This is an exciting time of growth for Dublin-based Alternus Energy (Alternus). The pan-European independent power producer owns and operates solar parks across Europe, generating enough electricity to power more than 22,000 average sized European households. Recently the company expanded its business offering through the acquisition of a majority shareholding in engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) company, Unisun Energy (Unisun), and operations and maintenance (O&M) company Uper Energy.
The company aims to increase its current operational portfolio of 130 megawatts (MW) to 3.5 gigawatts (GW) by 2025. 3.5 GW of clean energy will power almost one million homes and assist in the avoidance of 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
To help them to achieve this goal, the Alternus team was looking to improve their Project Controls solutions. Oracle Primavera Cloud Service quickly rose to the top of their list, offering cloud hosting and a subscription model, both of which were significant factors in meeting the company’s requirements.
Alternus Chief Information Officer, Larry Farrell, joined RPC’s Peter Gable at Project Controls Expo 2021 to speak in the Case Studies zone about how RPC has helped Alternus to move their project management processes across to Oracle Primavera Cloud Service and how this is helping to transform their business as it grows.
The advantages of SaaS
The major benefit of a SaaS (Software as a Solution) tool such as Oracle Primavera Cloud Service is that it offers 24/7 access – key in successfully operating international projects. ‘There’s always somebody wide awake and working somewhere in the world,’ says Larry. Traditional based systems with racks of servers, requiring regular maintenance, backups, updates, on-site personnel and downtime make this difficult to achieve. Worst case scenario you can have data sitting on someone’s desktop, which is inaccessible to others and quite possibly out of date as soon as it is in the system. The move to the Cloud with the ability to run systems on an internet browser and access them at anytime from anywhere in the world is a game-changer.
With no upfront hardware costs or investment in new equipment and no need for manual updates at additional cost, the total cost of ownership of the Oracle Primavera Cloud Service solution was immediately attractive to Alternus. What’s more, the flexible payment options of the pay-as-you-go model mean that the product lends itself to scalability – ideal for a company in a period of growth – and is flexible enough to accommodate changing needs from project to project.
Holding data in the cloud eliminates the need for on and offsite backups and allows users access to analytics, data, reporting and data intelligence tools whenever and wherever required. In the early days of SaaS products, handing over your data to a server you can’t see or touch could require a significant leap of faith, and the model’s number one benefit of universal access via the internet was, at times, also its number one challenge, with slow and intermittent internet access a very real issue. But internet speeds and connection reliability are now dramatically improved, making this Oracle product a real and practical alternative to traditional data management solutions, with some significant added benefits.
Why Oracle Primavera Cloud Service?
Alternus recognised in OPC a product that is built around the construction sector, and it immediately felt like a tool that ‘speaks our language’. Most SaaS products offer little in the way of customisation, so you need to be confident that the solution meets your needs, but it quickly became apparent that OPC ticked box after box on the Alternus wish list.
The reassurance of the high-level security of the Oracle data housing was very important to Alternus and was a key driver in their decision-making process. As they transition into the EPC environment, with each new application they are asking themselves: What do we need? What information do we need to see? What information do we need to control? All this needs to be accessible to everyone from top level managers right down to people on the ground, with one single platform capturing, manipulating, and reporting on critical business data.
It was important to Alternus – as with any organisation – to have oversight of critical spend and maximum return to align cashflows, and to establish strong risk mitigation processes through increased visibility of individual projects and overall portfolio health. The integrated planning that OPC offers with critical path method planning and scheduling plus upstream portfolio planning and downstream risk mitigation allows a high level of control and reporting capability.
Collaboration and control across teams is fundamental to the success of these aims in allowing users to update activities and tasks in real time.
Why choose RPC for your training, support and implementation?
Alternus required a robust project management solution and had identified Oracle Primavera Cloud as their preferred solution. They chose RPC to help them to purchase and implement their solution, as they were impressed by their timeline and RPC’s ability and willingness to understand the needs and future requirements of the business.
RPC and Alternus worked together to set up and configure the tool to work with the organisation’s two different project types: acquisition of an existing asset, and development and construction. But no two projects are ever the same and RPC was instrumental in supporting the initial set-up and the development of the template-driven methodology that makes it easy to adapt processes on a project-by-project basis, as required.
Working together, RPC created bespoke, virtual training material for Alternus to hold on their servers, allowing onward training of any new hires on demand, and augmenting the in-built video training within the product itself.
User adoption is intuitive and straightforward, but Alternus has valued the safety net of RPC’s Support service, which operates on a pay-as-you-go basis to provide on-going support to clients as they find their feet and on a long-term basis if required.
Growing the business with the tool
Keeping track of finances is imperative to the success of any business: Cashflow is King. Alternus has a rigorous due diligence process to follow before entering a new project and needs to know exactly how much cash is required at any given time and will be required for future projects at any given time to ensure funding is in place. But milestones move, and it’s critical to be able to keep on top of the knock-on effects of such changes. OPC allows users to capture and monitor milestones to manage cashflow effectively.
As Alternus now operates in the construction phase, this will change their focus in using OPC. The product was initially more sophisticated than required – in Larry’s words, it was ‘a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.’ However Alternus knew that they were entering a growth phase and would be working alongside EPCs (even before their acquisition of Unisun) and experience has taught Larry that you should never invest in something you will outgrow quickly. With Oracle Primavera Cloud came scalability and the ability to start small. What’s more, licences are transferable, meaning that an EPC can work in Oracle Primavera Cloud on behalf of Alternus and then at the end of the project that licence can be moved on to someone else. If required, templates and data can be exported into other systems and brought back into OPC, helping to control and drive individual projects or a portfolio. Integrating work processes with EPCs allows Alternus to acquire projects at an earlier stage and this is having a positive impact on the business.
It’s clear that using OPC will strengthen Alternus’ ability in the EPC space as they begin to construct their assets. OPC’s work breakdown structure method, critical path scheduling, resource usage, and data analysis will allow the company to define best practice and carefully manage budget and resourcing as the business grows.
Reporting and portfolio management
Before adopting OPC, spreadsheets were the main tool for reporting in Alternus. This meant that data extraction and analysis was labour intensive.
Capturing data on multiple projects in Excel is impractical and Alternus soon outgrew the tool. Getting critical, actionable information into the hands of the decision makers at the push of a button or – better still – automatically via system generated reporting methods is key and enables timely, data-informed decision-making.
Reporting at a portfolio level is of increasing importance as the Alternus business grows, enabling the organisation to assess the performance of individual projects and portfolios on their business value and adherence to the overall business strategy.
To be successful with project portfolio management, those projects need to be aligned with business and organisational goals, so this includes managing upcoming projects, not just live projects, across the portfolio. OPC allows users to assess and identify the project that will offer the fastest time to revenue and highest return on investment to enable informed work prioritisation. Managing budgets at a portfolio level allows users to perform effective future resource and cashflow planning, and bringing all these processes and benefits online will form phase two of RPC’s involvement with Alternus and their OPC implementation.
Advantages of Oracle Primavera Cloud Service
Even in the early days of its adoption within Alternus, OPC has transformed the way the organisation manages projects by bringing with it several significant benefits.
Overall, Larry tells us, ‘OPC is a project management tool. It’s built around project management, and it’s built around project management in the construction sector. It speaks our language.’Back to Industry Insights