Viva Las Vegas! Managing the biggest private project ever in the US

MGM Mirage's US$8 billion CityCenter rolled the dice on a little-known online project management system. So far, it looks like a winner.

Even in a town where almost nothing is smaller than huge, the joint US$8 billion-plus CityCenter venture between MGM Mirage and Dubai World has to be considered grandiose.

The nine-building, 76-acre complex being developed at the heart of the Strip between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo hotels includes a soaring 61-story, 4,000-room hotel-casino and a 500,000-square-foot retail district. Residential units planned at the exclusive Harmon Hotel, Spa & Residences in the complex are setting new price-per-square-foot records for condos sold on the Strip. The sprawling effort employs 7,000 construction workers.

So when CityCenter project leaders had to select a project management system to help monitor what is believed to be the largest private development in US history, they naturally settled on a proven software package that they were sure could support such a massive undertaking, right?

Think again.

Prior to clearing the former Bellagio employee parking lot in 2005 to open up 66 acres for the site (10 adjacent acres from MGM's Monte Carlo site were later added), CityCenter managers had selected project accounting and document management systems to support the effort, says Mark Bodner, a vice president at Tishman Construction, the lead construction manager for the project.

But the four principal players in the project -- Tishman, MGM Mirage Design Group, Perini Building (the lead contractor) and Gensler (the lead architect) -- still needed construction management software to handle critical change-management and cost-reporting activities. And they wanted a system that was flexible enough to meet the different work styles of the four primary constituents.

"We recognized we were bringing in four different cultures and four different approaches to this kind of project," says Bodner, who is manager of audit and controls for the CityCenter effort.

By August 2005, Bodner and other project leaders were reviewing proposals from four software vendors, including Skire, a little-known company in Menlo Park, Calif., that was pitching a hosted Web-based system.

Bodner was impressed with the functionality of Skire's Unifier capital project and program management system. "With Skire's product, there wasn't any preconceived notion about how to do change management and cost reporting," says Bodner, who has 34 years of project management experience. Skire users "can dictate how [they] want this information recorded and reported," he adds.

Other systems the project group evaluated have "great canned reports" but can't be used to create custom reports or forms from scratch, says Jo Tampas, who started out as a Skire consultant and later became a systems administrator in MGM Mirage's IT organization. In contrast, changes to workflows or forms can be done easily in the Skire Unifier system, she says.

Also, says Bodner, none of the other systems could configure workflow processes to meet the project's requirements for reports and data queries.

Bodner says he had one initial concern with Skire. "What I was really looking for was a system that was focused on construction management. They were new to the marketplace, and they were actually at a disadvantage because of that," he says.

But Skire's impressive client and project list helped allay that concern. Moreover, Bodner was sold on Unifier's functionality and flexibility. He didn't care whether the system was hosted or based in-house. "Whether or not Skire was an application service provider was not a primary driver," he recalls.

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