4-page Case Study - Posted 5/19/2009
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Software Maker Innovates on Project Management Solution Using Software + Services Approach
Keeping large or long-term projects on track can often be a frustrating exercise for the people charged with supervising them. ActionThis, a solution provider based in New Zealand, saw a market opportunity for project management software that would offer the best of a Web-based solution, including easy deployment and scalability, along with the richness of locally installed software. Using Microsoft® products and technologies, ActionThis created a software-plus-services solution that scales to address the needs of a wide range of businesses, from small operations to large departments within major corporations. Easy to use and affordable, the solution helps users drive projects to completion more efficiently, and it has opened a huge global market for ActionThis.
Managing long-term projects that involve multiple people can be a complex and occasionally frustrating undertaking. Many organizations don’t have the money or extra personnel to assign someone to manage projects full time, so an employee or manager has to add project management to an already crowded schedule. This backward approach creates the possibility of missed deadlines and overlooked details—a problem that companies around the world deal with every day.
Many software solutions have been created to aid project management, but these often require extended training or can be accessed only by a few people. There are also many “productivity” applications on the market, but these typically focus on planning and don’t provide the tools people need to execute specific tasks on time, let alone deliver insights that can help people become more efficient in getting projects done.
Seeing a huge opportunity, ActionThis, a New Zealand–based independent software vendor, set out to address the need. “Businesses of every size face tough competition at home and overseas, and this is even more so in difficult economic periods,” says Tim Howell, Chief Marketing Officer for ActionThis, which is based in Wellington, New Zealand, and is a division of Intergen, a Microsoft® Gold Certified Partner. “In today’s business climate, there is more urgency to getting projects done fast and efficiently.
“We felt that the market has been missing a good tool that helps not only with tools that plan projects,” he continues, “but that could assist in driving project execution and completion while delivering greater insights that can help people improve their efficiency with each new project.”
“The biggest challenge for us is keeping track of all the little requests that come in,” says one ActionThis customer. “We not only needed a way of managing all of our day-to-day activities, but also a way of assigning and tracking the ad hoc requests that always come through.”
ActionThis did not want to replicate project management solutions already on the market. Instead, the company’s product development team decided to pursue an entirely different approach, one that could deliver the power and richness of desktop software, but also provide the flexibility and scalability of a Web-based solution. Their goal was to create a project management solution that could be easily accessed by any team member, could be learned quickly, and would provide tools and metrics for managers to measure the progress of a project.
ActionThis decided to take a software-plus-services approach using Microsoft development tools and technologies. The solution, also called ActionThis, provides a combination of Web-based components, including a Web portal, and locally installed software components to provide a rich, easily learned tool that can be accessed by an almost unlimited number of users.
||With the Microsoft technology, we were able to deliver a software-plus-services solution that offers the strengths of the Web … with the richness and power of locally installed software
||Tim Howell, Chief Marketing Officer, ActionThis
The ActionThis solution integrates tightly with several programs in the Microsoft Office suite, including the Microsoft Office Outlook® messaging and collaboration client, Microsoft Office Excel® spreadsheet software, and Microsoft Office Project.
“Microsoft Office is the world’s most popular business productivity software, which is why we set out to design a solution that could integrate seamlessly with Office,” says Howell. “We wanted to integrate the solution in such a way that it seems like just a component of the software that people are already using. We didn’t want to force users to learn another piece of software.”
The company integrated the ActionThis solution with particular Office components for specific reasons.
Says Howell, “Office Outlook is an application that most companies, even small businesses, use all day long,” he says. “Office Excel commonly is used for sorting and reporting on data for projects, so that was a logical choice. And by integrating with Office Project, we felt we could extend the power and reach of that application by providing Web-based components that can be easily accessed by many different people, not just the personnel who are trained to use or given permission to access Project.”
By using a software-plus-services strategy in designing its solution, ActionThis was able to deliver a number of important benefits to its customers. First, the solution is powerful, yet easily deployed and easy-to-use, due to the combination of Microsoft technologies the company employed to create it. The solution is also flexible, because it provides both online and offline capabilities to ensure that users can continue benefitting from their software even when they are disconnected from any network.
“I have a number of part-timers on staff and people who work from home. ActionThis gives me a consolidated view of everything that’s going on, and everyone can see what everyone else is doing,” says one ActionThis customer. “It means things don't slip through the cracks, and it's quick to use. With ActionThis integrated with Outlook 2007, I didn't really have to train everyone – they just pick it up and begin using it."
