Celoxis 3 Offers Structure for Users

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Software that helps groups work together has two main components. The first is project management, a highly structured process of defining tasks, estimating their costs, scheduling their completion, assigning them to individuals and tracking results. The second is collaboration, a much more fluid process of scheduling meetings, sharing documents, holding discussions, exchanging e-mails and otherwise facilitating the flow of information.


Both are necessary, but their styles are quite different. When a single piece of software tries to do both, one attitude or the other is likely to dominate. Celoxis 3 (Celoxis, 91-20-2567-0387, www.celoxis.com) provides both project management and collaboration, but its heart clearly belongs to structure.


In part this is shown by the comprehensiveness of the project management features. Celoxis lets users set up projects with unlimited levels of tasks and subtasks, linked by explicit task dependencies. Such dependencies are the core of a serious project management system because they determine the real effect of schedule changes.


With dependencies, software can identify the critical path (showing which items must be completed on time to meet the completion date) and automatically adjust the schedule when any task's completion date moves. Celoxis tasks can be assigned start dates, drop-dead dates and either end dates or durations (the system will calculate one given the other). To ensure consistency, the system automatically generates start and end dates for tasks by finding the earliest start date and latest end date among their subtasks.


And that's just the scheduling information. Tasks and subtasks also can have detailed financial attributes, including estimated cost, budget, actual cost, billing, estimated billing and actual labor cost; telephone call logs, e-mails, document folders and notes; priority for reporting purposes; one or more responsible team members, with estimated work effort by each; and a percent complete value, which is entered directly for subtasks and automatically calculated for higher levels. Celoxis keeps an audit trail of changes to these values.


Expenses such as supplies can be entered directly for a task or subtask. But Celoxis also provides elaborate time sheet functions. Users can charge hours to a client, project or task, and distinguish between different types of work. Each work type has two billing rates, for straight time and overtime.


Rates can be set by client or project and can change for different time periods. A separate calculation, based on the same time sheet entries, uses labor rates by person to determine the actual project cost. Time sheets and expenses are submitted for approval to the project manager and can also be exported for loading into an external accounting system.


The system can produce Gantt charts of project schedules as well as a variety of standard and custom reports. It can re-estimate project schedules or costs based on results to date, and issue alerts when projects are in trouble or for other user-specified events such as task completion and plan changes.


The user interface is clean, logical and consistent. It can't really be called simple, but it's probably about as efficient as possible given the number of functions it supports. Celoxis does let users determine which functions to make available for a project, so organizations with simpler needs can reduce the number of options presented. Several types of help are available, including "flyover" boxes that automatically display brief explanations when the cursor is pointed at an item; pop-up windows with more detailed information; and online user manuals.


Users access the system through a personal home page that can be customized to show their tasks, projects, reports, expenses, time entries and other items. Users also can specify the types of notifications to receive, default characteristics for any projects they set up and security rules for their projects. Security is based on roles, which are assigned to individual users for individual projects. This allows for very precise control over who can do what. Different security rules can be applied to different projects.


The project management portion of the system can also accommodate workflows, which are repetitive processes such as submitting a plan for approval or handling a help-desk request. These can be associated with a specific project task or exist independently. Workflows are set up by defining states, such as "waiting for an answer," and linking them with state transitions, such as "provide an answer." Transitions can also be associated with custom forms, typically to gather data, as well as e-mail notices, documents, comments and time-out rules. Responsibility for states can be assigned to individual users through roles.


Compared with this rich set of project management functions, Celoxis collaboration capabilities are rather thin. Users have personal calendars and address books, which can exchange data with Microsoft Outlook and Palm systems. They can send out meeting notices and receive replies, but not automatically check calendars to see when everyone is available.


There are company and project discussion forums. Documents can be stored in company, project, task and user folders, with access controlled by security and check in/check out functions. The system can search for words or phrases across document folders, forums, e-mail, telephone logs, notes, Web links, projects and tasks. Though this is an adequate set of features, users with more demanding requirements will have to look elsewhere for capabilities such as Web meetings or document status codes.


Celoxis is based in India, which yields some impressive cost savings. A hosted installation costs just $7.95 per user per month, while in-house software for 10-15 users costs about $1,600.


One drawback of the Indian location is that customer support staff are only available during Indian working hours, which translate to 12:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Eastern time. Support is provided by e-mail and Web chat but not telephone.


Celoxis works with almost any Web browser. The in-house version will run on Windows, Linux or Solaris servers. The system was initially released in January 2002 and currently has just under 100 customers. Slightly more than half of these are hosted, with 600 users combined. More than 90 percent are in the United States.


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