"COMPUTER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM"An extract from International Patent Application (PCT/AU98/00887) Published 6 May 1999 (06.05.99)
FIELD OF THE INVENTIONTHIS INVENTION relates to a computer management system for managing information and tasks for businesses or professional organisations, and in particular but not limited thereto to a computer management system for managing information and tasks for a business or professional project so that all information and tasks for the project made available to a particular user are accessible within a single project folder.
BACKGROUND TO THE INVENTIONThe applicant has worked in a number of business and professional organisations in different countries and has found that people in these organisations continue to use paper based correspondence and other documents despite advances made in the computer industries in recent years. The aim of a paperless office is therefore far from realisation.
Amongst many of the reasons for the continuing use of paper based documents are difficulties in locating desired information stored on the computer system and much information such as client addresses and formats of correspondence required for tasks to be done on the computer system need to be manually entered each time a document is to be created, after spending considerable time finding the addresses and deciding on the appropriate formats and layouts for the documents. In addition the tasks for a project generally require the use of different application programs which need to be located and opened. Often files saved by the programs are difficult to identify, and if there are many files they are also difficult to find as there is no logical filing system and different users name files in accordance to their preferences.
Fear of the security of computer records is another reason for people to continue to use paper based documents.
Accounting packages currently in use are solely for accounting purposes. These packages do not allow for monitoring of project performance of production staff.
OBJECT OF THE INVENTIONIt is an object of the present invention to provide a computer management system which alleviates or reduces to a certain level one or more of the prior art disadvantages.
Other objects will be evident from the following description.
DISCLOSURE OF THE INVENTIONIn one aspect the present invention resides in a computer management system comprising project selection means for selecting any one of a plurality of projects, the projects each having related information stored on memory means of the computer system, and means for linking information and tasks related to each project. The linking means is arranged so that the selection means can be selectively activated to present one or more task categories and one or more information classes in each task category. Each information class is adapted to hold documents, when created, intended for this class so that information relevant to a particular class in a task category can be obtained by selecting the appropriate task category and information class.
In another aspect the present invention resides in a management program stored on a computer readable medium, the program comprising project selection means for selecting any one of a plurality of projects, the projects each having related information stored on memory means of the computer system, and means for linking information and tasks related to each project. The linking means is arranged so that the selection means can be selectively activated to present one or more task categories and one or more information classes in each task category. Each information class is adapted to hold documents, when created, intended for this class so that information relevant to a particular class in a task category can be obtained by selecting the appropriate task category and information class.
It should be noted that the term "project" as used herein includes any construction projects, research projects, commercial projects, educational projects, financial projects, legal projects and the like; and the term "document" includes one or a combination of two or more of a letter, an accounting or financial report, a time costing report, a project report, a drawing, picture, graphic or other image,and an audio file.
Hereinafter the word "system" should be considered to include "software" for features common to the aspects of the present invention.
Any of the task categories may include one or more sub-categories and the system has sub-category selection means for selecting the sub-category or any one of the sub-categories. In an example the sub-categories are in the form of recipients of the tasks.
In an embodiment the task categories for an architecture project include project information, contract fees, correspondence, design, meetings, authorities, program, budget costs, production, tender, contract administration, and close out. The recipients for this embodiment include acoustic engineer, builder, client, electrical engineer, general matters, hydraulic engineer, interior designer,mechanical engineer, quantity surveyor, and structural engineer.
The information classes may include fax, letter, memo, telephone log and report.
Preferably the system of the present invention includes invoking means for invoking an appropriate application program when a document in an information class is to be created or selected.
Desirably the linking means includes a linkage database containing the information relevant to the or each information class. The linking means may also include a filing arrangement for automatic filing documents under the relevant information classes for the task categories.
The system conveniently includes project creation means for creating a new project. The project creation means may have a project template selector for selecting a project template for the new project from a library of project templates stored in the memory means. The selected project template typically has forms on which information for the new project are entered; and project modifying means for modifying a project. Alternatively the project creation means may copy an existing project as a new project.