The software-plus-services approach also enables tremendous scalability. This means that ActionThis can offer a compelling business model for its product, making it affordable for a wide range of organizations, from very small businesses working with partners and suppliers to departments within large corporations. At the same time, customers can start out with a small-scale implementation, and then increase the number of users as needed. The company is having a lot of success with this strategy.
Easily Deployed and Easy to Use
ActionThis took advantage of Microsoft development tools and technologies to create a solution that its customers can easily download and begin using. “We wanted to make the experience as easy and as painless as possible,” Howell says, “and we were able to use the Microsoft technologies to develop a solution that our customers can begin using within minutes of signing up on our Web site.”
After registering at the ActionThis Web site, users can download small software components that integrate with Office Outlook, Office Excel, and Office Project. Software installation technology that is part of the Microsoft toolset made it possible for ActionThis to compress all required functionality into packages of less than 7 megabytes, a reasonably sized download for any organization with a high-speed Internet connection.
“The Microsoft development tools allowed us to create rich yet easy-to-use tools,” Howell says. “With our solution, the Office Outlook client software presents a custom menu and toolbar that appear as a natural part of the application. For the Office Excel and Project software clients, we created wizards that give people the ability to choose which projects and data they want to work with.”
Functional Online and Offline
A key benefit of going with the software-plus-services approach is that users of the solution can take advantage of rich functionality whether or not they can access the Internet.
As an example of how this works, Howell describes a scenario in which a manager is supervising a team of four people on a project. The manager can be offline—perhaps sitting on an airplane—and can update a project milestone from within the Office Outlook client software on his or her laptop. The next time the manager goes online, Office Outlook automatically connects to the ActionThis Web site and updates the appropriate project with the new milestone, which all team members can see on their ActionThis Web page and in their Outlook software.
According to one customer of ActionThis: “I use ActionThis like tracked e-mail. I send people an ActionThis action item and they need to get it done, there is no 'I didn't get that email' or 'I was busy with something else.' ActionThis gives me the confidence that people know what they’re working on, and I can easily see what’s going on.”
“With the Microsoft technology, we can deliver a software-plus-services solution that offers the strengths of the Web, such as dynamic information that can be accessed from anywhere and can change rapidly in response to user needs, with the richness and power of locally installed software,” says Howell.
The highly scalable nature of the ActionThis software-plus-services solution benefits both customers and the solution provider.
“Creating the ActionThis solution using a Microsoft software-plus-services approach offers scalability in several different ways,” says Howell. “First, with the Web-based components, affordable entry pricing, and easy client-software downloading, even the smallest businesses can get started quickly on using our product. If they grow, or if we get a customer such as a large corporate department that has many users who could benefit, then the solution will scale easily to meet their needs.
“Plus, the ‘service’ part of the solution means they don’t have to invest a lot in infrastructure, or think about architecting a solution,” Howell adds. “And the ‘software’ part is very easy to install, with essentially no management or additional training needed.”
The software-plus-services approach also provides scalability of a different kind for ActionThis. “When we were in the planning stages of the product, we knew that successfully integrating our offering with Microsoft Office would help us gain access to a massive worldwide market,” says Howell. “Since the time of launch, we’ve been able to grow our sales dramatically, starting with handful of beta users at launch and expanding to many thousands of users in the months following. We achieved this with a minimum of marketing effort, all because it’s an affordable, easily understood, and quickly installed solution that meets a basic customer need. The Microsoft tools made the software-plus-services model extremely feasible and attractive, and gave us an entry into a huge global market.”
Software + Services
Software-plus-services is an industry shift driven by the fast-growing recognition that combining Internet services with client and server software can deliver exciting new opportunities. Microsoft is dedicated to helping individuals and businesses take advantage of these opportunities. By bringing together the best of both software and services, we maximize capabilities, choice, and flexibility for our customers. The broad software-plus-services approach unites multiple industry phenomena including software as a service, service-oriented development, and the Web 2.0 user experience under a common umbrella.
For more information about software-plus-services, go to: www.microsoft.com/softwareplusservices
For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234 in the United States or (905) 568-9641 in Canada. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to: http://www.microsoft.com/
For more information about ActionThis products and services, call (64) 4 472 2021 or visit the Web site at: http://www.actionthis.com/