Microsoft’s Project 2013 is a useful tool for planning, collaboration and communication available to project managers and team members. Administrators and decision makers can avail themselves of Project Online, the new offering in the cloud that presents an alternative to any self-installed infrastructure. Beyond that, it makes cross-company collaboration easier. (See all Office Software Reviews.)
Microsoft Project 2013 review: fundamental renovations of the basis
Microsoft has continued to pursue the integration of Project and SharePoint with the latest version. For the user, this becomes most apparent in his personal working area – MySite. It doesn’t matter whether he is allocated as a user in a SharePoint list or as a resource to an event in the project plan. All his tasks and events are now shown in a shared overview; the user can access them. Time recording is also accessible this way. Likewise, time sheets can be retrieved and updated via MySite.
SharePoint is therefore more than just a basis. The area of project work becomes a central communication and project management tool. Target dates and milestones from the project plan can be presented in an overview in conjunction with target dates from the project calendar. The planning of events is now also supported in the project work area through the display in the timeline.
Microsoft Project 2013 review: access for new users and workflow maintenance for administrators
Two new functions of the new Project make work easier for the mapping of workflows such as project proposals. For one thing, it’s now possible to use a SharePoint list as an ideas pool and to generate projects from it through import. In the process, list fields are allocated to the master data in Project Server.
Workflows, on the other hand, are now possible on a cross-SharePoint and cross-Project Server basis. They are created with the aid of SharePoint Designer, a visual editor. This greatly simplifies the creation and maintenance of workflows for administrators.
The integration for SharePoint-based project planning is quite sophisticated. Small and mid-sized project organisations in particular now have the option of starting with a SharePoint-based project work area and importing these pure SharePoint projects into the Project Server later. Shared reporting is also possible from now on. In the previous version, one still had to make up one’s mind whether to plan in Project Server or SharePoint. Now both are possible concurrently and can be opted for on a case by case basis for each project. Thus access to company-wide project management solutions is made easier, for new users in particular.
The new system architecture of Project Server will look familiar to experienced administrators. While the data was distributed across several data bases before, Microsoft has now returned to the principle of one database per Project Web App (PWA) instance. This database can also be used for reports and evaluations. (See also: Office for Android tablets – Touch-based Office suite in pictures.)
Microsoft Project 2013 review: Project Client – distinct look and effective planning
In Client, the most major change becomes apparent as soon as one opens the program. Project Professional blends in seamlessly with the new and distinct look of the Office 2013 family. While the tried-and-tested concept of menu navigation (ribbon) was retained, Microsoft mainly overhauled the start screen and backstage area. The user now has direct access to the project plans opened last; or he can choose from an overview, including content preview, of project plan templates that are provided.
The Report Tools are also new. The project manager can opt now to create extensive reports and analyses directly in Client, furnishing them with comments and notes and ultimately use them in Word, Excel and company via the integration with the Office family. While the preparation of reports was limited to templates and required Excel or Visio in prior versions, project managers now have functions at their disposal already in Project, which are similar to those of Excel and Word.
One needs to look closely to discover more innovations. By dint of the Lync integration, now it is also possible in Project to view the information on the presence of resources and team members and contact them by means of SMS or VOIP call. Another rather inconspicuous change that is of great importance for major projects, however, concerns the date limit. The new Project allows for scheduling beyond 2049, all the way up to 2149. With major infrastructure projects, some users actually did hit the limit when working with the previous versions. With the new version, the population of the planet Mars could be theoretically planned in great detail. More users will benefit from the visualisation of event mapping. While previously only the entire critical path in a project plan could be highlighted, now it is possible to select any of the events and mark critical and less critical events with different colours. (See also: Review: Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps.)
Microsoft Project 2013 review: Project Online – New offering for SMEs
Alongside the well-known Client/Server architecture, Microsoft provides a cloud option for the first time with Project 2013: Project Online. Based on Office 365 as a platform, IT decision makers can now provide an environment for the project organisation at the touch of a button. One can say farewell to elaborate planning and the provision of hardware and software, and operating and licensing costs are reduced. The Client is also available with Project Online, and well-nigh all functions of Project Server are likewise available online.
The integration with existing infrastructures, including user directory and registration information, is an option, as well as the provision of a complete working environment in the cloud. Beyond the offers for Project und SharePoint, Office 365 also provides the Active Directory user directory as well as a complete infrastructure for email communication with Exchange Online.
On a detailed level, virtually all functions the user finds in Project Server can be found in Project Online as well. Restrictions have to be accepted only for the reporting – the Business Intelligence Center is not available. Due to the new architecture, no direct access of the databases is possible. However, Microsoft also provides a powerful alternative here with Excel Services and the new model for data access through OData.
Microsoft Project 2013 review: Challenge – Connection to internal ERP systems with Project Online
As anticipated, the connection to internal ERP systems with Project Online presents a major challenge. Still, in order to be capable of facilitating the exchange of data between the cloud and SAP systems via controlled and secured communication paths, integration solutions by third-party manufacturers are suitable. Campana & Schott is offering its CS Connect product for this purpose, for instance.
Microsoft Project 2013 review: Apps and the SharePoint Store
The apps constitute a small revolution in the world of business applications. Modern communications are unimaginable without these little helpers and programs, previously known only to end consumers. Microsoft is following successful implementations in the realm of mobile communication here in introducing the SharePoint Store. Apple and Google have positioned their App Stores on the consumer market with striking success, and Microsoft is also benefitting from its experience with the Marketplace for Windows Phone. Now it is carrying forward this principle for the Office family. Beside the SharePoint Store, in which the apps for Server products are provided, an Office Store is integrated with the new Office Client application, through which apps for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and company may be purchased.
Microsoft Project 2013 review: Apps and App Store especially for business clients
Microsoft is transferring the App Store principle from the consumer area to the market for business applications. Alongside the public SharePoint Store, a defined company catalogue is available for every company. This way, custom-tailored apps are provided that cannot be found in the public SharePoint Store. In addition, the access to the public store is regulated in this way so as to monitor which apps are made available in the company and which are allowed to be deployed by the users. The users as well as managers, planners and members of a project comprise the typical target group for apps. Standard tasks can be supported or even be automated by apps. In spite of this, upgrades and comprehensive Project Server solutions will not be going away soon. Both options are open to software providers. The customer can select the most suitable solution from the new possibilities.
Microsoft Project 2013 review: Conclusion
With Project 2013, Microsoft has launched a completely overhauled version of the popular software. Well-known and frequently used functions have been systematically advanced and improved, following repeated requests by many users. Project has thus become a more efficient tool that integrates even more smoothly with existing work processes. Project Online constitutes a small “revolution” in the market. Company-wide project management is now a worthwhile option even for small and mid-sized project organisations, since an essential barrier to entry has vanished. Project Online allows for the implementation of a full-grown project management system without having to install hardware, software and infrastructure beforehand. Major organisations will also profit from it: Separate systems for business areas, teams or individual major projects can be provided virtually at the touch of a button.