AEC

Deltek iAccess: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Deltek’s Secret Sauce to Innovation

Deltek is laser-focused on meeting the needs of project-driven businesses. Unlike a myriad of solution providers that simply provide software used to manage the projects themselves, Deltek takes a giant leap beyond, also providing software that runs the projects-based business. This type of software is typically referred to as enterprise resource planning (ERP). But in Deltek’s case we’re not only talking about ERP, but also a special kind of ERP.

Over the years, through organic development and acquisition, Deltek has collected a dizzying array of products: specialized enterprise solutions for government contractors and a wide range of professional services organizations including architecture and engineering (A&E) firms, management consultants, advertising, PR and marketing agencies and more. The one thing all these segments have in common is this: They are all people-centric, providing services, largely delivered through projects.

Beyond this point of commonality, they can be very different. They don’t go after the same type of business; their customers are worlds apart; some are heavily regulated; others operate under few constraints. Some are small; others are large. Some manage projects that last days or weeks and others span multiple years. A general-purpose kind of solution just doesn’t work well here.

This leaves Deltek with a rather difficult challenge of providing continued innovation across a broad portfolio of products, but a challenge the company has embraced with vigor. What is the secret sauce to keeping a potentially diverse set of customers able to keep up with the demanding requirements of our digital economy? Deltek iAccess.

What is Deltek iAccess?

Deltek describes iAccess as an “Easy to use front office solution.” But unless you count each and every employee in a project-driven firm as an occupant of the front office, you completely underestimate what iAccess can do. Mint Jutras would suggest you think of it instead as a front door, an entry point into some of the most critical functions performed in a project-based business.

As a front end to Deltek’s ERP solutions, iAccess provides a new way to navigate and therefore it does provide a new user interface, which will eventually work its way throughout the various applications. iAccess will supplant previous user interface efforts such as the Maconomy Portal and Vision Smart Client. But for the functions it serves today, it is more than just a user interface.

Three Workspaces Touch Much of the Organization

Deltek iAccess is more like an extension of your Deltek ERP. Today it provides three distinct workspaces that are specific to three different functions performed by employees and in doing so, covers much of what is accomplished in a project-based business:

  • Business Development Workspace provides a lot of the functionality typically associated with sales force automation, supporting those charged with developing business, including managing clients, contacts and opportunities
  • Project Management Workspace helps project managers monitor projects and identify problems before it’s too late
  • Employee Workspace makes it easier to keep timesheets and expense reports up to date from anywhere

While Deltek iAccess is browser-based, all three workspaces are available and integrated with both cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) and on-premise deployments of ERP. And it also provides a uniform look and feel across multiple products. Of course each Deltek customer will likely be running only one of Deltek’s ERP solutions, but all the features and functions required are not necessarily embedded within ERP. In fact Deltek has been smart in delivering extended functionality, particularly in light of its diverse portfolio of products.

Consistent Look and Feel Across Extended Products

Deltek has been delivering more and more functionality via cloud-based add-ons, including Deltek CRM, Deltek Resource Planning (RP) and Deltek Talent Management. With iAccess providing that front end across all products, users experience a consistent look and feel throughout, making the integration appear seamless while also fostering engagement at all levels of the organization.

In days gone by a select few ever put their hands directly on ERP. Today we find over 50% of employees typically have direct access. The access any time, from anywhere advantage of the cloud has contributed to this rise in engagement, but also ease of use and intuitive navigation. The prevalence of consumer technology has changed expectations and the user experience delivered through iAccess is meeting and exceeding those expectations.

More Innovation, Easier to Consume

This kind of approach is also smart. It leverages development efforts across a range of products and should ultimately allow Deltek to deliver more innovation across its entire portfolio. While the needs of project-based businesses vary across different industries, they do share some common requirements.

The fact that these new modules/components are cloud-based is also significant. All three of its major product lines (Costpoint, Vision and Maconomy) have all made the transition into the cloud and are offered as multi-tenant SaaS solutions. Note the applications are multi-tenant but each customer has its own instance of the data base, and Deltek does have an Enterprise Cloud offering for those customers that require a single instance type environment. Multi-tenant SaaS solutions have the most potential for delivering more innovation, faster.

The fact that these new modules are delivered as add-on components is equally important. It addresses two key issues. First, as noted earlier, it allows Deltek to leverage development efforts across a range of products and should ultimately allow Deltek to deliver more innovation across its entire portfolio. Secondly, it makes it much easier for its customers to consume innovation.

Adding new functionality to ERP in a way that makes it easy to consume has long been a challenge. The very definition of ERP (at least the definition according to Mint Jutras) contributes to this challenge. Mint Jutras defines ERP as an integrated suite of modules that forms the operational and transactional system of record of a business.

