A centralized project management office will help Canada’s fourth-largest print media group deliver projects on time and on budget, according to executives.

Transcontinental Inc., also the seventh-largest printer in North

America, has rolled out Microsoft Office Enterprise Project Management (EPM), which includes Project Server 2003, Project Professional 2003 and Project Web Access, to serve as a central data repository.

The IT department is in the process of transferring its projects into this environment, including an ERP project that will take three years and consist of more than 30 different sub-projects. HMS Software, a Microsoft Project solution partner is helping with the implementation.

Transcontinental publishes flyers, newspapers, magazines, catalogues and books (and owns the IT Business Group, which publishes ITbusiness.ca). Its business operations – and 14,000 employees – are spread across a large geographic area.

Without centralized data, IT projects were run on an ad hoc basis and resource allocation required a huge amount of manual intervention, said Serge Locas, director of the Project Management Office with Transcontinental Inc. The company’s biggest business challenge was one common to the IT industry: resource management.

In the past, each project manager was responsible for their team and project – until they came across a resource conflict. The IT department needed to create a centralized project management office in order to allocate these resources more efficiently, Locas said.

“We plan by the end of this year to provide this environment as a service for other business units who will need a project environment solution,” he said. “But right now it’s reserved for the IT department here in Montreal.”

In the realm of project management, there’s more than one project and only a finite number of skilled resources, said Chris Vandersluis, president of HMS Software, the reseller that helped roll out the solution. “This was definitely what they were experiencing at Transcontinental.”

The 100-person IT team needed to know what everyone was working on. Could they absorb that extra project? Should they hire (or fire) anyone? Were there too many resources in one area and not enough in another?

“They were probably managing a lot by reaction as opposed to being able to proactively plan anytime into the future,” said Vandersluis.

The first step was simply to get all the data into one place. “If you can’t get all the project requirements and resource availability into one centrally managed list, then all the project management tools in the world won’t make any difference,” he said.

The IT department, is looking at using templates of portal sites attached to Project Server to provide an automatic list of documents for every new project.

“This collaboration became a huge opportunity that was probably never on the original wish list,” said Vandersluis. It’s also taken some pressure off staff members who were being pulled in one direction and pushed in another.

“It’s going to make a very significant difference in how they manage any IT project, particularly something like enterprise resource planning,” he said. “Anything that’s going to interrupt a key resource can have an effect on every other project in the company.”

The initial rollout took place last year over a six-month period, but it’s still a work in progress, said Locas. The hardest part is changing the culture of the IT department. Prior to the rollout, they weren’t using any tool or software to manage their projects. “So we need to introduce a change in the culture of the IT department to work on a project-by-project basis,” he said.

Locas said he expects start seeing the benefits of this environment by the end of the year, since there’s still a learning curve to overcome. And they still need to improve the project planning process. While there is more information available at each level of management, he says there is still a lot of work to be done.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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