Plunet BusinessManager 6.0

I have been watching the development of Plunet BusinessManager for several years and I like that Plunet continuously delivers a solid product with every release.

Plunet was founded in 2003 as an independent, privately held tool provider for business and workflow management software. Plunet is now a leading software provider with clients in over 40 countries, headquartered in Germany with an office in New York. It specializes in the development of a workflow management solution for the translation industry. Plunet maintains relations with a number of technology partners, such as SDL Trados Technologies, Kilgray Translation Technologies, Across Systems, Memsource Technologies, ATRIL and others. Plunet BusinessManager is seamlessly integrated with solutions from the aforementioned partners to provide a powerful and cost effective end-to-end solution.

Plunet BusinessManager is a web-based tool that runs on a Tomcat web server with MySQL database, though it has also been implemented with MS-SQL. The tool is laid out in a very logical way, analogous to the natural flow of a project. The next tab over on most every screen is the natural next step in a project’s workflow, which allows users to feel at home very quickly. The Home screen features a customizable dashboard that helps to keep project managers organized and on task. Most everything is immediately apparent from the dashboard and the details are a mere one-to-two clicks away. Via the main menu bar, the tool gives access to contacts, requests, quotes, orders and invoices, which are the primary functions used by project managers.

Requests, quotes and orders can all be directly generated by customers from the Customer Portal, or they can be created by the project manager. Customers can continue to work through e-mail or phone, or may opt to conduct business through the portal. This allows them to monitor projects at various stages, review pricing, monitor, receive and download invoices, upload project files and download deliverables, as well as access general documents such as contracts, terms and conditions, general requirements and so on.

Similar to the Client Portal, resources can interact with the Resource Portal to review, accept or reject job requests, review an overview of new, pending and completed projects as well as generate invoices for the work that was completed and later approved by the project manager. The portal also allows resources to update their contact and payment information, review current agreed pricing for services and schedule any vacations or other planned events to ensure that project managers will not mistakenly assign work during those periods.

Plunet BusinessManager provides well-developed and robust resource management capabilities that help define anything from contact information, pricing and payment information to resource availability, job scheduling and capacity calendars. Project managers can predefine project templates for recurring projects with defined teams and workflows to accelerate project setup. Jobs can be easily monitored to ensure job requests were accepted, job assets have been downloaded and deliveries were made. Project managers can quickly identify jobs that might be at risk of being late by reviewing job status and activity in conjunction with the dashboard, where all jobs due over the next three business days are quickly identified. Project budgets can easily be monitored for each individual job and project item, and a detailed gross profit report enables project managers and operations to review overall project performance based on projected and actual project costs.

Plunet BusinessManager does not merely provide excellent and robust project management capabilities for translation and interpretation projects, it also helps operations and business management gain a better overview of the entire business. Operations managers can keep an eye on company-wide operations by monitoring their comprehensive dashboard for everything from project requests, quotes and pending orders as well as job status information for the entire operation. Business management or executives can view all operations and financial aspects, including a detailed view into accounts payables and accounts receivables, as well as company-wide cash flow, quote-to-order conversions, sales forecasts, year-to-year sales comparisons by customer and a selective inventory control by customer.

Data exchange of accounts receivables and accounts payables is enabled via data export to Intuit QuickBooks. A dynamic integration with QuickBooks is also available to streamline data exchange and avoid unnecessary data entries and duplication in two systems. This provides operations with the necessary level of financial information to conduct ongoing business without the need to frequently ask accounting for financial reports.


Personal experience

At PTIGlobal, we previously operated with a custom proprietary solution that worked in conjunction with the Salesforce CRM. This solution was light years ahead of using a combination of Word documents, Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint and Microsoft Project files, but it had to be frequently adjusted and fixed to ensure continued operability with the ever-changing Salesforce platform. Plunet BusinessManager offered us a standardized platform and deeper integration with computer-aided translation tools we had already adopted. What we gained through our shift to Plunet was a higher degree of organization and an increase of productivity by 20-30% over our previous platform. The tool also helped us better support our ISO 9001:2008-certified quality management system, by making data more readily accessible that had to be tracked manually with our previous platform. Further improvements were realized in the area of resource management, where we can more easily track ongoing quality, business, pricing and availability of the best-suited resources for the jobs at hand. Sure, I could think of a better solution for PTIGlobal, but it would be a custom design that would probably cost us triple or more than the investment we had to make.

