August 08, 2011
AEC Project Projections with Newforma Project Analyzer
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AEC Project Projections with Newforma Project Analyzer
By Susan Smith
Newforma announced in July the commercial release of their Newforma Project Analyzer, a product that provides project financial and resource management for architectural and engineering project managers and executives. Among its features Project Analyzer pulls read-only data from the Deltek Vision accounting system to create what-if scenarios concerning project scope, budgets, and schedules and staffing. Project Analyzer currently only works with financial data captured in Deltek Vision versions 5.1 or 6.1.
Project Analyzer makes it easier for project managers and executives to use financial data and make projections on projects and to manage the future of projects more efficiently. Project manager, firm principals and A/E firm executives can gain greater insight into project financial and resource management activities. “We rely heavily on information that comes from an A/E firms’ financial management systems,” said Bob Batcheler, co-founder and executive vice president of Strategy for Newforma. “That historical information can allow them to plan, budget, and organize in a highly visual dynamic environment.”
SHW Group, with nearly 300 employees, is one of the nation’s highest-ranking architecture firms focusing on education design. “Newforma Project Analyzer translates the rich data captured by our Deltek Vision accounting system into a form that’s more accessible to project managers and senior executives,” said SHW Group chief financial officer, Matt Snider. “Now our projections are accurate to within a few percentage points, even at 120 days out. Timesheets are being submitted in less than half the time they were previously, given the nature of the project progress feedback that Newforma Project Analyzer provides. We’ve recouped tens of thousands of
dollars in reimbursable expenses that would have otherwise been overlooked. And our work-in-progress and consultant accrual calculations are dead-on accurate and easy to obtain.”
“The product we’ve introduced really intends to carry on in the tradition of Newforma Project Center - to manage the project more effectively and make better decisions,” said Batcheler. “It is all about project financial and resource management and to distinguish that from firm financial management software, such as Deltek Vision that does great job of managing finance and accounting for A/E customers, things like timesheets, project billings, etc. Customers want the specific focus of project management and information that supports them for planning, staffing, reviewing, and billings that are associated with the project manager’s interaction with the
project management team.”
Unlike other new products released by the company this year, Newforma Project Analyzer does not require Newforma Project Center as a prerequisite. It pulls data from Deltek Vision on a read-only basis; users of Newforma Project Analyzer cannot alter data in Vision.
The simple visual format for scheduling allows people to play what-if with respect to budgets and scheduling. The monthly billing process can be streamlined to get bills out on time in an easy way. Executives and project managers can monitor and review projects.
“When we look at scheduling aspects, the list of projects and opportunities can be filtered in different ways,” explained Batcheler. “Once you have a list you can pick a particular topic and you can walk down this list of projects, seeing in quick succession the state of each project from that point of view.”
Interactive graphics give you a feel for patterns that represent projects doing well versus those not doing well.
In addition to the project list, each tab across the top represents a particular theme. The data that backs up the interactive graphics, typically in a data grid, feels like a spreadsheet, and is linked to financial management data as well as data represented in graphics.
As you enter values in the data grids, the cells that change as a result of a change get highlighted in a light blue color so, as you’re modifying data, you can see what changes as a result.
“We can roll up billing projects across an office or an entire firm,” Batcheler pointed out. “These are dynamic data grids that specify the sort order and you can get to interactive graphics. Billing projections can be viewed both graphically and in forms for all offices. We can see how you can recover within the year, which certainly informs the entire decision making process, and how you are going to staff these projects. You can see what the previous value of cells was by backtracking using breadcrumbs.”
There is no need for conversion or translation software as many financial management systems have well developed APIs or the data itself is represented in a standard SQL named data source. “We can access that data directly,” said Batcheler. “In this first release we support Deltek Vision Financials and we access that data directly dynamically and in real-time. We present it in Project Analyzer and merge it with project management data that is edited in Analyzer to allow you to plan your job into the future.”
Scheduling provides a framework for other time based components. You can specify information as you know it, whether hours, dollars, start dates, you can enter it and all independent data flows from that. Another key element is budgeting, taking associated fees with a project and setting aside your target profit, non-reimbursable expenses and consultant fees, leaving you with the labor budget.
The graphics gives you a visual cue that something requires your attention as you are doing project review. For example, if you increased the architectural hours then it might shift the project over budget. You can then drill into expanded detail in different areas of the product.
For example, in taking that budget and working it into a comprehensive staffing plan you would use the team tab. The budget is front and center for any project in the dashboard, and you can allocate labor to the job by role and phase, start and end date, and specify a commitment level for that period of time. All that information gets rolled up across the project and firm as a whole to understand staffing projections, manpower requirements and billing projections.
“You get feedback in real-time as you enter staff into this area, the staffing costs increase in real-time, and you see the team through their experience level,” Batcheler said. “There is a column for potential conflicts which would tell you someone was overscheduled, in Team Tools there would be a button that shows conflicts, shows commitments and the period they overlap. You get immediate feedback, and can drill down to detail so you can adjust that person’s commitments or send an Outlook note to the project manager of the other project.”
Monthly billing process shows you phases of the work billed to the prior month, the current month’s billing, and projected billing for months ahead. This provides a very effective means of giving billing projects on a firmwide level. The billing clerk or project accountant can go into this view and see that the project manager has reviewed the current phase of the work and identified the current month billing and they’re ready to get the bills out on time.
Monitoring involves time analysis represented on an hours or dollars basis, with work for the overall project budget, the budget hours are shown, the current date shown. You can also go into any phase and see timesheet records for anyone within the group. It allows you to see big picture and drill into any level of detail at any time you want.
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-- Susan Smith, AECCafe.com Managing Editor.
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