Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Activity Tracking...

Today I did some research on activity tracking within Changepoint. Activities defined by Changepoint from the help file...
Activities enable users to keep a record of all internal and external interactions and to monitor everyday tasks. Activities can include such items as conference calls, demos, proposals, and telephone calls. Activities can link to company, opportunity, or engagement profiles to provide a full history of customer interaction. To create an activity for a company, engagement, or opportunity, the related record must exist in Changepoint. Users can also create a personal activity which does not require a Changepoint reference.

Here's the skinny on what that means - an activity can be tracked directly to a company, an opportunity, an engagement, or to the user. Each activity has to select a pre-defined type - either a conference call, phone call, meeting, or to do. Each activity has a description, status, and time attributes. Additionally an activity can be connected to a contact and can include related knowledge. Here's an example of an activity linked to a company.

Activities can be created in one of two ways - first method is by being in the Activities application. The Activities application presents your currently open activities in a spreadsheet type of format. There is a filter bar on the bottom to add in historical activities, to search by date range, or by activity link (company, engagement, opportunity, personal).

The second method of creating activities is from the company, engagement, or opportunity applications directly. As mentioned in previous posts - the key is the Actions hyperlink at the top and within the Create sub-menu is the ability to create an Activity. The Changepoint system will go ahead and default in the current record's information.

There is a third method of creating activities worth mentioning which occurs outside of the Changepoint system. If the Outlook Integration Tools are installed, it is relatively easy to pick an e-mail and create an activity out of the mail message. Relevant data will be defaulted in and the opportunity to attach the e-mail as a related knowledge item will be given. Do note that the user has to link to a company, engagement, or opportunity once the data is brought into Changepoint.

Viewing activities can be done in one of three spots. The first is within a portlet on your home page. The My Activities portlet displays all scheduled activities which the start date is on or before tomorrow's date giving you access to all historical, current, and up to tomorrow information. The second spot is from the Activities application itself. The third place is from the company, engagement, or opportunity detail display. Again, the Actions hyperlink is key and there is a View sub-menu for Associated Activities which will display all activities for the selected folder (folder being the company, engagement, or opportunity).

To implement or not to implement, that is the question. Activity tracking can be a rather useful tool, but I believe that there are a few flaws that make activity tracking limited in its usability for an implementation team focused on projects.

Projects being the key word. Company, opportunity, engagements, personal - those are the links which are great if you're on the sales side of the equation.

But what about engagements? The engagement level is an administrative level that is too high for the consultant to deal with. The hierarchy is engagements which track the budget, projects which tracks the hours, and tasks which break down the project into individual objectives.

Therefore any Activity data captured at the currently available links becomes lost in the shuffle of the user interface and impractical for actual use. If only the activities could be linked against the project!

Additionally, there is no tie into the Offline Browser without taking the Activity as a saved report. This has very limited functionality for two reasons. First, the consultant would have to save each activity as a saved report which would be a huge waste of time. Second, the data is static - only there for review. The Offline Browser does not have the functionality to create or modify Activities.

Finally, what's really interesting is why activities are NOT linked into Changepoint's own calendar. For instance - if I set an activity of 2pm to have a conference call with a client - that activity does NOT show up on my calendar within Changepoint!

I believe I'll make an educational presentation next week - but keep it short and sweet without high expectations of actual consultant use.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Understanding the Changepoint User Interface...

I have to freely admit - I'm not keen on the Changepoint user interface. The reason being is that Changepoint is a web based application and therefore has the limitations of a program which has been developed within the IE web browser. While at the most basic level a web based interface would bring benefits to the table - over time it becomes a frustrating experience - click, click, click, click - my mouse hand gets tired as I spend more time clicking through the interface layers than actual utilization of the software.

Rant over; I keep telling my consultants - once you get your head around the interface and understand the logic of where you need to go, then using the software will become beneficial. Additionally, the positives of the interface are a clean design, repeatable elements, and there is a logical simplicity to the program. The data is what's really important and Changepoint does a great job storing data, presenting data, and has a great deal of flexibility sharing and manipulating data (or as I like to call it - data flow).

Therefore, one of the first steps forward is to get a very good level of understanding in how the Changepoint user interface works and to make using the program interesting by customizing the display to work for you and not against you.

The most basic level of user interface understanding is to get a grasp on the initial presentation. Changepoint presents itself in three displays – applications, folders, and detail.

