything. First decide if it makes more sense to organize by department or by function.

Among other CSIA system integrators using these tools are Avid Solutions, Concept Systems, MR Systems, PLCs Plus, and Stone Technologies.

As for cost, the Microsoft SharePoint Foundation version is free with Microsoft Windows Server, Rietz said. Also available, with additional functionality, are Sharepoint 2010 and SharePoint 2010 Enterprise.

- Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, and Consulting-Specifying Engineer, can be reached at mhoske@cfemedia.com.

www.controlsys.org

http://controleng.com/integration

www.microsoft.com/sharepoint

www.controleng.com/channels/information-control.html

www.dmcinfo.com/Services/SharePoint-Consulting-Services.aspx



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