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Virtual Project Office - Project Extranets Print
Access to accurate information is one of the key elements contributing to the success of any project. The Project Web Site is seen as the first project management tool that is realistically capable of providing project members access to the same accurate information without interrupting current work practises, oh yes, and it saves time and money too. Ensuring that everybody on a project is working from the same documentation, the same plan and any changes made are relayed to everyone concerned simultaneously, can be a harrowing experience, as well as an unnecessary drain on administrative and logistical resources.

When the project team and client are all based in the same room, then ensuring everybody has a copy of the relevant documentation in a timely fashion becomes less of an arduous task, but this, as we all know, is rarely the case. Indeed the diversification of business in the modern workplace probably ensures this will never happen.

If all parties involved on the project could log on to the same IT network and access the project folders that are controlled by the project office, then a more manageable situation ensues.

If, as is the norm, the client is an external party, access to the internal IT network has a number of practical problems and security issues that the IT department have a right to resist in order to protect their environment.

Lets take a typical project; your project team is located in one city, the client team is in another, and your subcontractor is in a different country.
Keeping track of all the details, making decisions and keeping everyone informed can involve wasted hours of travel and needless telephone bills.

This is why the use of web technology provides the foundation to manage these situations through a project web site.

A project site is essentially a client-contractor communication centre, which in web terminology is called an “extranet”.
This is a secure, password-protected site accessible only by project related personnel. It enables all members of the project, both external and internal, to view and share information.

Project Web sites provide the infrastructure to encourage collaboration, improve communication, reduce costs, provide timesavings and allow links to external market resources.

If it is used correctly a project site, which is an extension of the project office network, should help a dispersed project team stay organised and on track.
Typically they contain the schedule, a project plan, email threads, a page of contacts, a page of resources and the relevant documentation and designs with the current statuses.

Someone who knows what's going on with all teams should be allocated as the “steward “ of the site, the administrator if you like.

The site itself can be set up to remind the project team of deadlines (if they need reminding) and inform them of any significant decisions made.

Clients can access it at any time of day to refresh themselves on the status of an item or to review documentation or designs when they are able.

Take a web design project, for example, demos of the screen layout can be presented online, rather than relying on a meeting with clients for initial feedback. This can provide invaluable feedback and true timesavings if the designs are unacceptable or require changes.
Be aware, however, that giving access to work in progress, although a good idea in principle, can lead to problems if, owing to incompleteness, the wrong information is displayed. This can have serious consequences, with client relationships becoming unnecessarily fraught.

Project Web sites have taken the project office concept one step further by offering the potential of linking to valuable industry information via the Internet. For instance, the use of online procurement capabilities as well as access to company background reports and credit scoring.

It is estimated that between 5%-10% of a project's total installed cost can be saved by Web-based data storage and more granular data access.

Only the company hosting the Web site needs to install the relevant software, while the other participants, in general, only need a web browser and therefore very little training in its use.

The project extranet is not a new idea, construction companies developed document-handling systems, which allowed documents to be shared over closed computer systems, some years ago. It is the Internet that makes the extranet a more attractive, user friendly and less-expensive option for the management of a project.

The modern Project Extranet is a collaborative tool enabling the relevant parties to access computer files without the need of a licence to run the particular software application.
Moreover users are able to mark-up revisions, which effectively become an integral part of the original document.
As this is all carried out in a secure arena, where no one is allowed without permission and everyone is identified, then it is possible to automatically track what changes have been made and by whom.
A project hierarchy can be introduced, which allows documents or areas of the project to be restricted to certain individuals.

One of the main advantages of using a Project Extranet is ensuring that all members of the project team have access to the most up-to-date version of the various project documents. This means that traditional mistakes generated from someone working from an old document or drawing are in theory removed or at the very least, reduced.

The project web site offers the opportunity to improve the efficiency of how a project is run without the need to make real changes in the structure of the project methodology.
The crucial advantage is that the extranet reduces the opportunity for mistakes and disputes.

Project Extranets represent the first wave of the project management Internet revolution with usage of these web-based communication and data exchange tools set to expand rapidly in 2001.

2001 © Don Barker

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