So far, we are very happy with the level of support we have received. Everybody is extremely helpful and ready to answer questions. Plunet maintains a support ticket system, in which tickets can be issued and the priority level can be defined. Tickets that are critical are responded to very quickly. We have not had a debilitating situation or a system outage. Plunet BusinessManager has been a very stable system, which is not something I could say about other systems that I have worked with or tested in the past.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the things I like about Plunet is that it delivers on customer demands and the releases are solid. I was able to review the changes coming in the 6.0 release and I have to say, I really like what I see.

User interface changes: While the general layout and idea of the user interface (UI) has not changed in 6.0, the UI has received a nice facelift (Figure 1). The UI generally feels more appealing and more modern. Some of the elements have an Apple-like look to them now and old-school icons such as the floppy disk icon to save changes have finally been retired. Additionally, Plunet BusinessManager now has integrated Themes which can be selected under Home>Settings>Miscellaneous in the Style sheet dropdown. Every user, including portal users, has a choice of five predefined themes. Although my favorite choice is dark grey, which can be seen in screen captures of later sections, the dashboard on the previous page is in the standard theme, Plunet blue.

Quotations: A noteworthy feature addition is the fact that as of version 6.0, users will be able to generate quote variations in a single quote document. In the current version those variations have to be generated as single quotation documents, which leads to separate documents and more paper than is often necessary.

All quote variations that should be included can be selected via checkbox in the Quotes dropdown list of the Output section (Figure 2).

Text modules: Text modules are an easy way to add custom data fields that can be used in many sections of the application. It is a nice way to break the custom mold or standardization in Plunet to make sure the tool can fit some custom business needs in regard to data tracking. The field type is now selected via a dropdown list rather than radio buttons, and Plunet has added a Numeric field type that allows the control of input based on positive, negative and zero value inputs as well as the maximum number of digits before and after the decimal (Figure 3).

Plunet also added a second new field type referred to as Memo history field, which currently tracks information added in a log-based format, with the latest entry on top. I believe this is a fantastic addition as the origin and date of the information being tracked could previously not be as easily identified.

Automatic jobs: With the release of Plunet BusinessManager 6.0, Plunet is adding the ability to automate certain jobs. The system now allows the definition of a job automating the delivery process to the client (Figure 4). Let’s assume you have an automated workflow set up in which you conduct a final quality review after a desktop publishing step. It is now possible to add a follow-up job to this workflow that will gather all required deliverables, move or copy them to the appropriate folder and make a delivery. The item status can also be automatically updated to Delivered and the final job status can be set as desired. Used with care, this feature should add a lot of value allowing prompt delivery of completed projects especially where team members are internationally distributed.

Capacity utilization: A new and welcome addition is the Capacity utilization feature. While the Resource calendar helps to see an overview of projects assigned to resources, it really does not give a quick overview of the current workload for a specific resource. The newly added Capacity utilization screen (Figure 5) shows a quick overview for the next seven calendar days by resource and the load can be expressed in units such as words, hours, pages, segments and so on. It is easy to discern if a specific resource is at capacity or if there is still available bandwidth, and it can also be seen if a resource has fallen behind. The screen also offers quick access to a detailed list of assigned jobs per resource by clicking on a magnifying glass.


Thoughts on future features

Technology changes rapidly and customer demands come along with it. I will depart for a brief moment from all the praise I have given to note a few things that I would love to see in future editions. First and foremost, I would really love to see Plunet revise both the resource and client portals. There are just a few things that are not very intuitive when it comes to the interface. Clients generally want to see progress so they can easily check in on their pending projects and get peace of mind that things are happening. New requests are triggered from the quote section in the dashboard and most clients go looking under Requests and expect to create a new one there. The resource portal gives some resources trouble when there are work instructions to check off, as the delivery buttons won’t appear until those have been properly registered in Plunet BusinessManager. The performance of Plunet can be affected when working on projects with many languages or items. To overcome this, the view can be switched to Display one item at a time, though the navigation between the items then becomes a bit more difficult. The solution is asynchronous JavaScript and XML, to allow asynchronous data exchange in order to avoid reloading the entire screen on every change. I know Plunet is already working on this and it will be a very welcome change. The final improvement I would like to see is mobile access. Most technologies are migrating to mobile platforms, or offer use or access on a mobile platform. While I can engage with Plunet on my mobile device, it is not ideal and requires a lot of zooming in and out.

As I was writing this article, however, I came to the realization of just how much Plunet BusinessManager has to offer. I have only touched the surface of what this tool can do. What impresses me about the tool is that it does so much so extremely well.