When Disaster Strikes…Cloud Integration Supports Resilient Utility and Government Systems

Disaster Recovery word cloud over white background

Across the globe extreme weather events and natural disasters routinely bring disruption, chaos and economic hardship to communities and businesses.

For example, in New Zealand where my IT consultancy Adaptiv Integration is headquartered, hard-working teams in the utility and local and central government sectors face constant pressure to respond 24x7x365 to the impact of natural and man-made events. And not always successfully.

Natural catastrophe and extreme weather events have topped the list of perceived risks to New Zealand in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks report for 2018. Other countries face similar concerns.

Case in point for utilities. A recent article, “Power companies impacted by storm outages,” describes how some regional New Zealand utility companies were unable to keep operations rolling during weather events. Challenges included customers being unable to post service requests for timely repair work.

A Changing Utility Marketplace

Undoubtedly, disaster recovery and business continuity planning can help utilities prepare for the inevitable. Core to that is making digital systems fundamentally more resilient so utilities and governments can maintain services under adverse conditions.

That’s where modern, cloud-based integration comes in. It allows utilities and governments to connect mission-critical endpoints and data into a highly-resilient, managed cloud infrastructure that is fully redundant and guaranteed to be “always on.” Organizations can easily take key data and store or replicate it into back up systems in the cloud so they are not limited to on-premise availability.

Traditionally, electricity and natural gas have been low customer engagement services — pure necessities and almost invisible to many consumers. But changes in the marketplace such as market liberalization, unbundling processes, more efficient devices, and evolving customer preferences have created more competition and pressure on revenue and profits for utility companies.

Furthermore, technologies such as social media, smartphones and the internet of things (IoT) have created new channels for utilities and governments to engage with the public. Certainly, the expectation from consumers is to have an Amazon-like experience online that is intuitive and just works.

In New Zealand the semi-privatization of formerly state-owned utilities has transformed the market. Many are now locally or citizen-owned, using a co-op model. The boards of these organizations mandate aggressive uptime levels, with no outages. Moreover, the citizen renewables market for solar and wind-generated electricity that can be traded peer-to-peer is creating further changes to the utility industries.

New Zealand Becomes “Cloud Comfortable”

Of course, to create greater system resiliency and deliver more reliable customer services via the cloud, organizations must trust the safety, security and performance of cloud data centers. Toward that end, a couple years ago the New Zealand government’s chief information officer established requirements and a bidding framework for cloud service vendors.

Vendors responded, Microsoft among them. New Zealand has since certified several data centers for use by the government. In fact, the government now advocates a “cloud first” approach in preference to traditional, on-premise IT. This has gone a long way towards ending any lingering “cloud phobias.”

Utilities now leverage hybrid architectures with a mix of SaaS, IaaS, PaaS and on-premise systems, usually consisting of several customer or field service systems, as well as infrastructure applications. At Adaptiv Integration, we are able to rapidly integrate any combiination of these system using the Dell Boomi integration platform.

Integration via Boomi also helps local utilities support and connect with regional providers, market exchanges, and the state-owned Transpower New Zealand (TPNZ). It supports messaging between those entities’ core systems. All these systems and providers play major roles during events that may cause service disruptions.

For example, SaaS applications from companies such as ServiceNow and ClickSoftware, which support automated mobile workforce management and service optimization, are now widely used in the utilities industry. Likewise, on-premise utility-specific applications like Gentrack provide billing and customer management. And advanced distribution management systems (ADMS), such as Schneider Electric NZ, automate outage restoration and optimize the performance of the distribution grid. To make full use of these SaaS systems, utilities must be able to easily share data with core on-premise customer and operational systems.

Cloud-based integration further protects utilities and governments from lost data. With native-cloud integration, organizations don’t need to go all-or-nothing with the cloud — business-critical systems don’t have to reside in the cloud. This is where Boomi comes in. Key always-on endpoints connect into the cloud. They can take messages, cue them, and replay them when on-premise systems are restored

Cloud Integration Driving Improvements for Utilities and Governments

The traditional point-to-point approach to integration is expensive and prone to failure every time an application updates its code base. Services and APIs delivered on-premise are highly vulnerable to the local and regional outages caused by natural disasters. And these outages have a real cost. In a report, “DevOps and the Cost of Downtime,” IDC calculated that the average hourly cost of an infrastructure failure is $100,000.

At Adaptiv Integration we have found that iPaaS technologies like Boomi make it simple to create highly resilient B2B and B2C APIs that will withstand natural disasters. You can deliver innovative services at lower cost while protecting your organization from critical application and infrastructure failures.

Utilities and governments can deploy Boomi integrations and APIs to a run-time engine that provides high availability and disaster recovery out of the box, with no intervention needed by your internal teams.

During an extreme weather event, Boom’s message queuing technology allows you to complete transactions with available systems, be they on-premise or SaaS, and replay those messages when your on-premise operational systems become available.

In terms of business continuity, you can recover faster. You might lose connectivity to on-premise systems, but because your endpoints are in the cloud, you’re not losing data.

We’ve also found that a lot of organizations have never tested their disaster recovery strategy in “anger” — in a real-world scenario. They might only have a few core systems that link into their disaster recovery environments. But with Boomi, organizations can ensure access to much more of their data and systems and can test to ensure they work as planned if an on-premise system goes down.

In a world that is increasingly globalized, we sometimes forget that, ultimately, everything is local for governments, businesses and people. A big part of this local need is finding practical ways to address key issues, given the universal constraints of money, time and resources.

In New Zealand, for example, utilities must self-fund. They’re working with limited resources and decreasing revenues. So, cost-effective approaches are much needed. Governments find themselves in a similar situation, which is why the trend towards cloud services is gaining momentum.

And that is what is driving our clients to Boomi. It is tailor-made for any organization that wants to remove the cost and complexity out of integration.

About the Author: Nikolai Blackie is co-founder and principal architect for the IT consultancy Adaptiv Integration in Auckland, New Zealand.

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