Saturday, October 28, 2006

SOA Revolution

Sharp Turnaround

Austin Energy went live last May with an SOA-generated desktop application for call center representatives, integrating the billing system with the outage management system. By allowing a function to appear once but be usable for any application needing it, the SOA eliminated extra steps in call processing, said Andrés Carvallo, CIO of Austin Energy."For example, checking a customer validation gets done within the outage management system. It gets done within the billing system. It gets done within the work management system. It gets done within the financial system," Carvallo said. "In the old days of architectures every application had to have all these services wrapped within the application. In a service-oriented world, you create one customer verification service, and that service is exposed or available to any application that needs the service."Under the outage management system, a customer calls to report a power outage. The application verifies the customer's location, and extracts the customer's status from a database. As soon as the call center agent transfers the information to a work order, the information travels to the outage management system, which dispatches a service truck."All of that used to take about four and a half to five minutes. In the old days all those things were in multiple systems," Carvallo said. "The internal employee needed to look up different things and check here and check there. Then eventually push the button to go to the next step. Now that phone call takes on average one and a half minutes."Before SOA, the application could only handle 4,000 calls per hour before producing a long waiting list. Now it handles as many as 50,000 calls per hour, said Carvallo. Traditional applications required programmers to separately install many of the same functions for each process in an application, but using an SOA shrinks the amount of code used, standardizing functionality and minimizing mistakes because all employees use the same data sets, Carvallo said.

Five major energy divisions make up Austin Energy: energy generation, transmission, distribution, wholesale and retail. The many common needs those divisions share mean technicians can write code once for those functions and make them available to any division. IBM assisted Austin Energy's SOA transition with a combination of hardware, software and services, and according to IBM's Harrison, business processes are going to change drastically at the utility, and SOA will give the agency the flexibility to support changing operational requirements."Now they have the knowledge to change their infrastructure to support the business," he said. "They don't have to go and ask the vendor, 'Can you make this modification to the application?' They can go forward and say, 'I've got these functions. I might need more functions. I might need fewer functions, but I can decide how I want to organize them in order to meet the needs of my customers.' That's very powerful."Austin Energy is developing more accurate meter technology for homes, as well as solutions for more closely monitoring electric grids and pinpointing malfunctions.Carvallo said the SOA transformation and the resulting programming flexibility would better support the changing identity and increasingly diversified nature of public utilities."The electric utility of the future is one that has a lot of interoperation technologies -- an ecosystem," Carvallo said." It has renewable energy, solar wind, bio-mass and cogeneration. "We're not doing this for the sake of building an SOA. All of this IT transformation is driven by the business and helping the business reinvent itself, and we are all after building Austin Energy into a 21st-century electric utility."

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