With more than 55,000 employees spread across South Africa, Transnet manages the freight and resources that power the nation’s economy. Transnet functions with a large amount of departmentally siloed data, and legacy logging and reporting solutions further obscure project development statuses from company leadership. Adopting Microsoft Project, the company has begun the process of increasing visibility, delivering automated reports, and breaking down silos—at less than a tenth of the cost of competing solutions.


“It used to take so long to get project information that, once we received an update, the data was no longer actionable. Power BI not only gives us a clear, detailed project timeline that includes our projected costs, it assures that the data we’re seeing is always online and up to date.”

Transnet is the custodian of the ports, pipelines, and rails that make up much of South Africa’s infrastructure. The government agency works to assure that South Africa maintains a globally competitive freight system capable of growing the nation’s economy. Because of the diversity of its work, Transnet grants each of its departments some autonomy. While the head office maintains control over strategic projects and capital investments, many departments manage their own project pipelines. The company’s R&D department, for instance, oversees between 40 and 50 projects at any given time.

The departments that make up Transnet have had little issue in managing their own project pipelines, but reporting their status to the head office has had its challenges. Operating autonomously, each department has developed its own reporting protocols. This has resulted in each individual department and subdivision at Transnet generating its reports in a unique way. Without consistency, automation remains difficult. This was a blocker for the organization, but it was one the R&D department chose to confront head-on. “The biggest issues at the time were that our existing project management application was very expensive to maintain and wasn’t designed to properly handle small or medium-sized projects,” says Warren Pretorius, Solution Architect at Transnet.

Many departments still rely on simple spreadsheets to track the status of their projects, limiting the amount of data that can be reported. Combined, these issues limit the head office’s visibility into the health of each department’s project pipeline. In R&D, clients frequently place orders that augment the departmental project portfolio, adding to the complexity of managing the project pipeline’s overall health. With the previous solution, this led to a highly reactive management style, leaving departmental leadership wondering how to maintain better visibility.

The department launched a thorough investigation into the project portfolio management (PPM) solutions available. R&D needed to enhance existing business intelligence data, facilitate resource optimization, and act as a central repository for project portfolio–related data.

“Every department we’ve shown Power BI to has been enthusiastic about getting their hands on it. The hype is there, and we can see their need for the visibility it creates. From freight and rail to ports to logistics, we see Power BI having an even bigger impact in the near future.” 

On top of the increased visibility Transnet has gained through automated reporting and the reduction of siloed data, the company has also begun to gain productivity benefits through the integration between Project Online and the rest of Microsoft Office 365. Microsoft Teams enjoys broad acceptance, with many employees accessing Planner via Teams channels. Executive users also benefit from Power BI reports, generated in PowerPoint and populated by Project Online data. “The integration between Project Online, Teams, and Power BI has been a blessing,” says Pretorius. “Because we use these solutions together, our R&D department is finally able to properly collaborate without issue.” As adoption of Power BI spreads, so too will access to these types of functionalities.

Departmental leaders who already have adopted Project Online can also track their progress on quarterly and yearly targets thanks to the solution’s portfolio view. With these new fact-based reports at their fingertips, R&D leaders and project managers alike can rely on up-to-the-minute, fact-based reporting—something that their colleagues in other departments could benefit from, too. “Some departments rely on spreadsheets and the information on a project’s status that resides in the project manager’s head,” says Ashburner. “With Project Online, we no longer need to depend on that sort of reporting.”

Transnet has not reached the end of its integration and adoption story, either for Project Online or for the company’s overall modernization effort. The company has gained integration with already-popular solutions like Teams and Power BI, broken down data silos, and provided executive leadership with up-to-the-minute reporting on the status of projects in one of its most impactful departments. And even greater synergistic benefits await the company on the horizon.