Avista emphasizes project controls as capital budget and project portfolio booms

August 24, 2023 | 8 minute read
Janet Poses
Product Marketing Director
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Avista, headquartered in Spokane, Washington, and founded on March 13, 1889, engages in the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity and natural gas, as well as other energy-related businesses.

With significant growth in capital project delivery being partially driven by new sustainability and asset lifecycle condition, Avista is expecting a 60% increase to their capital budget for their generation portfolio. Avista took the opportunity to strategically evaluate their project management lifecycle process and technology. 

Avista needed to increase their level of control and standardization across projects. With the goals of accelerating project execution, improving alignment across business units, streamlining engineering and design, and improving resource planning and forecasting, Avista undertook some significant changes.

Planning for 60% increase in capital budget

One of Avista’s biggest priorities is to scale up to manage a significantly larger project portfolio without adding staff. The utility must focus on priorities and is increasingly hiring out work instead of managing it in house. This requires more resources managing RFPs, contracts and licensing, and fewer resources managing subcontractors. There is also a focus on process improvement. How can Avista take advantage of best practice processes and technology to help their team members spend their time optimally?

There is of course far greater value to Avista’s team members spending their valuable time analyzing data and making decisions instead of spending hours or even days gathering data for the multiple states they serve. By automating data capture and reporting, Avista team members are freed up to focus on higher value work.

Meeting audit requirements

One example of data capture Avista is automating, is action items. By tracking action items consistently on all projects, using Primavera Unifier, reporting on action item status is automated and easily available to those who need access.  

Another common data request is related to contract management, which has traditionally been tracked in complex spreadsheets. Public utility commissions audit requirements are becoming more stringent and include: amounts invoiced and committed; RFP information including project requirement, specs, score cards; the RFP from the winning bidder; construction contracts; and contractor change order requests––and to add to the complexity, each state’s requirements vary.

Avista sometimes operates as a traditional owner, hiring design-build firms to manage a project. At other times, they step into this role themselves as their own design-build firm. To meet both scenarios, the utility requires flexible systems that provide standardization yet still meet the distinct needs of their varying project and contract types.

As with any utility, Avista must meet their ongoing operational responsibilities while managing internal change to implement new processes and tools. A key to successful change management is demonstrating value to the team members. As a team they should be able to increase assurance over consistent, successful project delivery. As individuals, they should be spending more time efficiently doing high value, more satisfying work.

The right tools and processes

It is critical that all team members have access to the tools they need to best do their jobs, keep projects on track, and deliver reliable energy to their customers. This means project managers and other team members easily tracking and assessing project status, pulling reports, and updating schedules without relying on one or two system experts becoming bottlenecks. Selecting tools that all project managers and appropriate team members have access to and can use to help them do their jobs better was important to Avista.

Avista focused on their project management goals, best practice processes, and tools when evaluating industry leading applications and who to partner with. As a past Oracle Primavera P6 user, they understood the benefits of robust Primavera planning and scheduling. They decided that the newer cloud-based planning and scheduling solution, Oracle Primavera Cloud, better met Avista’s needs to provide access to the individual project managers and teams to manage their own schedules. That still provides cross-project oversight to management, enabling project-to-project resource balancing by planning and forecasting resources across projects as well as capital planning optimization. Avista is also able to use Oracle Primavera Cloud to manage project risks, assess schedule and cost impacts, and take action promptly and consistently across projects.

Capital planning

Avista is moving portfolio planning into OPC Portfolio to take advantage of best practice portfolio planning capabilities to ensure the company is assessing, prioritizing, and selecting the projects that best align to their organizational goals and to continue serving their public reliably and efficiently. By adding portfolio planning capabilities in Oracle Primavera Cloud Portfolio, the utility will be able to capture, learn, and improve forecasting without the risk of losing reference information as team members leave or retire. The Oracle capital planning tool, which is integrated to the project cashflow within Primavera Unifier as part of Oracle’s Smart Construction Platform, will enable Avista to increase budget accuracy by using real-time forecasts from across all their projects and improve alignment between their planning and execution teams.