A core ERP solution has historically been a monolithic structure. Not only do all modules of an ERP solution share a common database, but also all are developed using the same tools and technology (platform) and traditionally they all move forward in lock step. This eliminates data redundancy and any need for separate integration efforts. And a common platform for development is beneficial to both the customer and the vendor.

When new features and functions are added to ERP, this tight integration implies that all modules, all functions, and therefore all departments within an organization must move forward together. This can slow down the upgrade cycle. But even more troublesome: It takes massive efforts of coordination for all departments within a customer’s organization to take those next steps all together. And all might not have the same level of motivation.

So what’s the alternative to this tight integration? The alternative is often referred to these days as “loosely coupled,” but that terminology frequently conjures the “best of breed” approach of yesterday, where you had independent point solutions that needed to be interfaced or integrated back into ERP. We’re not advocating taking a step backwards. Perhaps a better way of describing the newer alternative would be “component-based” or “service-based.” Deltek’s add-on solutions (CRM, RP, Talent Management) are good examples.

When it comes time to offer up new features and functions, instead of inserting lines of code directly into ERP, you might instead call upon a standard “service.” When it comes time to upgrade or add new functionality, simply swap out the old “service” for the new. You might also view these services as external components. While this is an oversimplification, it conceptually describes how next generation ERP can effectively deliver new, targeted innovation without forcing all departments served by ERP to march forward together.

Innovation has never been more important than it is today. We live in disruptive times.

Handling Disruption

We asked survey participants in our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study to estimate the level of risk they face in their industry (and therefore their business) being disrupted (Figure 1). We found 88% of companies believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above.

Figure 1: How much risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?

deltek-fig-1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

While only 10% felt that risk was high and/or imminent, most do understand the risk is real. While about one in three (34%) feel the risk is low, we have to ask: How do you think the taxi industry might have answered this question on the eve of the launch of Uber? Do you think the hotel industry anticipated Airbnb? Did Block Buster foresee the devastating impact Netflix would have on its business?

And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few. The Internet has leveled the playing field, allowing even small to midsize companies to establish a global presence and take advantage of unprecedented growth opportunities. But with these opportunities come change and the need for more (not less) innovation.

Wrap Up

Deltek iAccess is indeed more than just a pretty face. It is the face of innovation. It not only provides easier access and intuitive navigation, it adds functionality. When coupled with other cloud-based components, it will help Deltek handle universal needs while also delivering purpose-built functionality specific to different types of project-driven businesses. That is Deltek’s secret sauce.

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Meridian Systems Taps Trimble Navigation for a Complete Solution

ILM = Plan(BIM) + Build(BIM) + Operate(BIM)

I recently had an an update from Meridian Systems, thanks to Judith Rothrock’s  (JRocket Marketing) annual Grape Escape ® event. It was also an opportunity to meet Geene Alhady, Meridian’s new President, an 11 year veteran of the company who replaced John Bodrozic as he decided to return to his consulting roots. The update included three key announcements:

However, what I found most compelling was something not on the “announcement list” at all. What intrigued me was the move towards a much more complete solution philosophy, tapping into existing solutions  from its parent company, Trimble Navigation, as well as its announced move to acquire Building Information Modeling (BIM) solution provider Tekla Systems. Given all the complexities and interdependencies, the last thing companies building, managing and maintaining infrastructure and large capital projects need is to collect, manage and integrate a fragmented solution. 

Who is Meridian Systems?

Originally founded in 1993, Meridian Systems started out offering project and portfolio management software primarily for architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) firms. As the company evolved beyond the planning and design and the build phases of construction, it reached into the post-construction phase during which owners manage and maintain those facilities. In doing so, Meridian went beyond project and portfolio management to manage the entire lifecycle of large infrastructure building projects. It coined the term PBO2, which stands for Plan-Build-Operate for Project-Based Organizations and added full Infrastructure Life-Cycle Management (ILM) to its portfolio of products. At this stage of its evolution, Meridian defined ILM as a math equation:

Meridian “ILM” MATH EQUATION =  
Capital Project-Based Organizations + Plan-Build-Operate

In order to complete this equation Meridian offers two product lines:

  • Proliance: A web-based ILM solution that supports project owners in managing a wide range of activities (see side-bar) used by real estate developers, commercial building owners, government agencies and others managing a portfolio of infrastructure projects
  • Prolog: Project and portfolio management software used to provide control and transparency to project-based organizations within AEC, commercial and public sectors. Prolog, the original Meridian Systems product, manages the Build phase of PBO with budget & cost management, contract & change management, purchasing/bid management and document & field worker management

Together these two products help project-based companies manage the business at an enterprise level. In 2006 Meridian became a Trimble company. Trimble Navigation is perhaps best known for global positioning solutions (GPS). Like Meridian, it serves the engineering and construction and related industries. Recognizing the equity of the brand it acquired, Trimble allowed Meridian Systems to maintain its name and for the past five years it operated quite independently.  While that was beneficial in building both brands, it also left some synergy on the table.

