Blog tools speed package-tracking project

Von Thomas Hoffman

When eCourier Ltd. developed an innovative online package-tracking system for its customers last summer, it had to coordinate activities between front- and back-end developers working in Italy, Germany and the U.K. But instead of using traditional project management software to monitor the project, the company"s developers used weblogging tools from Monterey, Calif.-based Traction Software Inc. to generate project updates and provide a record of the work that was done.

A small but growing number of IT organizations are beginning to use blogging tools for those same purposes, according to industry experts. "They"re really starting to pick up in popularity" among project teams, said Jack Duggal, a principal at Projectize Group, a Simsbury, Conn.-based project management consulting firm.

Duggal points to a banking client in Chicago that has been using "wikis" as project blogs because they offer more flexibility than some other commercial software. Unlike blogs, wikis allow visitors to edit a Web page in addition to making their own postings.

The eCourier package-tracking system, supported by GPS software contained in each courier"s handheld device, went live last October. It allows customers like retailer Harrod"s Ltd. to log onto eCourier"s Web site to see where a courier picked up a package, where it"s being dropped off and where the package is at any given moment.

For eCourier, using blogging tools to help develop the Java-based mapping system made sense for several reasons, said Jay Bregman, eCourier"s co-founder and technology director. "I wanted to cut costs as much as possible, so I couldn"t afford to be traveling from Italy to Germany to the U.K." to manage the project teams, he said.

At a cost of roughly $1,000 for a five-person license, the blogging tools from Traction Software more than paid for themselves in travel savings alone, said Bregman. "And instead of playing a massive game of telephone [tag] between these [developers], this gave us a source of record between what was being done," he said.

Users of Traction Software"s blogging tools can scroll through a list of projects and determine who posted an update to a project and when it was posted, said Jordan Frank, the vendor"s CEO. Project activities can be prioritized and -- thanks to the system"s journaling features -- project managers can use the software to see when project phases were completed.

As with wikis, all of the information can be edited by users who have permission to do so, said Frank.

Although Bregman raved about the low cost and benefits of using the blogging software, one project management consultant questioned why project teams wouldn"t simply use free blogging or open-source software.

"Why not do it for free with open-source software and get the same benefits of having a forum for discussion?" said David L. Ross, an independent consultant at David L. Ross and Associates in New York.

Projectize Group"s Duggal sees it differently.

"If the software only cost them $1,000, it"s well worth the functionality," he said. Blogging tools require technical expertise to make them work, "and some of the free tools are hard to figure out," he added.