Asta Powerproject Multi-user Case Study – North Midland Construction
In April 2010 North Midland Construction embarked on a five-year design and construct framework with one of its key clients Severn Trent Water. The framework forms part of Severn Trent’s Asset Management Plan 5 (AMP5) which runs from 2010 to 2015 with a possible framework extension for a further five years into AMP6. North Midland Construction plc was awarded this major contract in 2009.
The framework comprises in excess of 450 projects, altogether worth about £700 million over a ten-year period. Severn Trent will monitor its investment closely and will follow a “One Supply Chain” approach to deliver the framework.
North Midland Construction’s task is to produce, maintain and manage the programme of work for two design and construct frameworks: wastewater infrastructure – comprising unidentified discharges, combined sewer overflows, sewers and pumping stations for the east region and wastewater non-infrastructure — comprising sewage treatment works for the north and east regions. In addition to these two frameworks, North Midland Construction is a member of the E5 alliance, (the top STW5 contractors), to deliver collaboratively £180 million of design and build major schemes in AMP 5.
To deliver on Severn Trent’s investment plan, North Midland Construction formed a specialist division, NMCNomenca, and to ensure NMCNomenca delivers the programme of projects efficiently it chose Asta Powerproject from Asta Development.
A highly complex framework demands the best planning software
After a year of preparation NMCNomenca went live with this long-term programme. The sheer size and complexity of the programme demanded the support of the most adaptable, capable and intuitive project, programme and resource management software on the market. 18 months down the line, NMCNomenca is using Asta Powerproject on all of the projects and is happy to report that it is already outperforming on a number of these schemes. The projects themselves are too numerous to define, but they can be segmented into Infrastructure and Non-infrastructure projects, covering waste and clean water including water treatment plants, sewer lines, storage facilities, flood alleviation, sewer upgrades, combined sewer overflows, stormwater and wastewater management and so on.
“There are hundreds of projects and the spectrum is very wide, one of the largest is a £7 million project in Leamington Spa where hundreds of metres of tunnels are being laid under a river, a railway bridge, a playground and the city itself, but within the same framework we could be working on a £100,000 project refurbishing a pumping station” explained Gavin Clegg, Framework Programme Manager. “With so many projects of varying sizes to manage we use Asta Powerproject throughout. It helps us foresee upcoming hurdles and although it can’t fix the problem, it helps us to manage it and sometimes prevent it. NMCNomenca is known for its innovation; the new ideas and solutions we have come up with have helped us to excel on certain projects and most have brought cost savings.”
Facing up to the challenges
The challenges facing NMCNomenca upon winning the contract for this vast project were to take full control of the programme, provide a single division for delivery, be self-certified, be responsible for outline and detailed design, construction and handover and to develop a new process to track and manage teams and operate as one supply chain. The outcome of Severn Trent’s submission of plans to OFWAT brought a further challenge: to gain 20 percent on cost and efficiency within the first five years (against Severn Trent’s cost curves) – a challenge that is passed on to the contractor. NMCNomenca would have to regain those costs through innovation and efficiency, so gaining cost effectiveness at all stages was a primary concern.
This all amounted to a big enough challenge in itself, but as well as this NMCNomenca knew right from the start that Severn Trent would demand that the winning contractor had the ability to interface with its SAP system. This would be crucial to the flow of accurate and timely information between the two companies. NMCNomenca faced the challenge of finding not only the right programme management software for such an enormous job, but one that they could integrate with the customer’s ERP system.
Why Asta Powerproject Enterprise was the software of choice
Gavin Clegg, with more than 21 years’ experience working with North Midland Construction, understood the need. Although North Midland Construction had been using Asta Powerproject for many years, it had been in a standalone capacity only, which involved saving their files to a document server, viewing programmes via PDF programmes (static data) and they required a separate programme to get a two- to three-year forecast, also requiring manual updates. He realised they needed a server-based solution that would give them multiple-user access, one set of data and one which could interface easily with the customer’s SAP system, all of which Asta Development could provide with Asta Powerproject multi-user.
