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Business Transformation in Action

Joe McKendrick

SOA Helps to Increase Energy Levels -- Literally

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Electric companies have a great system designed to reduce power outage incidents. If one line or transformer goes out, the system can automatically reroute power through other lines.

One power company has taken this self-healing resilience a step further, to its mission-critical business systems. Service-oriented architecture, of course, provides that resiliency and reduced dependence on single systems. CIO's Doug Dineley recently documented the SOA efforts at Bluestar Energy Services, a utility and electricity wholesaler serving Maryland, D.C., and Illinois.

Bluestar's local distribuitors used a variety of formats for delivering customer usage data, including EDI, XML, FTP, Excel, and CSV files. Using open source software, the company established a b-to-b gateway that integrates all of BlueStar's partners and translates all of the different feeds and data formats for BlueStar's back-end systems -- a loosely coupled approach. As Dineley writes:

"The b-to-b gateway is a distributed implementation of an ESB," says Guillermo Tantachuco, director of enterprise architecture at BlueStar. "We don't have a huge monolithic server that handles all this. These are a bunch of services scattered across our network that are pretty resilient. If one instance dies, another one is ready to take over."

BlueStar buys electricity on the broader market and resells it to residential and business customers. CTO Tom Keen said the challenge was to manage the flow of information -- and purchase and billing transactions -- across multiple parties: power generators, transmission operators, local distribution companies, and BlueStar customers.

The biggest part of the effort wasn't technical implementations, but selling the concept to the business. Bluestar's SOA team established an enterprise architecture from the very start, based on interaction with decision makers on the business side. There was a necessary shift in thinking on the business side, Kenn said:

"We think in the area of process, we think in the area of automation, we think in the area of business rules. Without that shift in thinking, you're going to get an IT person's version of what a service-oriented business would look like implemented in technology, and that's just not successful. Without [our CEO's and COO's] leadership it probably would not have succeeded."

The utility industry is now far more than your single, highly regulated monopolistic "local power company" that sends you electricity provided you pay your bills. Now, utilities and power providers are in highly competitive businesses that will success or fail on economies of scale and meeting market demand. This is a classic example of SOA in action.

In this blog (formerly known as "SOA in Action"), Joe McKendrick examines how BPM and related business and IT approaches can promote business transformation.

Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is an author and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. View more


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