Sharing in the ProjectLounge

Software newly launched in the UK could help engineers organise projects across different companies, countries and times zones.

ProjectLounge is a hosted online collaboration service powered by IBM’s Lotus Notes. Although it can be used for any project type, it has already proven valuable for international engineering projects. One success has been a motor manufacturing company that does its design in the US and the factoring in China.

ProjectLounge hosts all the files pertaining to a project and allows them to be accessed via a URL. Anything that can be electronically stored can be put on the site so people can have access to it.

As all project documents are hosted and accessed via a URL, they are outside a company’s firewall, so granting access to a project member from another company will not jeopardise security. Users do not need to install a copy of the ProjectLounge software locally as they simply access a website with password control.

Importantly, if clients need to view or approve drawings and plans, they do not need access to the CAD software with which a diagram was created to view and comment on it.

The software is compatible with videoconferencing. Agenda item documents can be dragged and dropped into the meeting invitation to be discussed. Time zones will automatically be taken into account when setting times.

Documents are edited in place from the website. This avoids the mapping problem. A team member may save work onto a drive in one location when it could be mapped differently elsewhere. Levels of access can be set for which project team member can see or check out and edit documents.

As a company may run many projects simultaneously, everything for a particular project is stored in a ‘container’. A project manager allows users to see whichever information they need. When the project is over, the entire project can be archived.

If a user is assigned to more than one project, they will see a list of “My projects” to select from when they log in. Once they have selected a project, they will be able to which other team members are online, and interact with them.

A simple Gantt chart tool allows a small project to be planned and dependencies set. However, a big engineering project would still need a full project management tool. When a task is assigned to someone, they immediately receive an email with the details and timescale.

The person who assigned the task has author status on the associated document. They can put comments in that the project managers can read and see how their task is progressing, including its current approval status. Any team member can be given sign-off approval on an invitation-only basis.

The website seen by the project team and outside clients can be personalised with a colour scheme and logos specific to the company

Hazel Connor, VP, Business Development of ProjectLounge, said the biggest advantage is allowing easy but secure access to all project assets without granting potentially insecure access via company systems. “We had two competing engineering companies collaborating on a sporting goods project,” she said. “The only way they could do it was to use ProjectLounge to work together outside their firewall and then compete with the final product on the open market.”