This week’s company profile is about AEC Software.
Several years back a book came out called The Accidental Project Manager. It is a survival guide of sorts, for techies who are suddenly thrown into the role of project managers.
That book was not specifically targeted toward small businesses — but the concept behind it could have been.
People who work in small businesses may be propelled into the role of project manager. They’ve never had training on how to be project managers and don’t consider it their job. Yet, they are doing it. They are accidental project managers.
Not long ago I spoke with Dennis Bilowus, President and CEO of AEC Software. AEC has a product called Fast Track Schedule 9.
AEC targets their project management product toward the accidental project managers in small businesses — personnel who don’t realize they are functioning as project managers but actually are. Faced with mountains of data, they get thrown into managing what are sometimes very complex projects for the business. They may have to figure out how to manage a project on the fly — baptism by fire.
These unintentional project managers might start out using simple to-do lists or Excel spreadsheets. A team of people is involved in most projects, so they quickly find themselves managing lots of variables and loose ends. It becomes hard to “see” how it all fits together and the relationships between tasks — i.e., if one tasks slips, how it ripples and affects other deliverables or deadlines. It feels chaotic.
That’s where AEC’s product comes in.
Based in Sterling, Virginia, AEC provides technology to fill in the gaps and do a professional job of managing projects. It helps you take mountains of information and make sense of it. It automatically tracks relationships between tasks, and if one thing changes it adjusts the related items. You can mindmap using it. You can output the project plan in XML. You can add your logo to project plans to make them look professional and add credibility to your work product. (Product tour here.)
I asked Dennis how his company’s product compares with two common solutions available today: online solutions and Microsoft Project. Fast Track Schedule, he notes, is more robust and can handle more complex projects than typical entry-level online solutions. Fast Track Schedule, he points out, is a “ninth generation” product and AEC has been in the project-focused software business for 20 years. Also, you can take the AEC product with you on a laptop, such as to a job site, and don’t need access to the Web all the time, as you do with an online project management solution.
Yet, he says, AEC’s product is better suited for smaller organizations than Microsoft Project, which can be overkill for some organizations and unwieldy to use.
As I always do in these types of interviews, I asked for examples of some of the typical customers or industries using the company’s product, to give a sense of the value it provides. Typical customers include:
- Special effects teams working on movies
- Advertising agencies working on complex ad campaigns
- Real estate developers managing building and development projects
It is my impression that today there are more project management solutions on the market. Dennis confirmed that, pointing out that today there is simply more interest in project management software, especially among small businesses. Plus, the use of project management software is increasingly being made a requirement for doing business, such as with government contracts.
He also noted that business people are more aware of project management. There is more information available today about managing projects, including free articles about project management best practices.
One of things I noticed is that FastTrack9 does what business software increasingly does today: it fills in the gaps of knowledge and training. In smaller organizations, where out of necessity you have to be jacks-of-all-trade, it guides you and your employees to develop some competence in project management without needing to be project management specialists. That’s probably the biggest value of business software for small businesses — that it gives a level of execution capability that you wouldn’t otherwise have or couldn’t afford without the software.
Fast Track Schedule 9 won the 2006 Product of the Year award from Small Biz Technology Magazine.