For Bill Allars, head of Portfolio Management and Service Delivery at AGL Energy (AGL), the problem was simple enough to pinpoint: the management of the many projects being conducted by AGL had become time consuming, unwieldy and inefficient.
A tale of disparate data and wasted time
Individual project sites were created within SharePoint and managed there, which was fine as far as it went, but problematic when someone was required to pull together a report on the status of each of the projects.
When the time came for a fortnightly progress summary, staff would have to go to each of the project sites, find and review the project status report and then enter the relevant information into a spreadsheet.
The same thing occurred when they wanted to gather some sort of criteria from the various projects: How many were overdue? Who had missed a deadline? Which projects satisfied a nominated criteria?
“We actually would have to go and do that manually,” Bill said. “We had no simple way of going to a single source of truth and gathering that information, it was all very manual. And to go and review project schedules meant that you had to go to a different location for every project.
“If you’re running ten projects that’s maybe not so painful, but we could have up to 100 projects active at any point in time. Going through 100 projects, or 100 team sites, was difficult and time consuming.”
Coupled with that was the fact that the schedules were compiled in SharePoint, costs in Excel and Reports in PowerPoint, while project data and documents were kept in different locations.
A centralised, integrated, simple solution
What AGL needed was something that would establish a single source of truth for all project-related data; something where data could be easily consolidated to allow for greater insight and where tracking could ensure that supposed benefits were, in fact, being realised; where resource allocation, project status and cost performance were easily and accurately available.
The answer was Microsoft’s Project Online, software for project portfolio management that is delivered through Office 365 and which enables organisations to get started, prioritise portfolio investments and deliver the intended business value.
The decision was made simpler because AGL was already using Microsoft products like Office 365, meaning that Project Online became an extension of an existing enterprise agreement.
Bill said the company was also attracted to the solution because of the automated feature and functionality updates. “This meant that we wouldn’t have to sit around waiting for version releases every year, or every three years, to lay our hands on the new functionality. That was very appealing to us.”
Working with Microsoft Gold PPM partner, EPM Partners, who conducted workshops and formal training sessions throughout the implementation process, the implementation of Project Online has proven to be remarkably successful.
Strong executive support of the change, has also convinced dyed-in-the-wool users that they could not revert to their traditional methods.
EPM Partners added further value by identifying an opportunity to deploy a Best Practice Showcase template – a set of forms, workflows and reports configured for Project Online and Office 365 which feed directly into AGL’s Microsoft Azure SQL reporting platform in the back-end.
Laith Adel, General Manager of EPM Partners in Australia added, “For AGL we’ve deployed Showcase and provided professional services to optimise it based on their specific requirements. For AGL’s project managers, this means that access to real-time, bespoke reports at the click of a button is now a reality.”
Accurate reporting and acute business insights
“When we used to do the review of project status reports, it was pretty much a full day’s work,” Bill said. “Now, it’s probably less than three hours work. Same thing for a review of project risks, we can knock it over in a couple of hours instead of a day.
“We got a request from an executive general manager a couple of months ago wanting a lot of data about basically every project that is planned to be undertaken this year.
“To pull that together in the pre-Project Online environment would have taken days. Putting it together using our Project Online data extract and a query tool, we had a first cut of the information in less than an hour. Interestingly enough, we were able to then spend two or three days actually going through the process of verifying and validating all of the data with all of the stakeholders to make sure what we presented back was entirely accurate.
“So in a couple of days we knocked over something that probably would have taken us a couple of weeks.”
The ease of having all information in one place has created the impetus for extracting useful insights from the assembled data, while project managers who used to spend hours compiling status reports in PowerPoint are taking an hour to produce the same reports on Project Online.
“Our projects now follow a complete lifecycle workflow from idea through project execution and close out with the job being invoiced at the end.
Group Operations are gaining new visibility through high-level dashboards into some of the key projects that they have underway at the power stations. The expectation at the moment is that any project over about quarter of a million dollars will be tracked in that system. They can now visualise the status of these projects and quantify what each one is contributing to the success of Group Operations.”
AGL has around 550 users in three Project Online instances covering IT, Energy Services and Operations.
In summary, our benefits from the system include:
- Reduced reporting time and project administration
- More efficient execution of projects though better visibility of project data
- Increased utilisation of resources through better resource planning
- Reduced project risk through timely access to comprehensive project data
In the future, AGL is looking at using Project Online to automate improvements in workflow and reporting, and examining ways to better integrate agile projects into Project Online.