Case Study: TransAlta
Creating a more powerful PPM for TransAlta
UMT360 helps TransAlta make better investment decisions.

Canadian power generation and wholesale marketing company, TransAlta, had been looking for a better way to do business. With more than 70 power plants in Canada, the US and Australia and operating geothermal, wind, hydro, natural gas and coal power generation facilities, the company wanted to find a less complicated way to compare and select projects.

Since the company generates electricity via five different fuel types, comparing 'apples to apples' was virtually impossible. TransAlta's executives felt they were spending too much time debating capital investments during annual budgeting sessions and were frustrated knowing that better decisions would be possible if their data sources could cut through the complexity and provide objective criteria.

After looking at all of the options, TransAlta selected UMT360 which allows them to accomplish the same amount of work with smaller capital expenses and executives discovered that the amount of time saved in performing capital reviews actually paid for the solution.

Today, TransAlta has a single place to go for up-to-date information about projects; they have saved significant time in the annual capital budgeting process; they're able to dynamically make decisions to address under-performing projects; and they've standardized methodologies and improved capital stewardship.

Executive summary

TransAlta Corporation, a Canadian power generation and wholesaling company, needed to better 'compare apples to apples' when selecting its portfolio of capital projects across fuel types and investment streams. It wanted to make better decisions and reduce time spent searching for information. The company selected a solution based on UMT360 and Microsoft Project Server and reports that the solution has allowed them to accomplish the same amount of work with smaller capital expenses. Additionally, the amount of time saved in top executives performing capital reviews has paid for the solutions.

Situation

TransAlta, the largest power generation and wholesale marketing company in Canada, was looking for a mechanism to compare apples to apples when choosing projects. 'What makes our situation particularly complex', says Carl Souchereau, Director of TransAlta's Enterprise Project Management Office, 'is that we generate electricity through five different fuel types: coal, natural gas, hydro, wind, and geothermal.' High-level executives thus spent a great deal of time debating capital investments during their annual budgeting sessions and found the process frustrating because they knew they could make better decisions if their data sources could cut through complexity to provide objective criteria. 'We didn't yet know what we needed,' Souchereau says, 'but we knew that some sort of project portfolio management was foundational for our future competitiveness in the marketplace.'

Client solution

Committed to an enterprise-wide transformation, TransAlta reviewed several potential providers and ultimately chose UMT. "What UMT brought was a simplified, automated, fast method of boiling down a vast universe of data to a meaningful subset on which executives could make decisions," explains Souchereau.

With guidance from UMT, Souchereau developed a working group of project managers from different TransAlta sectors to design and test the solution. "Culture is a tough nut to crack. We knew that for this solution to be effective, the change management surrounding it had to come from the business users and not be pushed down from on high," Souchereau notes. UMT spent all of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013 assisting in the design and configuration of the solution and user training.

The resulting Project Portfolio Management System (PPMS) is TransAlta’s system of record for the creation, selection, planning, and management of all projects in the company regardless of size, complexity, or investment type. PPMS—which is built on UMT360, Microsoft Project Server, and Microsoft SharePoint Server— uses a structured series of tasks and workflows to assist the organization at all levels to make the best use of time, money, and people. TransAlta now conducts its annual budgeting in PPMS rather than its SAP enterprise resource planning solution, making the process easier for executives and eliminating the time spent on manual uploads.

Looking forward, TransAlta has asset management in its sight. "We have capital-intensive investments in assets such as coal plants that have a defined lifecycle," Souchereau says. "If we could map that lifecycle in PPMS, scheduling maintenance routines and other projects, we may be able to both improve our long-range forecasting and ensure that we’re maximizing the value of these assets." Souchereau sees project management as a world of continuous improvement. He sees three keys to success in implementing projects: defining scope, aligning interests, and executing with discipline. "I’m never satisfied; I always want more discipline," he says.

Benefits

With its new project portfolio management system, TransAlta is saving time for both high-level executives and project managers. By providing a single source of the truth, TransAlta can more effectively choose projects, which results in reduced capital spending.

1. A single source of the truth: Souchereau says the top benefit of PPMS is that it provides a single place for up-to-date information about projects. "If somebody has a question about the portfolio, they don’t have to ask ten different people and get ten different answers—they can look it up in PPMS," he says.

2. Time savings: In the fall of 2012, top executives went through the annual capital budgeting process using PPMS, not SAP, for the first time. Souchereau said the process took less than 25% of the time previously spent. "This was a huge benefit, because these executives’ time is so valuable. Our improved efficiency in capital reviews, by itself, paid for the cost of the solution." Project teams also save time throughout the year by using the system’s reporting functions. "If project sponsors or reviewers want an update, they don’t need a custom report—all they have to do is refresh the software to get the most current information."

3. Improved decision making: Souchereau is already seeing benefits in earlier flagging of projects ripe for deferral. "Where under the old system we might not decide to defer a project until the fourth quarter, now we have the data and the comprehensive view to make that decision earlier, often in the second quarter." By choosing projects of higher value, and more quickly eliminating lower-value projects, Souchereau says they will have accomplished the same amount of work with reduced capital expenses.

4. Better capital stewardship: Because TransAlta is using a single project management system, it is moving diverse sectors into more standard methodologies. "We now have our hydro projects and gas projects, for example, using the same reports," says Souchereau. "Our teams are using the same templates and workflows. Because our project managers are always planning, scheduling, and executing projects the same way, they can more easily move among sectors."