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Building on Windows

13 November 2008

A new Microsoft based business system for construction, service management and maintenance companies offers an alternative to legacy applications in a familiar MS format. Frank Booty assesses its potential.

THE COMPANY MAXIMA, A PROVIDER OF, software and consultancy to the construction, services and maintenance management sector, has produced an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system called MAXcel. Earth shattering news? It may be in some quarters. Powered by Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009, the system has been designed by Maxima to reflect the fact that so far the needs of construction firms have been mainly ignored by the technology industry. The result is that many businesses operate on archaic legacy systems that provide little benefit to users and occupiers.

It’s a neat move that could also benefit the FM sector with a service and maintenance module included.

MAXcel allows automated planning and reporting, plus the delivery of specific information, tailored to individual roles within a company. The tools within MAXcel allow firms to overcome inefficient buying of materials, problems with plant and resource scheduling and inaccurate estimating and bidding on projects. In addition, by using MAXcel it is claimed firms can successfully manage and control data to meet increasing government legislation.

Benefits promised include:
....A compliance centre that provides one central, integrated view of internal controls, key performance indicators and other compliance data

....Embedded workflows that automate business processes, enforcing standard operating procedures to limit organisational risks while still enabling organisations to respond quickly to rapidly changing market needs

....A unified CRM system that is integrated with other customer information to help improve bidding strategies, customer service, and project management

....Tools to allow businesses to develop and implement new key business processes while maintaining and improving successful, existing business processes and significantly improving productivity

....Systems that help to provide more accurate and timely financial and accounting information to improve management decision-making, risk management, and record-keeping

...Delivery of real time reports on projects such as profitability by project, customer, or job site.

Boris Huard, Chief Operations Officer, Maxima, said, “Completing on time and within budget is essential today. This means reliable, up-to-date information is essential to allow the effective management of time and resources within those budgets. MAXcel delivers this information, with the result that organisations can be sure their projects are being run and monitored successfully.“

In April 2007 Maxima signed an agreement with Microsoft that would provide Maxima with the support and backing to develop an industry specific solution, while Microsoft ensures that the application platform is class leading.

So far so good? Maybe, but the key thrust in the launch was construction industry focused. MAXcel is an upgrade from the company’s existing Intellect product which has sold well into the construction industry space. However, Huard was keen to point out that of sales of the new product include one company working solely in the field of service management.

In a market long overlooked by the major software vendors, and in a time of challenges – both economic and regulatory – Microsoft’s entry into the sector with Maxima is expected to create a stir as construction, service management and maintenance companies now have real modern alternatives to legacy applications.

Does this mean there would be a sweeping attack into the FM domain? Maxima has been implementing business applications solutions into construction and maintenance companies for over 25 years and has over 350 clients, including the likes of Murphy Group, Leach Lewis, Balfour Beatty and Galliford Try.

Maxima is a company that has grown by acquisition – 11 companies in less than four years, floating on the AIM market in 2004, and trading through 13 mainly UK offices (one is in Dublin) while focusing on three areas: managed services, business solutions (MAXcel sits here), and information management.

Given all these facts, should CAFM vendors be cowering behind the help desks and dashboards? Huard did concede that some toes might get trampled, but that such a move is not in the immediate game plan. Who is the competition? At the enterprise level it is SAP and Oracle, but as Huard points out, “Our pricing is per user and focuses on total cost of ownership over a three to five year period. We are half the price of SAP or Oracle in a three year run. Because we focus on the infrastructure underneath the application, we are less expensive to run. The money saved on running the infrastructure can be invested in the business.”

Cost of ownership is lower, and depending on the size of projects there will be cheaper management and greater opportunities and possibilities for business process alignment.

Elsewhere there is competition from niche providers with specific processes. What Maxima offers is typically broader in its depth and content – but that will not necessarily be needed. “We concentrate on the domain experience and Microsoft on the --technology platform. Price points from niche competition will be higher,” says Huard, “but these companies will need to have higher prices to be able to invest in R&D, marketing, etc.” Niche providers can lack flexibility, unlike a company with the backing of Microsoft’s marketing clout.

There has been a positive analyst reaction to Microsoft Dynamics AX, which is at the core of the MAXcel system. For example Ray Wang of Forrester Research said, “With its innovative role-based user experience, improved reporting and Business Intelligence capabilities, and improving platform harmonisation, Microsoft Dynamics products should be on ERP selection shortlists for a variety of SMBs, particularly those that use Microsoft’s server-based products. Multisite companies should consider Dynamics AX.”

The new system does then appear to be about maintenance as well as construction. There are several interesting points, starting with the familiar MS system setup, screens and functionality (love it or loathe it, the dream marketing key is a friendly user interface that everybody is comfortable with).

The MAXcel Service and Maintenance Module is a comprehensive solution designed to manage both reactive and planned maintenance; and to schedule service tasks. The Service and Maintenance Module is being actively marketed as suitable for property repair and maintenance; M&E maintenance, and FM.

The Service and Maintenance Module is integrated with the rest of the MAXcel system providing project accounting, inventory management and finance functionality. Key features are:

....scheduling organises calls by date and area to minimise travel time and costs; and workflow alerts ensure that companies meet the terms of Service Level Agreements;

....full analysis of maintenance costs means companies can measure profitability according to service call, property, contract, customer or service branch; management control – financial analysis reveals areas which are under-performing or over budget; and service information is stored online for convenient access and sharing both within a company and selectively with its customers.

Ease of use
There are links to other MS based business systems, such as Excel, and links to Outlook and e-mail too. In addition, the technology is there for anyone who wants to set up wireless communications so the system could link to PDAs for maintenance people. Leading on from the remarks about the interface, the system is easy to use.

Huard states that while Maxima will support UNIX, “it is not the latest technology, and nor is it the easiest interface to get to grips with – plus it wins no friends on scalability issues.” If any criticism were to be levelled at MAXcel it is that it is not truly FM friendly as currently marketed, but is really for the construction projects market with FM having been bolted on. It does not link to data from HVAC etc, for energy monitoring purposes although the technology is there for that to happen.

Today the system is being actively marketed in the UK and Ireland. The company is keen that the UK footprint becomes well established although Huard tells of calls being received from Australia, New Zealand and Canada. “We have been involved in web casts with Australia where Microsoft partners were expressing interest in reselling the product.

Following Microsoft’s lead, Maxima has had the elements of its products concerning subcontractor management certified with HM Revenue and Customs and obtained worldwide Veritas security accreditation – the first Microsoft partner in its market globally to do so.

Neither overseas marketing nor multilingual offerings are ruled out – today they are, of course, but not in the near future, besides which, multilingual offerings will call for translation expertise. “We are concentrating on the UK first,” says Huard.

● Frank Booty is a freelance writer


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