The applications display hosts all currently assigned applications. Rather self explanatory, they are grouped together in functional segments. One can modify the Applications display so that it only shows ones favorite applications – add items to favorites by right clicking the application icon and selecting add to favorites.

The folders display is a result of the application selected. There are two views in the folders display - a tree view and a search view. Either view is available simply by going to the options hyperlink. From a tree view – single click to bring up detail display, double click to edit the detail display, or right click for options.

Within the detail display – everything you need to "do" is in the actions hyperlink (when in doubt select the actions hyperlink and review the options available). The most common theme is to "transfer", "edit", or "create" something. Transfer is like checking out a book at the library - to work on the data one tranfers a project to themselves which acts as a rudimentary file locking system. Edit allows the consultant to manipulate the data in the details display. Create is the catch all sub-menu that allows the consultant to add data to the current application.

Changepoint works in a left to right fashion. Find the application on the left. Pick the folder in the middle (folder could be an engagement, a project, an invoice, a company, a contact, etc.). Review the data in the detail display. And finally, manipulate the data utilizing the sub-menus under the Actions hyperlink in the top right corner. Understanding the basics is important as these concepts flow through all applications.

When editing within the details display there are what Changepoint defines as type ahead fields which have a "begins with" logic filter. These fields have a database behind them allowing the user to pick from pre-defined data. If the results of a filter is blank then click on the icon to the far right to erase the filter and begin again. An easy way to see all pre-defined data is to utilize a space and then the enter key which results in a drop down list of all values for that field.

Another interesting tidbit is that website addresses can be added to custom text fields which will display as hyperlinks when in the view (non-edit) mode – not sure if there is an application there for us – but maybe.

The user preferences is the best place to customize the experience. The preference button on the toolbar opens the user system settings in the detail display and allows modifications to the user interface, configurations, as well as personal data.
  • out of office checkbox allows to set up a message while you are away (however, note that the show marquee message does not display - instead a white space displays wherer the marquee should scroll across)
  • setup a picture of yourself for your profile page
  • setup your phone numbers so others can reach you
  • manage your e-mail notifications by selecting / deselecting the checkboxes
  • manage knowledge subscriptions which will change what gets displayes in the Knowledge Management portlet by selecting / deselecting the checkboxes
  • can turn on/off portlets to appear on your home page from the preferences (can only turn off from home page)

Knowledge items can be created for user profiles – it's a handy way to attach all important documents / templates in a central, personalized location that is always accessible wherever and whenever you have an internet connection – those documents can either be public (to be shared) or private (for personal use).

No discussion about the Changepoint user interface would be complete without explaining the home page. The Changepoint home page creates itself in the detail display and is a compilation of what Changepoint calls portlets. Portlets are mini windows of html code or another way to think of them is as mini web browsers within the display.

Portlet arrangement can be setup as custom to show in colums, rows, or columns and rows – goto the Actions hyperlink and select custom then pick the layout desired. Portlets can be dragged around to drop into place – they can be resized as well – they can be set to display as open or closed (closed being a banner).

Additionally one can create a portlet to display a webpage (such as Google). Select the Actions hyperlink and select the create porlet option. Enter in a description for the banner and then a webpage.

My recommendation is to move the My Reminders portlet to the top and open as this portlet receives all the messages that are important to the utilization of Changepoint - the goal of each user should be to have a blank My Reminders portlet.

Generate your own custom links in the My Links portlet – example would be to, product homepages, and informational sources relevant to the consultant such as system requirements documents available from the internet.

Here's an example of my portal...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Understanding the Offline Browser...

I've worked this afternoon with the Changepoint Offline Browser to get a better understanding of its capabilities and how it will work for our team.

Straight from the user guide, the following are the defined functionalities of Changepoint's Offline Browser...

The following functions are available when working offline:

  • Task status updates
  • Time booking for any task you are assigned, as well as non-project time.
  • Time submission
  • Create expenses for any project for which you have a task assignment or are the Project Manager
  • Ability to save certain online reports and profile pages for offline viewing
  • View the resource profiles of all or a selected group of resources in Changepoint
  • View customer and contact profiles based on those included in your My Contacts list in Changepoint Browser
  • Create new company and contact records and maintain existing records
  • View project profiles for projects that are related to your task assignments
  • View task profiles for tasks that are related to your task assignments
  • An Offline Browser Home Page with notifications of items requiring your attention
  • Create new opportunities and maintain existing records

Breaking that down, what is the real functionality of the Offline Browser? I would define it as four functions - people, task reporting, expense reporting, and historical review.

