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Increase efficiency with cloud-based project management

At the [email protected] Conference, enterprise architects discussed the importance of cloud-based project management for providing better innovation and efficiency to enterprises.

Enterprise architects need to take heed of the trend towards cloud-based project management in order to stem knowledge leaks, said Sasan Vossoughi, CIO of SunEdison, at the [email protected] Conference in San Francisco. Cloud-based project management promises to bring increased efficiency to project planning and management. It will also bring with it new challenges for integrating existing applications with project management functionality.

Enterprise workers collaborate over documents, projects and topics using email, SharePoint and instant messaging, but there is no way to capture that. "That is the knowledge leak we have today," said Vossoughi. "How do you integrate that with your enterprise applications?" 

Preparing for innovation

Vossoughi said that SunEdison has launched a major initiative to leverage the Clarizen cloud-based project management suite to improve planning and execution for both mergers and acquisitions and the installation of new solar and wind infrastructure. SunEdison started life as a semi-conductor spinoff from Monsanto in the 1960s, but recently pivoted to take advantage of opportunities in the solar power generation business.

Most solar installers fund equipment via loans or direct sales to consumers, but SunEdison is deploying an innovative strategy to build and own a distributed solar power infrastructure. This involves a lot of little projects that have to be managed across a large team. Using a cloud enabled project management solutions makes this tenable.

Vossoughi believes that most innovative companies need to think about the processes that support the main line of business as a knowledge factory. In the industrial era, companies put workers on the same factory floor to reduce the high cost of collaboration, shipping and receiving. Today, companies are leveraging cloud-based infrastructure to do the same thing on a virtual shop floor.

"You don't have to worry about the structure as long as you have the tools," said Vossoughi. "This mode of going from top-down takes us to working in tandem. The Millennials are used to this, but older folks have to learn it."

Enrolling management in the cloud

Enterprise architects need to think about how to take all of these and tie them together in a seamless way. If users have to jump out of their existing productivity applications and change user interfaces, they are less likely to use a centralized project management application.

One good strategy that Vossoughi recommends is to start with collaborations around a specific purpose. The organization might have employees in the U.K. not directly working on the project, but they can see what is going on and contribute to that conversation. "This is where the wisdom of the crowd comes in," he said.

Another strategy Vossoughi recommends is to weave an actionable to-do list into the meetings. In the normal course of meetings, people talk a lot, someone takes notes and at the end they generate a list of to-do items that get stored somewhere. By inputting these directly into the project management system these lists actually become project items that can be tracked by everyone in the company. This creates greater accountability and also attracts the interest of senior management who are interested in better visibility into the status of action items.

Keeping up with Facebook

Clarizen is taking a major stance for the idea of building up a work graph that helps orchestrate the social network around work in much the same way as the social graph facilitates the dissemination of information on Facebook, said Avinoam Nowogrodski, CEO of Clarizen. Companies like Facebook and Google are used to this. But established companies like SunEdison have to ease into it.

Sun Edison's Vossoughi believes that one of the key challenges lies in bringing better integration capabilities for unstructured data. Most of the major challenges around integrating structured information have been addressed by existing tools. But creating the infrastructure for integrating unstructured data in an actionable way is still in its infancy.

Even if we capture some of this data, the key is how to mine it using big data and analytics.
Sasan VossoughiCIO, SunEdison

One of Clarizen's value propositions has been its direct integration with email, chat and Microsoft office applications. In addition, the company announced better integration with a variety of other cloud and enterprise applications including Salesforce for CRM, ServiceNow and Jira for PPM, as well as and Microsoft Office for actionable document workflow processes.

"Even if we capture some of this data, the key is how to mine it using big data and analytics," said Vossoughi. "This means being able to add value and capture that in a way we can learn, and innovate, and use as a competitive advantage. I don't think we are there yet, but that is the value to the overall enterprise and the employees."

Creating a culture of innovation

It is clear the work graph is still in its early stages, but shows a lot of promise in unlocking value from new business processes. For example, Local Motors has been using Clarizen to orchestrate the project planning and execution for the world's first 3-D printed automobile. The company leverages a social network of 50,000 citizen engineers and designers with an internal team of about 90 employees. The company went from idea to finished car in only nine months. Building a car is no simple task. Even after the design is complete, the team still has to follow up with safety tests and completion of all of the legal processes required for a new car to get on the road.

At the moment, only internal employees have access to the full Clarizen project management interface. But Peter Stephens, director of business development at Local Motors, said they can push out views that are relevant to individuals interested in a particular project using widgets. This provides the design visibility into status of a project without having to procure 50,000 licenses.

This strategy has been so successful with cars that First Motors has also created similar distributed innovation projects for General Electric, called FirstBuild, and for the U.S. Army. called the Army CoCreate Platform. First Motors is hoping to get to the point where it can empower talented innovators from around the world and reward them in a fair way for their contributions. But a lot of bugs still need to be worked out of the business and project planning required for this new style of innovation, said Stephens. "Right now, Local Motors does not have it quite right. Now the question in my mind is what will be different."

In some respects, the future of collaborative social networking is a bit like the first printed car on display at the conference. It looks quite beautiful from a distance, but up close, the various divots in the finish might push away all but the most enthusiastic early adopters. Then again, the first Apple computer was a wooden box, and now Apple designs are the envy of everyone.

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