How Cloud Computing has Impacted Project Management
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“Change is the only constant in life” said Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher. Nowhere is this truer than when technology is harnessed to successfully deliver a process.
Cloud computing has brought real change to project management. Project teams are able to work effectively in separate locations, sometimes thousands of miles apart. Team members share data in real-time and communicate with tools similar to those they use socially.
Project managers have had to change to keep in step. Today’s project managers are knowledgeable about the technology and ROI of cloud computing. They take more responsibility for the security of their data and they are excellent communicators, motivating specialists in different locations and making them feel like part of a cohesive team.
Here we look at some of the benefits that cloud computing has brought to project management, the challenges faced by today’s project managers and where the cloud might play a part in the future.
Work anywhere, anytime
On-premise systems rely on high quality, expensive network connections. For a regional office or project site to participate in a project, it needs a high bandwidth, low latency connection to achieve reasonable productivity for staff. The Head Office, or server location, has to handle all these incoming and outgoing connections in parallel.
With a cloud service, anyone can work on the project wherever there is a dependable connection to the internet. Cloud-based project software is web-based so there is less reliance on bandwidth; team members can contribute using portable devices in remote locations in their own time zone. The project manager can ensure effective contribution from everyone on the team.
Improved connectivity means that there is no longer a need to circulate information by email; the team can share updates in real time using their project dashboard. For a project involving sequential, dependent tasks this is highly efficient.
For example in a software development project, a tester can raise a defect and place it in the bug list. A developer can fix the bug and re-allocate it for testing, making it immediately visible to the testing team. Meanwhile, the project manager can oversee progress and observe trends in bug rates and time to fix.
Storing project information and documents in the cloud means there is no arbitrary limit on storage space. The service can handle projects of all sizes and the project manager can use older projects to sanity-check estimates and get a head start on a project plan. Technical staff can re-use specifications and designs.
Inevitably, moving to cloud-based project management brings some additional challenges to the project manager.
Software as a Service (SaaS) allows business leaders to better understand system costs. Rather than the traditional model of purchasing hardware and software licenses as capital expenditure, SaaS systems are subscription-based. Tools for project management and team collaboration are perceived as a direct cost to the project.
The project manager is responsible for the ROI and must, therefore, take on the costs and specification of the cloud services. This may include integrating on-premise and cloud solutions or transitioning data between them. Although that may be a challenge technically, it gives the project manager some flexibility, much more so than being stuck with legacy hardware and systems.
Flexibility, however, can come at a high price. The cost and efficiency benefits of SaaS may encourage heads of department to move their office systems into the cloud. This presents a technical headache for a project manager who may need to feed project data into systems from competing vendors.
In an on-premise environment, corporate specialists such as IT normally handle cyber security and data protection, with oversight perhaps from a CISO or DPO. In SaaS, there is a high reliance on the cloud provider’s systems and procedures, but the project manager must pay a larger part in implementing security policies.
The project team needs to understand how to use the system effectively. Although web-based dashboards tend to be intuitive for simple operations, carrying out more complex tasks requires good training. It may also be necessary to train or hire a technical specialist to oversee the operation of the system.
The single most frustrating aspect facing project managers is the unpredictability of their projects. Cloud computing and big data can help with this in two ways.
Business intelligence allows the project manager to analyse past projects and understand what happened. Did it take longer than planned and why? What were the unbudgeted costs?
Analytics takes this a step further. With a large data set and the power of cloud computing, analytics can predict the risks to a project, such as scope creep or cost overrun, allowing the project manager to plan accordingly.
Change is the only constant
It’s an exciting time to be a project manager. The benefits and challenges brought by cloud computing have given project managers more flexibility and authority, enabling them to get the very best out of their teams. Big data and analytics may yet give them the foresight of Heraclitus.
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