There are three subjects related to people. My Contacts - which displays information about project contacts - useful for keeping work related data out of your palm pilot. Resources - essentially the same thing as My Contacts but for internal company contacts such as your fellow consultants - again, useful for keeping work related data out of your palm pilot. Finally there's the Opportunities - which displays information relating to sales and forecasting opportunities for a given company (not something we use in project management).

Task Reporting
The most useful of the tools from a management perspective is task reporting and there are two two utilities built into the Offline Browser to support the gathering of the necessary information. First is the Task List which allows the consultant to report on tasks assigned. The consultant can modify the hours remaining on a task either by project percentage or in hours. Additionally, the consultant can change the forecasted start or finish. Finally, the consultant can freely add critical comments about the task.

The second Task Reporting tool is the Time Sheet for time reporting against a project. The program works fairly smoothly in allowing the consultant to pick the project, assign the time, and apply a description of the services rendered. My only complaint is there may be a bug / system process issue when applying time and then reporting the project status as complete. My testing shows that the hours roll over in the time reporting at the task level but not at the project level which to me is a bug. I'll confirm with the Changepoint folks.

Expense Reporting
The most useful tool from a consultant's perspective - gotta get paid! The Expenses tool allows the consultant to add their expenses against the project. Works in the exact same fashion as the online version of the Changepoint software.

Historical Review
This Saved Reports tool is an oxymoron - it can be the most interesting, the worst feature, the best feature - all depending upon your perspective and if the data is or isn't there. When utilizing Changepoint live and on-line the consultant will see a new icon light up - it's the picture of the floppy disk (like anyone actually uses floppy disks!) with down arrow. At this point a "picture" of the current html data can be taken and downloaded into a repository that will transfer into the Offline Browser's Saved Reports. Note that this is not always a saved report but can be an activity or a tree view. The pros - the data is there to review when offline. The cons - a very limited number html screens can be saved and the data is static - it can't be updated in the Offline Browser. My biggest frusturation is why the limited number of screen captures - as the entire product is an html page - why can't the user select any data to download as a couple of key pieces of info important to the consultants in the way we work would not be available.

I'll be performing some additional tests and working from the Offline Browser as much as possible over the next week and then introduce it to the consultant team the following week. There's enough positive benefits that the Offline Browser should become a productive tool.

Getting the Offline Browser Working...

One of the more interesting functions of Changepoint which we are not utilizing is the ability to take the data offline and synchronize the data once an internet connection is established.

To that end I'm testing the offline capabilities using a newly configured (ie - blanked out to the standards of our IT department) Dell laptop as my testbed. This ensures that no other prior configurations or setting get in the way.

Setting up the configurations for the offline browser is a snap. In the Administration of User Setup there is a Security Access tab with a window to Features. Within the feature set of Mobility are two settings that need to be checked. The first is Offline Browser Synchronization and the second is Save Offline Items.

The first challenge is to get the offline browser to install. Sounds easy, but Windows service pack 2 has made life difficult (for good reasons). My first attempt was thwarted by security settings as I received a warning blocking IE from downloading the necessary CAB files.

The solution is faily easy. Open up the IE options and assign the Changepoint software into your Trusted sites (make sure the https:// setting is unchecked first.

The second time around I received a dialog box complaining that what I'm doing isn't secure, but I received the install or don't install options. This time I installed the software. Once installed, the next dialog box asks for synchronization and I selected yes.

Now for the test, I turned off the laptops network card and from the start button selected the Changepoint Offline Browser and success...

What is Changepoint PSA...

Changepoint PSA is a version of Compuware's Changepoint for Professional Services Automation.

From Compuware's website...

Professional Services Automation—Enabling Services Optimization

Today, more than ever services organizations are faced with the pressures of intense scrutiny from customers and heavy market competition. Coupled with the dynamics of running a professional services organization relating to resource and financial management, these pressures only increase operational complexity.

To be successful, services organizations require integrated business management solutions that provide:
  • Visibility into key performance drivers such as pipeline health, engagement and project profitability, employee productivity and individual performance and the lifetime value of client relationships and their satisfaction with current services

  • Streamlined, automated business processes to reduce administrative burdens, increase resource utilization and enable greater accuracy in management information

Changepoint PSA provides services organizations with professional services automation software to improve efficiency and provide total visibility into operations, enabling the proactive management of financial and employee