Power Steering reins in project management

If your agency has had to deal with project management packages that seem almost more complicated than the project itself, relief is on the way from Cambridge Interactive in the form of the company's latest project management software, Power Steering.

Power Steering offers agencies and departments an alternative to implementing complex in-house project management solutions. Instead of installing, configuring and maintaining the project management software, you simply register userswith your project running on Cambridge Interactive's servers. Everyone — administrators and users — access the program via a World Wide Web browser.

Power Steering provides the tools to create a proj-ect, invite others to participate and then track their results. The program goes beyond most project management applications with its document management tools.

Specifically, Power Steering makes it easy to share documents and to use check-in/check-out for documents. The program also offers threaded e-mail discussions and an e-mail-based alerting system. When a task is created and assigned to a specific user, the system sends out an e-mail notifying the user of the new assignment.

Each project has an overall administrator assigned with control of all aspects of the project. The administrator makes the decisions of what access level is granted to each user. The project administrator also takes care of how the user interface will be presented to each user and what options will be available. After entering a user name and password, the user is presented with the main workspace screen. Power Steering uses a file foldertab metaphor to allow the user to jump directly to different pages. The administrator selects from Proj-ects, Docs, People, Issues, Project History, Scheduling and Metrics for each individual user.

All user management takes place through standard Hypertext Markup Language pages, and that could make the task of administering many users somewhat unwieldy. The task of entering users also is tedious and must be handled one user at a time. Once a user has been added to the Power Steering system, the user is invited via e-mail to participate in the project management Web site. Power Steering is compatible with any Version 3 or Version 4 browser. Using standard HTML without a lot of graphics makes the pages load quickly, andwe found the performance of Power Steering more than acceptable even over a 56 kilobites/sec modem line. We were able to exercise all of Power Steering's features from a home PC and from a laptop.

There are, unfortunately, several significant drawbacks to Power Steering, especially for federal users. First, not all organizations will want to trust an outside entity with sensitive information. In many cases, government agencies can't use an application service provider because of the nature of their work. What's more, relying on Cambridge Interactive's servers puts users at the mercy of the Internet. You can buy the entire server package from Cambridge Interactive and install it on your servers, giving you control of your information. But Cambridge Interactive no longer takes responsibility for maintaining the program. Another drawback is that users may find Power Steering's constant screen refreshes irritating.

Power Steering also falls short of dedicated project management tools in certain feature areas, most notably its inability to track time and cost. That shortcoming alone may make the product useless for many organizations. (Cambridge Interactive has promised to make those features available inthe fourth.)

Overall, Power Steering delivers on the stated goal of providing basic task management tools, and the program offers an effective forum for user collaboration and document sharing. If your department doesn't need advanced project management tools, and if in-house control of your data is not a requirement, Power Steering is worthy of consideration. n

Ferrill, based at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is a principal engineer at Avionics Test & Analysis Corp. He can be reached pferrill@fwb.gulf.net.


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