“We wanted to manage resources centrally, have a global view of all projects and linked planning on multiple projects,” said Gavin. “Asta Development assisted in our basic design process and in developing the architecture, including the size requirements for the servers for the project. They gave us the confidence that Asta Powerproject multi-user would do what we wanted it to do. We compared it with other programmes like Primavera, and decided that this would better fit our needs, partly because of our existing knowledge base of Asta Powerproject, but mostly because it is so much more user-friendly and cost-efficient; it offers us the amount of functionality we need, without paying for additional capabilities not required for the framework, in essence right-sizing the product for customer usage.”
Achieving SAP integration
To address the requirement to integrate fully with Severn Trent’s SAP system, vital to passing live, up-to-date data between the contractor and the customer, Gavin approached Asta Development to create a SAP interface. “We knew other tools could do it,” said Gavin, “but it would be a steeper learning curve for us. Asta Powerproject multi-user is more intuitive to use and as we would need to train non-planners, we needed a system that would be quick and easy to learn.”
All project information for Severn Trent was to be handled through its SAP system, including invoicing, approvals, processes, costs, analysis, drawings and so on, and selected elements of SAP data were to be brought into the Asta Powerproject multi-user project plan, then progress in terms of cost over time was to be reported back to SAP. Milestones also needed to be linked to the main programme, which would be connected to the SAP interface programme: the data was to include dates, durations, actual and forecast costs.
“Asta Development was able to write a detailed macro to do this for us, which soon outgrew its purpose and became a full integration tool” said Gavin, “and another for Key Gate Governance, of equal importance, that would enable live data extraction, planner updates to the main programme, rescheduled dates and sign-off control, all of which would monitor the governance of the process.”
Two-way collaboration brings many benefits
Asta Powerproject’s integration with SAP has brought many benefits to both the contractor and the customer – leading Severn Trent to acknowledge that NMCNomenca is leading other contractors on the programme in terms of innovation and processes. Most other contractors have linked their client information into their Financial systems, but because NMCNomenca decided it would be more beneficial to link the customer data directly into its Programme Management software, it has broken the mould. All information is available in one place; the integration tool has allowed Severn Trent full visibility of its contractor’s information, and, for the first time, the contractor can see the information that the customer holds, speeding up communication and pre-emption, and providing Severn Trent with welcomed third-party data interrogation. “In terms of Asta Powerproject multi-user and SAP integration we have been noted during higher-level meetings involving Severn Trent and other contractors as Leading the Way. Ours is the most up to date data: no other contractor is uploading and downloading the information like we do.”
Gavin explains how the integration tool works: “Via an FTPS (secure server) account, an “Outbound” file is issued to us from Severn Trent. We review the file and run it through the SAP integration tool which Asta Development worked very hard to develop. It allows us to import or export data as an .xml file. The integration tool checks the .xml file against Asta Powerproject Enterprise and reports any new projects or updates that are not yet linked. It pulls in the SAP reference and project manager information and links it to a template programme within Asta Powerproject multi-user. We then run a validation check. We have chosen to do this on a weekly basis when between 100 and 200 project updates are uploaded, including date changes and cost forecasts.
On a monthly basis we send updates and forecast data back into SAP, via an ‘Inbound’ file, which amounts to about 70 to 90 projects a month. When we send financial data into SAP it automatically uploads the contractor spend. That has removed manual inputting which would otherwise mean we would have to populate a spreadsheet and send it through to the Severn Trent programme engineer who would then input the data manually into SAP; it would then be verified and checked. Now we simply update Asta Powerproject multi-user and that automatically updates SAP. This has brought a ‘no surprises’ guarantee to our customer in terms of what we upload and download. It works very well and provides us with a two-way upload and download at the same time avoiding errors in data input.”
Gavin also explains how the tool has helped towards the necessary cost efficiencies set by the customer. “Without this interface we would need 2 to 3 extra people to input the data. The files are massive, the equivalent of 200,000 cells in Excel. I can update 200 projects with forecasts and data within a few hours, and with each project having 60 cost centres on 50 lines – that’s a lot of data. To interrogate and analyse and segment all this data would normally take more than a week – then we’d get next week’s file! It would be a full time job. This is why we are thankful Asta Development created this interface.”
