With all the modern technology available to these companies you would have thought they would have come up with a way to show me software without making me call the US for 46 minutes. I wouldn’t have minded so much if it wasn’t for the fact I could have got a good overview of the software in about half that time and the rest of the conversation sounded like public relations puff and an attempt to drag out the demo for as long as possible.
TrackerSuite.Net is the web-enabled version of Automation Centre’s TrackerSuite for Lotus Notes. It does project management things plus time and expense tracking. All software seems very hot on user defined and customisable views at the moment, and TrackerSuite.Net is no exception. The software is role-based, open source and version 3.0, the latest release, has a range of user-definable widgets for the desktop. The widgets work in predictable ways. For example, they have security built in so you can limit people from seeing what you don’t want them to see. One of the roles available is ‘guru’ which is a much cooler way of saying ‘system administrator’.
The new release has also added new search features. However, you can only search across a particular element, like resources, and not across everything, which is a pity. On the subject of resources, the resource management element works in a similar way to other programs: add in your resource information and then you can plan resource availability and allocated the person to tasks. Billable hours and dollar goals are new features and these are also set per person. And if typing it all in is boring, you can synchronise it with Active Directory, at least for the creation of users, although you’ll have to go and type in their billable hours manually, unless your AD stores a mammoth amount of irrelevant data on your staff. When you do assign a task to a resource it will email them to let them know and you can also have it added automatically to their Lotus Notes or Outlook calendar.
Automation Centre believe that their software is a professional tool, and haven’t designed it to be used by non-project managers. Kim, who showed me the software, also felt that the workflow engine that manages approvals was an important distinguisher. It might be, but I couldn’t help thinking that if this was a professional tool it is light years behind Microsoft Project or LiquidPlanner. It’s complicated without having the benefits of a complex tool. I found the different modules difficult to get my head around. They are a legacy of the non-web version and I’m sure it works very well in Lotus Notes. Ten years ago I was a huge Lotus Notes fan and while I don’t use it any longer I have colleagues that use it now and think highly of it. But a web version doesn’t need ten modules plus a data warehouse. What do they all do and don’t I just get them all as standard?
“In terms of reporting our product is pretty much unmatched,” said Kim. There are some neat reporting features. I particularly liked the project dashboards (below), and the ability to export status reports to PowerPoint. The data warehouse enables you to build reports and export them to Excel. The Crystal Reports functionality allows you to export reports to .pdf and Word. The reporting module has a ticker along the bottom, and if you click the relevant message you are taken to that report. This is a great feature for executives, as you could set the ticker to show the latest updated reports, or things that were running over, or anything that you thought they should see. It’s another way of drawing attention to important issues.
I asked Kim how TrackerSuite complied with usability guidelines. She told me that it was designed to be easy to use. That’s not exactly what I meant. Websites should be built to be accessible, and that means following the W3C guidelines, so that web pages will work with screenreaders, keyboard short cuts and so on. I see a lot of online, cloud software that doesn’t meet the guidelines – it’s not particularly a comment aimed at Automation Centre. Even so, ‘easy to use’ is not the same as ‘usability’. I’ll be writing more about the benefits and pitfalls of project management in the cloud later in the month, so I’ll probably come back to this topic then.
TrackerSuite is fine, but nothing I saw made me think there was anything special about it. In fact, the thing that sets it apart the most is its Lotus Notes heritage. So few packages are designed for Notes users that the full integration offered by this software is the real selling point.