eWEEK Labs normally resists the idea of letting a software environment take over our operation, but our visceral reaction to Changepoint 8.0 is that we wish we had something like it.
During tests, we accumulated more than 20 screen shots that represented effective and often innovative ways of giving an organization better visibility into where its time and other resources are going.
At a starting price of $300 for a basic user, and modular pricing options up to $1,500 for a full-function power user, many organizations will find the Changepoint Corp. application a tempting improvement over whatever time tracking and portfolio management tools they may already have in place. Changepoint 8.0, released this summer, runs on Windows clients with Oracle Corp. or Microsoft Corp. databases on Windows 2000 or 2003 servers.
Changepoint, both the company and the product, originated in efforts to assist billable services organizations—where time is almost literally money and every hour of a skilled persons time is meant to benefit some definite task.
It seemed to the designers of Changepoint that corporate IT departments should be another fruitful market for their resulting tools, but the company found IT managers preoccupied with new projects during the dot-com boom. More recently, however, new corporate awareness of nonproject costs and new tools for collecting hour-by-hour data have shifted the 70-to-30 balance of the companys customer base. Formerly, 70 percent of its customers were services businesses, but now 70 percent are corporate IT, according to Changepoint officials.
Despite our reservations about Microsoft Outlook as a personal management tool, it is widely used on enterprise desktops. So its a substantial benefit for Changepoint 8.0 to integrate with Outlook through the products respective calendars, providing two-way synchronization. Vacations and recurring meetings described in Outlook, for example, are automatically subtracted from Changepoints estimates of available capacity. Appointments and tasks created or generated in either tool are shared and displayed in the other. (Changepoint users do retain control over personal calendar sharing.)
New in Version 8.0 is e-mail integration, with Changepoint both archiving Outlook e-mail for its own knowledge-base maintenance activities and enabling the generation of Outlook e-mail messages as part of the products workflow capabilities.
Not only the overall organization but also the individual can benefit from Changepoints real-time displays,which show tasks to perform and approvals to give, as well as measurement results of individual performance.
One of the key problems with products of this type is getting people over the adoption hump—that is, getting them into the habit of submitting data before theyve had a chance to see the benefits they would gain by doing so. One of the small but valuable features of Changepoint, therefore, is its ability to monitor data submittals and other supporting actions and to report on these until the habits are established. This can make the difference between theoretical and actual results.
Looking beyond the obvious suspects of identifiable IT projects, Changepoint actively collects and analyzes every available data point on where and how IT time and money are applied. Per-user pricing starts at $300.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST
Changepoints maturity shows in the way it anticipates and avoids the nuisance oversights that often impede adoption of management tools. For example, some tools require that an activity be billed to a corresponding task, but some activities are for the benefit of several tasks. Changepoint 8.0 addresses this by providing a split-billing feature. In addition, projects are often managed at their outset against an initial budget, which could change due to unexpected events. Changepoint 8.0 manages this by providing a budget snapshot capability that aids comparisons against various versions of budgets over time.
Changepoint offers excellent prepackaged tools for planning and measurement, but it leaves the access ports unlocked. We could therefore see what the product was doing and customize it for our needs. A high-level dialog box, for example, made it easy to edit our portfolio measures and assign weighting factors to be used in calculating the overall health of our efforts. But that same dialog box also allowed us to see the SQL being generated behind the scenes to make the associated database query.
We like having the option of taking a product out of "drive" and doing a bit of double-clutching when the situation seems to demand it. Changepoints combination of automated features and ease of customization will inspire managers to drive it hard.