Driving good governance
The reports issued from Asta Powerproject multi-user are used at all levels of meetings – from NMC board meetings and Severn Trent steering groups to area delivery manager meetings and supply chain steering groups. NMCNomenca produces a “dashboard” on a monthly basis which they can present and which helps the management of the framework. “Other contractors are struggling to get the same info out of their data. We have information readily available because of this great integration tool, and don’t have to rely on our customer’s programme team to provide us with data, it’s all on our own system. We can interrogate it and change it in lots of different ways,” said Gavin. “Importantly, we know our data is accurate. Whatever a contractor programme or spreadsheet shows, it can be verified by what is on SAP, which is fed by Asta Powerproject Enterprise, so we know it is trusted. Because Severn Trent has driven us towards this two-way communication, we are now leading a change in behaviour through the alignment of correct and useful data that is driving best practice and good governance.”
Intuitive enough for non-planners
NMCNomenca also had to consider that its project management software would have to be used by non planners for the integration of data between companies to work. “Asta Powerproject is intuitive” said Gavin. “As well as our senior planners, we now have about 10 non planners using it. They are commercial people and they are not used to this type of software, so we have set up views that look like Excel, which is more familiar to them, they don’t see programme information or charts, it looks like Excel and it works like Excel. With Asta Powerproject you can do that, and with just a small amount of training they can now update the software themselves.”
Going the extra mile
NMCNomenca is convinced choosing Asta Powerproject multi-user has complemented its own care and attention to managing such vast projects. To help it achieve the cost savings it needs to fulfil its client’s goals, it is using the forecasting functions that Asta Powerproject Enterprise provides. “This software will allow us to do long-term forecasting of spend and resources” said Gavin. “To do this for nearly 450 projects over five years is a huge task, but Asta Powerproject multi-user lets us forecast accurately so we don’t get the “rollercoaster” effect on resources requirements and costs. We can manage the peaks and troughs effectively to ensure we meet Severn Trent Water’s investment plan and NMCNomenca turnover requirements. We can batch projects geographically, according to the type of work, organise what gets done and manage it quickly. All of which goes a long way towards gaining the cost efficiencies we need for our client.”
NMCNomenca has taken on board all of its customer’s many requests and put processes into place to achieve them. “Asta Powerproject multi-user proved the right choice because we can capture financial and project information together from the same place, giving us more data to forecast in terms of secure and potential forecasts,” said Gavin. “While other contractors have to source their programme data from somewhere else and only have financial data to hand, we can capture all data at once, including milestones. Our customer has driven us to integrate with SAP, but we have gone those few extra steps that have made all the difference, we can send data backwards and forwards giving near-real-time information, and because we work as one big supply chain, we have been able to share these best practices with other Severn Trent contractors, which has earned us a reputation of Leading the Way.”
Ally Gau, Potion PR & Marketing
Tel: +44 (0) 845 8624466
About Asta Development
Asta Development is a leading international developer of project, programme and resource management software. The company’s two distinct lines of business focus on the construction and engineering markets, and the IT and professional services markets.
Asta Development provides a complete range of project management solutions for managing any size and any type of project. Customers using Asta Development’s software range from small trade contractors using one licence through to global contractors working on highly complex projects with over 1,000 users. High-profile projects using Asta Development’s software include: The London Eye, The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, The Space Shuttle, Schipol Airport in the Netherlands, Hong Kong Airport, Petronas Towers in Malaysia, Jumeirah Park in Dubai, Renewable Energy Projects in France, the Commonwealth Games Village in India and the Reichstag in Berlin.
and Shropshire with a comprehensive range of services including consultancy, training and technical support. Outside the UK, it has a network of distributors who supply, train and support customers, with the software available in up to five different languages.
Asta Development is part of Eleco plc, a holding company listed on the London Stock Exchange Alternative Investment Market. More information about Asta Development and its products can be found at www.astadev.com. More information about Eleco plc can be found at www.eleco.com.
About North Midland Construction
North Midland Construction PLC has over 60 years experience in operating in the Construction Industry with six Operational Divisions and subsidiaries, undertaking Civil Engineering, Building, MEICA, Utilities and Highways works.
North Midland Construction deliver design and build projects across business sectors including water industry, power generation, power distribution, telecoms, commercial buildings, municipal waste plants , highways and bridges, and rail industry.
NMCNomenca is the combination of the water industry expertise within both the Civil Engineering and MEICA divisions, to be the dedicated Severn Trent Water delivery team.