By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2006-01-02 Print this article Print

IT managers and executives have a wide range of applications at their disposal to manage projects and figure out what projects need to be done. But what about figuring out the costs, resources and time that the project will require? Many of these capabilities are included in project management, portfolio management and budgeting products, but they often arent very easy to use, especially for high-level executives.

Scope IT, a hosted service application from Scope IT Inc. that costs $2,950 per user per year, attempts to solve this problem through a fairly flexible and simple-to-use application that can quickly estimate the costs of an IT project and deliver this information to Microsoft Corp.s Word, Excel or Project.

The service—which, unfortunately, can be accessed only with Microsofts Internet Explorer—works through user-customized templates that drive project-based questionnaires.

Although any software-driven cost estimates should be taken with a grain of salt, they do provide a useful base line when starting an IT project.

eWEEK Labs tested the latest update of the Scope IT service and found that its combination of ease of use and detailed report generation will be useful for CXOs, IT managers and consultants hoping to perform some level of planning before a project even moves into the initial project management phases.

For more on managing IT projects and workers, click here. Scope ITs main interface is simple and clean. From the Manage Projects screen, a manager or an executive can create projects or portfolios, share them with other staff, and generate estimates. When creating a project, we selected which portfolio it would be attached to, as well as which departments or service lines it was part of. We then chose a Scope IT template for the estimation.

Once all this was set up, we selected a project and clicked the Estimate button, which brought up a questionnaire. Questions vary by template, but they can include hardware requirements, testing requirements, in-house experience and a projects relative complexity.

Once a questionnaire is completed, Scope IT generates a customizable report that can be delivered in Word, Excel or Project.

Templates for success

The scope it service comes with a wide variety of prebuilt templates, but effective template creation and editing will be key to its successful use.

Building a template in Scope IT isnt done from a single interface but instead requires defining several different settings, resources and variables that become part of each template.

In fact, the main template editor interface simply aggregates other resources that have been defined.

Among the items that need to be defined for template creation are tasks, costs, resources, questions, phase factors and M&O (maintenance and operation) percent values. Some of these are straightforward, such as equipment costs, while others require a good understanding of standard project management principles.

For instance, anyone who has created PERT charts in project management applications will understand the task elements in Scope IT, which take into account resource requirements, whether tasks are recurring or not, and total expected task effort. Resources and cost items are much easier to define because they are based on per-hour personnel resource costs (such as cost per hour per programmer) as well as on hardware and software costs.

When building a template, project questions can be numeric, yes and no, text field, or nested, and the questions can be linked to cost items, tasks or resources. Phases are the classic project management steps of a project, while factors are any weighted elements to project questions, such as relative complexity.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be contacted at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr RapozaÔÇÖs current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.

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