By Melissa Centurio Lopes on Apr 27, 2016
By: Mike Sicilia, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle Primavera
Today’s utility executives, along with their colleagues in other asset-intensive industries, face formidable challenges. Growing business and regulatory complexity are constants. Layer on continued economic vulnerability along with an aging infrastructure and workforce retirements, the latter of which utility execs cite as their top two challenges – and enterprises are left at a significant disadvantage when managing capital projects.
In this precarious environment, utilities must ensure that their investments drive enterprise value, while reducing costs and improving operational efficiency. Mismanagement of capital projects can result in high cost overruns, delayed initiatives, and regulatory compliance issues ‒ further compounding present-day business hurdles. The stakes and hurdles are high – but far from impossible to surmount. Utilities that cultivate effective enterprise project portfolio management methodology and consistently embrace proactive strategies that address all stages of an initiative’s lifecycle are well positioned for success. Many of these same strategies apply and can be replicated across a wide spectrum of asset-intensive industries, such as communications, oil and gas, and engineering and construction.
A Challenging OutlookUtility executives face a perilous balancing act when planning, building, and operating assets. While it’s vital for projects to continuously deliver results, many face an upward battle from the start, well before they become operational. For example, an Accenture report found that only 39 percent of utilities capital projects were completed on budget, and less than half on schedule.
Several factors are at work – each of which underscores the compelling need for careful management and precise execution at every turn:
- Limited Capital: Limited availability, through either the markets or internal funding, means that capital for major projects is not only scarce, but also costly and requires close management to ensure an acceptable return-on-investment (ROI)
- Aging Infrastructure: In the United States, the power delivery system – like many other types of national infrastructure ‒ is based on technology developed and installed decades years ago – resulting in an increasing number of power disruptions and heightened vulnerability to cyber attack
- Regulatory Uncertainty: The regulatory environment continues to grow more complex, causing some utilities to err on the side of caution by stifling potentially innovative capital projects
- Constrained Workforce: Thirty-two percent of the utility workforce will retire in the next 10 to 15 years, according to the 2014 Aging Utility Workforce report by Interactive Intelligence Group Inc., and many utilities are struggling to recruit new talent to replace these valued resources. The oil and gas as well as communications industries face similar realities. The highly skilled workers exiting the workforce will take 30 to 40 years of institutional and subject matter knowledge and expertise with them. Most of this knowledge has not been captured and operationalized in modern systems ‒ leaving enterprises at risk
- Costly Raw Materials: As economic, regulatory, and environmental factors exert upward price pressures on many raw materials, utilities find it harder to acquire them at reasonable costs
Embracing All Aspects of the Project Lifecycle to Drive Success
So, how can a utility, and other asset-intensive organizations, overcome these challenges and ensure capital project success?
First, it’s important to consider the complete project lifecycle at the start of an initiative – from planning and execution to operation and maintenance, and ultimately, decommissioning ‒ and involve all key internal and external stakeholders throughout the process. Securing early input from employees, who will be responsible for infrastructure maintenance and ultimately have ownership of the asset, is crucial. Their insight and knowledge can reduce the long-term costs of operating the asset as well as the risk of decommissioning the project down the line.There is no question that adopting a complete lifecycle approach to capital projects is a complex undertaking. It requires real-time enterprise-wide insight, sophisticated “what-if” modeling, and knowledge capture that traditional spreadsheet-based project management models cannot deliver.
That’s where enterprise project portfolio management (EPPM) methodologies and solutions enter the picture. In addition to automating and operationalizing processes, EPPM solutions equip utility executives to evaluate and prioritize projects across the enterprise. They also provide full visibility into the project lifecycle, enabling organizations to track performance and costs, model and mitigate risks, and manage people and resources across the organization to streamline processes and optimize available assets.
utilities executives continue to face a vast array of challenges and scenarios,
EPPM solutions have a distinct and essential role to contribute at each stage
of the project management lifecycle:
- Planning: Effective planning is particularly important when choosing the capital projects that will deliver the greatest value. A solid portfolio solution uses repeatable governance processes and consistent evaluation metrics – helping to ensure an enterprise is equipped to choose investment proposals, fund strong business cases, perform “what-if” scenarios, and analyze performance progress
- Execution: EPPM solutions enable staff to review construction progress in various regions and on multiple projects, improving communication between all parties involved on a project, while helping project directors manage incoming demand and prioritize projects and activities based on the organization’s overall objectives. By providing these capabilities, an EPPM solution can successfully link people, teams, and projects – offering complete control of a capital project’s lifecycle
- Operation and Maintenance: The tools a utility uses in the planning and building stages are just as essential during the project’s ongoing maintenance. A project’s profitability depends largely on scheduling and deploying resources in the most efficient manner across all maintenance activities. When an asset is offline for maintenance, it’s not generating revenue – but an EPPM solution can help a utility to plan, schedule, and manage maintenance to optimize resources, asset value, and uptime
- Decommissioning: The decommissioning phase of an asset lifecycle is the last thing that a utility project manager wants to consider during the planning, execution, and even early operational stages. This mindset, however, can create additional expense and risk in the future. EPPM solutions can play a vital role in capturing and operationalizing information that is vital to the distant decommissioning phase. When it’s time for decommissioning, EPPM methodologies and tools are essential to a managing on-time and on-budget initiatives, just as they are when bringing a new asset online.
Set the Stage for Success
While EPPM solutions can drive success across the end-to-end project lifecycle, they can also have significant impact on asset optimization during individual phases.For instance, a large utility in Canada uses EPPM methodology and solutions to manage its resources. In the past, the company filled service orders for construction and maintenance work via multiple manual processes and a series of highly customized and poorly integrated software systems for workforce management. The company, which deployed Oracle’s Primavera solutions, has improved its ability to plot work activities and determine what resources will be required to supplement existing resources. It can now also easily consolidate requirements for the peak project season by specific geographies. The utility has increased efficiency by shifting dispatching of resources to schedules in local offices and has gained the ability to effectively coordinate and manage resources based on local conditions and constraints – yielding greater efficiency and value from assets.
Utilities – as well as other types of asset-intensive enterprises ‒ have witnessed dynamics business transformation in recent years to a much more volatile and competitive marketplace. Now, more than ever, these organizations depend on EPPM solutions to propel capital projects forward through a gauntlet of challenges by improving collaboration and communication, better managing resources to ensure the right people are on the job at the right time, and mitigating and managing project risk.