Richard K. Faris is senior vice president of product development for Oracle's Primavera Global Business Unit, which was formed in 2008—when Oracle acquired Primavera Systems—and focuses on enterprise project portfolio management solutions for project-intensive industries. As co-founder of Primavera Systems, Faris led product development at that company for more than 25 years. His technology vision enabled Primavera to keep pace with innovations in computer hardware and software by delivering more than 60 releases of 12 distinct project portfolio management products.
Q: What inspired the founding of Primavera Systems?
A: Primavera was a company started by project mangers for project managers. With our common background in engineering and project management, Joel Koppelman and I founded the company in May 1983, when we saw the opportunity to move project management from the mainframe to a personal computer. We believed there would be a good market for such a program in project-centric industries like construction, engineering, aerospace, and defense. In the beginning, it was a technology feat: a matter of being able to take a program written for a mainframe, put it on a PC that had 256KB of memory, and get the program to work effectively. Fortunately, we were able to do that within less than six months. By the second year, we got a lot more traction and did US $1.5 million in business. The next year we did $3.2 million—and, after that, sales just kept increasing.
Q: Since its acquisition of Primavera Systems last year, how has Oracle furthered its commitment to continue developing Primavera products?
A: Oracle immediately increased the number of developers working on Primavera products and has just delivered Primavera P6 Enterprise Project Portfolio Management Version 7, which includes a number of innovative features and enhancements. And, Oracle has terrific support policies for its products, far exceeding what we used to offer at Primavera Systems. So, customers who have invested in Primavera products can expect continued development and support under Oracle.
Q: What's innovative about Oracle's Primavera P6 Enterprise Project Portfolio Management Version 7?
A: The most innovative thing it delivers is professional project management on the Web. Until now, to get heavy-duty project management, people had to use desktop applications or client/server applications. For the first time, real project management can be done on the Web. To be specific, we have a fantastic Web-based Gantt chart. A Gantt chart is a graphic depiction of a project showing for activities when they start and when they finish represented as a bar against the timescale. And that's how most project schedulers and project managers work with the project schedule. Now they can do all that on the Web. And we've set it up so that it's usable not only to the expert project managers that we have traditionally catered to, but also to part-time project managers who need a simple interface. The product can be used in a very simple way, or it can be used with more robust functionality. Plus, it's based on service-oriented architecture so that the product can be customized and tied into other third-party systems.
Q: Any other unique enhancements in the latest release?
A: Yes, a major enhancement is the interactive network logic diagram, sometimes called a PERT chart. It visually shows the logic of a schedule—and it's the first time we've done that on the Web. Also, for the first time, we allow the chart to be collapsed and expanded. So, a lot of activities can be collapsed into one box, and then you can click on the box to see the details with all the interconnections between them. This answers the question what work has to be done before something else has to be done. Project managers can figure that out by looking at the project at a much higher level, which we think is really innovative.
Q: What are some of the most useful new features to customers?
A: One feature is something that we call "bar necking," which means that the horizontal bars representing activities "neck down" during periods of inactivity. In the old system, if an activity was started before somebody went on vacation and then doesn't get finished until they get return, a one-week activity might look as though it took four weeks to complete because somebody was on vacation for three weeks. But with this feature, it shows that the bar narrows down over the vacation period, so you can see that a little bit of work got done before and after that period, which helps you understand why it is stretched out to four weeks.
Secondly, we've done something that enables the product to be updated by subcontractors. Oftentimes, our customers have a lot of the work being performed by subcontractors or third party contractors. And the best way to update the work that they're doing is to have them update it directly; but you have to be careful because you don't want them modifying information that they shouldn't be. So we set up a series of securities to make sure that those people can update what they need to—such as how long the activity has left to go, how much effort it's going to be, when it's going to finished—without changing things that we don't want those third-party contractors to touch. We've also made it much easier to edit other pertinent information about the activities. In addition to spreadsheet editing, we now have customizable dialog boxes that can be moved around the screen, docked on the bottom or the side, or tabbed. That way all details about an activity are readily accessible. And we have the ability to color-code the activities. For example, activities by one contractor could be one color and another contractor's would be a different color; or activities being done in the Northeast would be one color, and in the Southwest another color. So that adds a lot to the graphic display of activities.
Q: What is Oracle's vision for Primavera products?
A: What's on the horizon is continued strong integration with still more Oracle products. We've always supported the Oracle database, we're supporting Oracle middleware and other Oracle "Red Stack" technologies to simplify user administration, and we're doing integration with many other Oracle products, including ERP applications. Integration is something that's very important to our customers because it can lead to an even lower total cost of ownership. Also, we will continue to work on the innovative features that our customers want. I think the long-term vision is for uniting the scheduling and project management system with the ERP system, so that companies can integrate the back office with the fieldwork they're doing. In the meantime, we plan to continue supporting all the project management and scheduling needs of traditional project-centric industries while also starting to expand into new industries.