Resource allocation and optimization

One way that Avista has improved resource management is by putting all schedules into Oracle Primavera Cloud so they can see their own work versus hired-out work and filter by resource constraints based on roles. Michael Truex, who runs project management for Avista, is now able to better manage permitting and sourcing schedule impacts and communicate the needs more quickly to the respective groups. By having all their projects in Oracle Primavera Cloud, the utility is able to gain visibility across their portfolio to drive their roadmap. “With Oracle Primavera Cloud, we are able to get a full picture of resource allocation across the portfolio,” says Truex.

Oracle Primavera Cloud Schedule and Risk

The Oracle planning and scheduling tool also enables Avista to easily perform their own schedule health checks on each project schedule. This provides additional support for the project managers by improving schedule quality, which drives more realistic schedule and resource forecasting.

One significant time savings for Avista is automatically bringing in the Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) from their contractors, which is one element Avista must provide to their regulators. Avista now writes into contracts that contractors must provide a monthly WBS in a specific file format that is then auto-pulled in to Oracle Primavera Cloud and linked appropriately to update the overall schedule, Avista no longer has to manage this process manually.

Improving project controls

In addition to streamlining planning and scheduling, Avista saw the need to increase control and consistency across their cost, contract, communication, and change processes throughout their portfolio of projects. Replacing complicated spreadsheets, the utility recently added Primavera Unifier to their tool set to make sure they have all processes and systems optimized and running smoothly before the coming 60% growth in project work. Using the new Primavera Unifier base configuration, which includes over 50 pre-configured business processes and over 200 reports and dashboards as a starting point, the utility was up and running on Primavera Unifier in just a few months.

Amanda Hester, program coordinator, values Primavera Unifier because it provides industry best practice processes for Avista to assess and learn from, supporting the utility’s move toward industry standard processes as they prepare for their significant increase in work. “We are excited at Avista to align our existing processes with industry best practices. The pre-configured processes that are offered with Unifier Essentials are providing a launching point for tough conversations and improved processes at Avista, which we hope will lead to a more efficient use of the project teams’ time,” says Hester.

On process improvement, both submittals and RFIs have been big wins for Avista. Each of eight PMs have been responsible for logging and managing the submittal process and now, in Primavera Unifier, this is all automated, enabling the PMs to focus on ensuring prompt, accurate responses rather than spending time on the administrative tasks. Oracle Primavera Unifier has been instrumental in letting Avista self-audit by providing visibility across their projects and capturing and implementing project to project lessons learned. For example, there are many planned generator replacement projects, and Avista wants to capture and use lessons learned to their benefit across these similar projects.

What’s next?

Project and portfolio dashboards and reporting

Currently, each project provides monthly reports to management, and it is time consuming to comb through each report. Avista will be taking advantage of Primavera Unifier dashboards to provide project and portfolio-level consolidated dashboards for management to easily review the status across all projects, identify issues as soon as possible, and take corrective action.

Expanded use of risk register

In addition to allowing Avista to identify, assess, and mitigate risks from negatively impacting project delivery dates and costs, the utility is also exploring managing their whole safety program through Oracle Primavera Cloud’s risk register, which would let the utility focus on capturing and addressing safety issues and ensuring lessons learned are passed from project to project, while spending less time administering their safety program.

Integrated ERP—Primavera Unifier cost management

With Phase 2 implementation coming, a big focus will be on cost control. Avista plans to automate the process of capturing and compiling project actuals to update the forecast, replacing the need to manually gather all project actuals each PM downloads from ERP and inputting them into a spreadsheet to update the forecast. Avista will be syncing project actuals on a weekly basis between the ERP and Primavera Unifier.

Closeout

Another area Avista is excited to improve, is its consistency and control over project closeout. They plan to build a standard checklist and action it consistently across all projects, resulting in more predictable, on-time project closeout and consistent data being turned over to operations.

Learn more about Oracle Construction and Engineering solutions for Utilities.

The Oracle Smart Construction Platform combines our industry-trusted applications with a common data environment and an ecosystem of partners to help owners and delivery teams work together and continuously improve performance. The platform connects teams and data, synchronizes work, and empowers individuals to make informed, proactive decisions. Power performance with proven Oracle Construction and Engineering solutions for scheduling, portfolio management, construction project management, project controls, construction payment management, and more.

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Janet Poses

Product Marketing Director


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