Conveniently the system of the present invention has a database of information and certain information for the forms can be called from the database and inserted automatically. Typically this database includes contact details such as recipient details.
The system may also include a library of document templates which can be accessed within an application program. The linking means is arranged so that predetermined document templates are automatically linked to relevant information classes.
Typically the system includes a document template creation means for adding to the library of document templates and document template modifying means for modifying a document template.
Desirably the contact database and the document templates are linked to projects so that appropriate information in the database relevant document templates are available to the projects. This reduces computer memory usage by the system as information common to different projects need not be separately stored.
The system of the present invention may have stored graphics such as office logo for insertion into documents. Desirably the graphics are automatically inserted into an appropriate location of a document when printing or when sending the document through a communications system such as email or facsimile. The graphics are advantageously not inserted in the document when saving or archiving in order to minimise the size of required computer storage.
Conveniently communications programs such as email, facsimile, internet browser, and the like are invokable through the system. More conveniently any of these communications programs can be invoked by a user command or selecting an icon or button within any stage of the system.
Desirably information related to an information class within a task category or a sub-category is made readily accessible. Said desirable information may be memo, telephone messages and the like which are associated with the task. It is also desirable that email message, diary, contact listing and/or "to do" list for the user are made readily available. The availability can be selected by entering appropriate user commands which may be buttons or icons for activation on the computer screen.
It is particularly advantageous that the system of the present invention has means for intercepting a save command entered within any of the application programs so that all documents or files for the selected project are saved in predetermined folders. More particularly, the linking means has a file path determining means which automatically save to and retrieve from the predetermined folders. The file path allows users to find files logically.
In order to prevent tampering with any saved documents/files, the system of the present invention may have means for preventing tampering of records and/or files of any of the projects. Such means include designating all or selected save files and/or records as "read only", and/or with password protection. The tampering preventing means can be made password sensitive so that certain functions and activities are not active for users not authorised to alter files and/or records.
Desirably the system of the present invention has password verification means so that only a user supplying the correct password for the user can have access to the system. Preferably the system has different levels of access so that, users can only have access to projects and/or certain information and certain functions/activities in projects which are made available to those users.
It is also desirable that the system of the present invention has a backup facility so that a copy of the database and the projects stored on the memory means of the computer system is made regularly and/or upon receiving an appropriate user command. Preferably the backup facility is invoked routinely.
The system of the present invention may be provided with an archiving means for archiving records and information of the projects stored on the memory means. The archiving means is advantageously selective so that the user can select any of the projects or any records or information associated with one ormore selected projects for archiving.
The system of the present invention can also be provided with a restoring means for selectively restoring any record or information that has been archived.
The system may also have an audit trail facility which allows an auditor to trace information such as documents created, documents transmitted, letters forwarded, receipt issued, etc.
The system is desirably adaptive so that other application programs and add on modules for specific projects or additional functionalities can be easily incorporated into the system. Time/cost project management module is one such add on module for the system. The time/cost module may be used by project team managers and production staff to monitor their performance, the project's performance and their percentage chargeable time.
In a further aspect the present invention resides in a monitoring system for monitoring project performance. The monitoring system includes memory means for storing information relating to one or more projects and information relatingto members working on the one or more projects; and programming means arranged for providing project performance. The project performance and/or individual member performance are derived from the stored project information and the member information.
Typically the project information and the member information are arranged in a database stored on the memory means.
The database includes one or more project records and one or more member records. Each project record includes a unique project identification and project costs. The project identification may be a unique number field for eachproject and may also include a project name field and/or manager name field. Desirably the unique project number field includes a start component which indicates project starting year and a sequentially incremental project number for that year. It can also include a component which indicate a cost category of the project.
The project costs may advantageously include a project type field and/or an overhead allocation field. The project type may include regular cost components such as direct labour costs, direct expenses, reimbursements and "rework" costs; overhead cost components such as indirect labour costs and indirect expenses; and promotional project components for projects overlapping fiscal years.