While Meridian works at the business and enterprise level, Trimble operates at the level where the work actually gets done, collecting data directly from the workforce on the projects. Trimble uses GPS, lasers, optical, and inertial technologies, as well as wireless communications and application specific software to provide solutions that link positioning to productivity. Some joint customers are seeing the potential synergy and steering them towards more collaboration between the two. Now Meridian is expanding its product reach in order to directly leverage the data collected at the workforce level across the enterprise.

The next step in the combined company’s evolution expands this joint solution even further. In May 2011 Trimble extended an offer to acquire all shares in Tekla Corporation. Headquartered in Finland, with a U.S. office in Atlanta, Georgia, and more than 5,000 customers in the construction industry around the globe, Tekla is a leading provider of Building Information Modeling (BIM) software. Tekla offers model driven solutions for customers in the infrastructure and energy industries (in particular energy distribution, public administration and civil engineering and utilities), creating the potential for even more synergy with the combination of Trimble Navigation and Meridian Systems. Two Meridian customers (Ryan, Stanford Hospitals) are already integrating BIM to ILM.

A New Component: BIM

BIM creates a digital design model. The purpose of this model is to enable constructability and production control. By centralizing and digitizing the model, project management and delivery can become more predictable and collaborative. Tekla’s BIM solution, Tekla Structures supports creation and management of accurately detailed, highly constructible 3D structural models regardless of material or structural complexity. Tekla models can be used throughout the building process from conceptual design to fabrication, erection and construction management. And, as you will see as you read on, perhaps even beyond the initial Build phase.

What is Driving this Push?

The world economy, an evolving global market and the recent spate of natural and man-made disasters all combine to create an increasingly challenging business environment for the capital projects-based organizations Meridian Systems, et al serve.

During the recession, which began in 2008, industries supporting infrastructure-related development took a big hit. New construction slowed or came to a complete halt in many regions of the world including parts of North America. Even necessary maintenance projects were pared down, delayed or postponed. Now as we are seeing signs of a recovery, albeit a slow recovery, the very nature and mix of infrastructure projects are changing. We’re seeing less new construction (the Plan and Build phases) and more renovation and maintenance (the Operate phase) in mature economies. This in turn causes a major shift in the Operate stage to not only maintain and manage, but also to manage renovation, remodeling and even rebranding.

 This also changes the complexion of the projects, shifting from single large projects to multiple, yet often inter-dependent projects. While the ability to manage schedules and cost and maintain control over new infrastructure and construction projects has always been critical, when renovating or remodeling, there is the added factor of business disruption. While renovating a hotel floor by floor, the rooms on the floor under construction cannot be booked. When remodeling a residential apartment building, new tenants cannot take up residence and rental or condominium fees collected. During rebranding, remodeling or renovation of a commercial building, business cannot continue uninterrupted.

“Fast-Track” Projects

 This creates the increased need for “fast-track” projects. And it would appear lately that Mother Nature is also conspiring to supplement the need for these “fast track” projects. While natural disasters are not new or unique to the post-recession, the vast devastation created by events such as Hurricane Katrina, the earthquakes in Haiti, Chili and Japan, the recent tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri and western Massachusetts, is unprecedented, thus creating the need for new or massive repair to infrastructure.

 In a “fast-track” project, design and development often must be combined in order to minimize down time. While management of these projects is better enabled through ILM and project and portfolio management software, adding BIM to the mix is the secret sauce and perhaps the most essential element when combining design and development. BIM creates a three-dimensional (3D) model, which encompasses building geometry, spatial relationships, geographic information, and quantities and properties of various components. All these different elements are created as BIM objects. Relationships between objects are defined as parameters, so that if an object changes, those related to it also change. As a result, a virtual environment is created in order to better understand and manage the physical environment.

In combining ILM with BIM, Meridian Systems also introduces the concept of 4D and 5D modeling. While intuitively difficult to picture, essentially the fourth dimension is cost and the fifth dimension is schedule. By integrating all components of the operational business processes and data (LIM) with the digital design model (BIM) you are able to assess the impact of a design change on both the cost and the schedule.

