'All-in' on Project Online

By Paul Estabrooks, Agora Consulting.  We believe that Project Online offers our clients the best option for project management solutions going forward. More broadly, we believe that Office 365 is the way forward for nearly all organizations. Cloud computing’s momentum is undeniable.

Our First Impressions of the Project Online When Project Online first launched we, like many other implementation partners, took a wait and see approach. Project Online was a new paradigm and it was easy to see what it didn’t do compared to Project Server 2010 and 2013 on premise. We recognized immediately that Project Online offered an interesting option for smaller, less complex implementations and those needing a project management solution quickly that was accessible from anywhere. Project Online offered a very compelling and very robust project management solution to a very broad range of organizations, many of whom would not have considered more conventional solutions.

But we were more cautious when it came to larger organizations with mature or sophisticated PMOs. We were quick to focus on the lack of a reporting database and access to data using SSRS. We didn’t see options for integration with other business systems and we worried about a lack of ability to customize some components that larger organizations frequently require. Project Online was an interesting new approach but we concluded that it was not yet an option for our larger clients – advising several of them to wait to see how the platform evolved.

What has transpired?

Over the past 9 months a number of our key customers indicated that their organizations were either considering Office 365 or committed to going in that direction. The business case for Office 365 was too compelling to ignore and their existing project management solution was not exempt from this changing reality. This left us with a choice: push against the tide and continue to advocate for the traditional on premise approach or figure out how to meet complex business requirements leveraging Project Online, Office 365 and Microsoft’s other cloud solutions.

New Paradigm – Same Business Opportunity

Microsoft has always been a platform provider that implementation partners and ISVs have leveraged to create customer solutions. While the paradigm of delivery for the platform has changed to the cloud this underlying principle has not. Project Online offers customers a platform complete with a robust project management solution so for us to develop products on top of this platform is a logical evolution as an implementation partner. We just had to rethink how we deliver our solutions.

Our journey began by looking at four of our more complex implementations, challenging ourselves to recreate the custom functionality these clients were using in the new paradigm of Project Online. To achieve this objective we leveraged Microsoft’s cloud application platform, Windows Azure. Our goal was to maintain the notion of a complete cloud solution. The result of our work is a set of solutions, hosted as an MVC 5 application in Windows Azure that enable reporting, system integration, status reports and email reminders. In many cases we productized solutions we had built for our clients in previous versions.

The Destination

In October we launched the Agora Enterprise Apps for Project Online. We can now say with complete confidence that we are able to meet any business requirement using Project Online.

Cloud computing is the future. The business value of moving Email, collaboration and project management tools to the cloud is very compelling and one we believe our clients need to leverage. With our tools and Project Online implementation experience we are ready when our clients are ready.

 By Paul Estabrooks, Agora Consulting Partners