Big Ideas

Spring Forward

Primavera cofounder Dick Faris sees continued growth with Oracle.

By Aaron LazenBy

2011 Primavera Special Edition

The IT world of 1983 is light years away from the internet-based, mobile-powered environment of today: the PC was still relatively new, and project management software required a terminal connection to a mainframe solution. But the desktop-based project management software created that year by Primavera changed everything for workers involved with large multilocation projects. “People were dependent on mainframes and minicomputers, which were expensive and had long turnaround times, usually overnight. So computers weren’t used on as many projects as they could have been,” says Dick Faris, Primavera cofounder and current Oracle senior vice president. “What Primavera offered was something people could use right there on their desk or in a job trailer for a couple thousand dollars and a PC.”

Twenty-five years later, Oracle acquired Primavera—the leading provider of project portfolio management (PPM) solutions used by governments, construction, and oil and gas companies—to better integrate industry-leading PPM with core enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other applications. Profit spoke with Faris about how technology has helped transform project management systems and how the integration with Oracle’s software has benefited Primavera customers.

Profit: What made Primavera successful over the company’s 25 years as an independent software vendor?

Faris: Primavera has always done a great job paying attention to the needs of our customers in the different industries we serve. In the beginning, most project schedules were managed by someone in a specialized scheduler role. The success of the project often depended on the scheduler’s ability to collaborate with people working on the projects and to make those people feel that the projects were theirs, that the schedule was theirs, that it wasn’t just something handed to them.

As technology has advanced and become more collaborative, more people—from project participants to stakeholders—interact with the project model to receive assignments, provide updates, create schedules, and identify potential risks. That’s allowed a much broader sense of ownership of the project plan, something that was difficult in the early days when the project data lived on somebody else’s desktop.

Profit: As technology has become integral to running projects, has it changed the way project management is done?

Absolutely. Projects used to be something businesses dealt with outside of their mainstream operations: “We have a big project—OK, we’ll manage that over here; we’ll use this isolated system.”

Now, PPM has become more strategic. Management has taken an active interest in making sure to get the right people assigned to the right projects in order to assure success. Project management is the way they run their businesses—it’s become the focus for how they deliver value. Which also means PPM has become more strategic because choosing which projects to start, which ones to stop, and which ones to pass on define the direction of a business.

At the same time, organizations today have become flatter to promote efficiency. Decisions are made more collaboratively and closer to the issue at hand, and then passed among the team rather than going up the ladder and back down the ladder. And that collaboration has helped foster a sense of working together and the project being influenced by the contributors.

A strong IT solution for project management should support both trends. And I believe Primavera can do just that because it is an enterprise-class solution.

Profit: Primavera PPM solutions have enjoyed success in engineering, construction, and extraction of all sorts. Have you been surprised by the use of Primavera in other industries?

Faris: Yes, pleasantly surprised to see these other industries embrace project management practices. For example, we’ve seen growing interest from IT. Being part of Oracle, we’re working more closely with IT organizations and have been successful in helping CIOs ensure their staff are working on the projects that bring value to the organization.

We’re also finding increasing interest in government agency use of Primavera. Managers at all levels in government are concerned about how money is being spent—and ensuring they can demonstrate that the public funds are being spent wisely.

Profit: Speaking of transparency, what metrics can Primavera applications deliver to users that reflect what’s going on in the business?

Faris: It has become increasingly important for businesses to understand return on their project investments—but not just at the beginning of the project. Managers need to forecast ROI not only when the project is first proposed, but also if the project takes longer than planned, if the budget changes, or if there is a delay. Also, our best-practice customers go back after the project is done and measure the value delivered by the project. Did they get the returns they expected? And did they achieve that payback at the expected cost?

An Economist study we commissioned confirmed that the most-important project measures are completing projects on time and on budget. And I think those are still the two top metrics that stakeholders rely on for successful projects. A key difference between project portfolio management and traditional systems is “what if?” analysis. Using the different project modeling options, Primavera answers questions such as, “What must we do differently to affect our resource requirements, our hiring plans, our budgeting, over the next year?” Analysis of those aspects of a project goes a long way toward keeping tasks on time and on budget.

Profit: Two years after Oracle acquired Primavera, how do legacy Primavera customers feel about the combination?

Faris: At first, many customers were apprehensive and concerned. But they were also excited about the possibilities, particularly customers that already had a lot of Oracle technology and expected more integration among the products.

But we have maintained our vision for what we see in the future for project portfolio management, and we’re still delivering that vision. We have continued to work on our roadmap. We have continued to listen to customers and find out what we need to do to help them. We have delivered a lot of integration, which I think people have expected.

Profit: Have you discovered any surprises in the way Oracle and Primavera can deliver value to customers together?

Faris: Absolutely. We’ve been surprised by the tremendous Oracle technologies we have available to us being part of Oracle—we knew it would always be big, but our customers are benefiting from this as well. Of course, we did the obvious integrations with Oracle’s ERP systems, and that’s gone really well. And we’re now working with Oracle Fusion Applications to deliver the future of PPM.

But there are many other opportunities that we could not have anticipated. The best example I can give is tying Oracle Spatial functionality in the database to the project details. For example, a state government agency can show how and where they are using federal funds. They can show ongoing projects by region and enable constituents to drill down into counties and communities to see specific projects—even get a satellite view of a bridge that’s being upgraded, for example. That kind of functionality has definitely excited our users.

Profit: What is the most important improvement to the Primavera products from the past two years?

Faris: That would be the inclusion of Oracle Unified Business Process Management Suite 11g in the latest release of Primavera P6 to provide workflow capabilities. We see business process management [BPM] as the foundation of things we want to do in the future to link project-based processes across applications. What’s more, I see BPM as a foundation to customize the software experience for our customers’ users as they automate their processes.

Also, the project outputs that can be used with Oracle BI Publisher and Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition have really improved how customers get information out of the product. We can deliver some great-looking yet tremendously useful reports and graphics using these Oracle tools, which has really made a difference for how our customers manage their projects and programs.

Profit: How has Primavera been optimized for customers that have multivendor IT environments?

Faris: Primavera sells into industries with significant SAP or IBM footprints. Before we joined Oracle, we had integration with SAP and continued to support that integration with our Primavera Inspire product. Similarly, we have customers with IBM’s Maximo asset management system, and we’ve supported IBM’s integration work connecting Maximo to Primavera P6 for years.

The real key to integrations—whether it’s the Oracle products or non-Oracle products—is to have an open API and to use Web services, which we have done. Primavera always had APIs to allow managers access to their data in our system. That has evolved over the years into Web services, to use a service-oriented architecture to enable them to easily get data in and out.

Profit: Where do you see the Primavera products going in the next five years?

Faris: We’re at the beginning of using the BPM functionality, and we think that’s going to make big differences. I think in the future, some users won’t directly interact with Primavera; they’re more likely going to touch workflow forms and related spreadsheets. Primavera becomes an engine for those users, while the project managers will use the modeling capabilities and stakeholders will rely on information from BI.

We’ll also need to provide support for external vendors who perform part of our customers’ projects. I met with the CIO of a large oil company who was really strong on having a way to have his Primavera implementation in the cloud where subcontractors could update activities without having to have access to facilities behind a firewall. But he wanted to integrate with the ERP system behind the firewall.

As more organizations rely on third parties to deliver parts of their projects—design, manufacturing, or execution—we’re going to see the need for those projects to link multiple companies, and I think we’ll see a lot more of that happening outside the organization’s walls. The extended enterprise—not just our enterprise, but other enterprises—becomes more important as we move forward.

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