Examples of the indirect labour costs and indirect expenses are general overhead, vacation, sick leave, holiday, business development, accounting, research and development, civic duty , professional development and the like.
Each member record typically includes a unique member identification filed and a member class field. The unique member identification field may include a unique member number component and member name component.
The member class field may include a member class component for charge out level determination, a base pay rate component for actual project costs consideration.
If members are to be paid overtime then the member class field may also include an overtime component.
If members have both chargeable and non-chargeable times then eachmember record can have a target ratio of chargeable to non-chargeable times.
It is advantageous that each project record and each member record have a grouping field so that performance of the grouping can also be indicated. Typically the grouping is a department or a section of an organisation.
In preference the monitoring system of the present invention includes an online time sheet entry form for entering information relating to work done on the one or more projects. Typically the time entry form includes information for period ending, member number, grouping, chargeable time, non-chargeable time, hourly rate, expenses and the like, whereby performance of members and/or groupings and/or projects can be monitored. The monitored performance may also be used in predicting suitable staff members, budget and timings for future projects.
The individual member performance may be in the form of a ratio of actual chargeable vs non-chargeable time. Desirably this ratio is superimposed on a target ratio so that each member can view performance against the target ratio.
The actual ratio and the target ratio is preferably calculated to the current period ending and/or the year to date.
The individual member performance may also include an indication of time expended vs budgeted time.
The monitoring system of the present invention can be provided with another online information entry form for entering allowable expenses. Said allowable expenses may include outside consultant services, travel and meals,reproductions, telephone charges, etc.
Desirably outside consultant services information entry is on a separate form which schedules each consultant and provides reconciliation of the fees expended, accrued, billed or not, and paid.
Conveniently the monitoring system of the present invention has a fee billing facility for the or each project. In the fee billing facility, labour costs, outside consultant fees and reimbursements may be included as fixed costs, timecharges, or variations of these for various parts of a project.
If is preferred that relevant information stored on the memory means canbe exported to an accounting package which performs general accounting tasks.
It is also preferred that the monitoring system of the present invention has import facility for importing relevant information from the accounting package.
As a security measure, the information entered for the time sheet entry and/or for outside consultant services must be authorised by a person with anappropriate password before they can be posted into the system.
The programming means is arranged to select the appropriate information stored on the memory means and to perform operations to generate one or more of the following reports:
The programming means may also be adapted to generate a "resource balancer" report based on the member class field. The "resource balancer" report allows projects to be prioritised and members to be allocated to projects by class on the basis of the resource available and project demands.
The "rework" component may be used to generate a report which identifies projects or parts of projects which have a high rework component. The relevant information exported to the accounting package can be used to generate the followings:
It is preferred that the monitoring system has a multi-level security access arrangement so that members have different levels of access. As an example, the security access arrangement has 4 levels of access and the access for each level may be as follows:
The monitoring system may be a stand-alone system or an add on module or an integral part of the system described earlier as one aspect or another aspectof the invention.
The applicant has ingenuously developed a number of features which work in synergism together. Each or combinations of selected ones of the features may be considered inventive and the applicant reserves the right to divide out any of the inventive features or combinations in separate applications.
The system according to a preferred embodiment of the present invention allows a user to operate a computer in projects, and jobs or matters relevant to a selected project. The system allows a project to be created by selecting a predefined project template which has predetermined links between task categories, task sub-categories, information classes and document templates within each class; or copied from an existing project whereby workflows, jobs or matters in a previous project can be easily duplicated. A document to be created can be selected from a document template, and contact and/or recipient details are entered automatically in the document once the contact and/or recipient are identified. The system runs an application program for a selected document automatically and saves the document in a predefined file path. Project creations within an organisation are therefore largely automatic and highly consistent. Once created the documents are filed in a predetermined file path within a project, and therefore allows a subsequent user to locate it easily.
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