Another Whole World

While renovation, remodel and repair of infrastructure might dominate in mature markets like North America, there is another whole world out there. In emerging markets, new infrastructure must be built. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East, where some of the largest capital infrastructure projects in the world are underway. These are global projects, unable to rely only on local resources and therefore they pull in people, materials, contractors and subcontractors from around the world. And some of these projects are more massive than any we have seen, at least in modern history. Projects like:

  • The Saadiyat Island Cultural District in Abu Dhabi: Covering a land mass of 2.43 million square meters, the master plan is to build an entire district including a national museum, a performing arts center and Abu Dhabi versions of the Louvre and the Guggenheim. Massive in scale and scope, “Saadiyat Cultural District will be a center for global culture, drawing local, regional and international visitors with unique exhibitions, permanent collections, productions and performances. Its iconic institutions will be housed in buildings constituting a statement of the finest architecture at the beginning of the 21st century.”
  • The Knowledge Economic City in Saudi Arabia, with an estimated construction value of $8 billion, is expected to take between 10 to 12 years to complete
  • The new National Railway Network in the United Arab Emirates will provide freight and passenger service, stretching across the Emirates, covering a network of approximately 745 miles. The new railway network will connect the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia. The first of three stages of the project is projected to be complete in 2014.

As a result of this type of opportunity, Meridian Systems is seeing a significant increase in business outside North America. The ratio between U.S.  and international sales has shifted dramatically.  Until recently, revenue outside of the U.S. was 10% or less, and now it is closer to 30%. Hence the expansion into the Middle East with a new regional office in Dubai. In doing so, it once again leverages the resources of its parent company, already present in the region and is better positioned to support some of its marquis customers and its own growth.

Case in Point:  AECOM, A Meridian Systems Customer

Headquartered in Los Angeles, California, AECOM is one of the largest providers of professional technical and management support services in the world.  According to Jim Walsh, CTO, “You’ll see us in industries like transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, water and the government sector.  We have more than 45,000 employees in approximately 125 countries.  We reported $7.3 billion in annual revenue for the 12 months ending March 31, 2011, and we are ranked #353 on the most recent Fortune 500 list. We are defined by our reputation for leadership – especially in high-growth markets, our long-term portfolio of blue-chip clients and our diversification across multiple industries, geographies and funding sources. We consistently produce strong financials and, for the most part, have a low-risk business model. I say ‘for the most part’ because we do operate all over the world and geopolitical events such as the recent turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa can lead to temporary or long-term business interruption. “

Indeed, AECOM is engaged in the three Middle East projects noted above as well as

  • The New Doha Port in Qatar, a $7 billion construction effort that is currently the world’s largest “greenfield” port-development project
  • The Capital District Development Project in Abu Dhabi, a mixed-use city that will form the center of the United Arab Emirates’ federal government, be home to 370,000 residents and feature an underground, high-speed metro, plus  highways,  water, sewage, cooling, communications and all-inclusive infrastructure.

A complete solution is exactly what AECOM was looking for, working with Meridian since 2002, initially with Prolog for construction management and project management, and then in 2005 selected Proliance as its next generation technology solution. “Meridian is capable of managing tens of thousands of pages of documents…and in managing programs with budgets that reach tens of billions of dollars,” said Mr. Walsh.

“So what makes Meridian so special?  Its solutions are purpose-built. Meridian does what big ERP companies don’t do well.   These big firms have all kinds of toolsets and workaround capabilities– but, for us, that would involve a lot of complex programming that Meridian has already figured out – and does out of the box, with superior end results.   Meridian of course plugs into a wide variety of ERP backbones like Oracle, SAP and Microsoft.   So, why don’t we just use these ERP backbones?  Because, I don’t want to go through all that work, and then have to view 15 screens to get an answer.  With Meridian I can get what we need…quickly, cost effectively and with the right blend of system and technology integration.

“AECOM is a large organization driven heavily by our clients’ requirements.  The goal of the program management we provide is to deliver the expertise that will save our clients time, money and complexity…wherever possible.  Meridian gives us the features and functions that are powerful enough to get the job done with great flexibility and a great user interface.”

Key Takeaways

As you can see, the world of infrastructure and capital projects faces a dichotomy of needs. On the one hand, “fast-track” projects need to be just that – fast. Yet the more likely the project is to be fast-tracked, the less likely it is that it stands alone. So while there may be fewer moving parts, there is also more need to integrate and interoperate with other pieces of a larger puzzle and less room for error. On the other hand, we see more massive and complex infrastructure that must be built, and sometimes (most likely) it needs to be managed half a world away.

A wide variety of functionality is required to manage throughout the PBO2 environment, from planning and design, to build and development, to manage, maintain, renovate, remodel, rebrand and repair. My opening segue bears repeating: Given all the complexities and interdependencies, the last thing companies building, managing and maintaining infrastructure and large capital projects need is to collect, manage and integrate a fragmented solution.  By leveraging the data collected where the work is done, providing a virtual environment that can model the real world and tools that provide a system of record and guided decision-making throughout the Plan – Build – Operate lifecycle, Meridian Systems, with a little help from Trimble, is evolving into a complete solution.

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