The Business Innovation
Austin Energy is the nation’s 10th largest community-owned electric utility, headquartered in Austin, Texas. Serving 360,000 customers and a population of more than 800,000, the company provides service within Texas in the City of Austin, Travis County and a small portion of Williamson County. As a publicly owned power company and a city department, Austin Energy powers the capital city of Texas through a diverse generation mix, including nuclear, coal, natural gas and renewable energy sources.
Along with meeting the needs of its customers, Austin Energy has created the top performing renewable energy program in the nation and they own the nation’s first and largest green building program. They handle over $500K billing transactions per month, including the billing of other utilities that they don’t operate. Prior to contacting IBM, the organization was running at maximum capacity and were running into problems such as maintaining customer and client interfaces and also experiencing significant single points of failure.
Austin Energy (AE) also had a goal of creating a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) for their entire IT infrastructure. They needed IBM and Ascendant Technology to create an IT environment that would allow flexible growth in the future but would also address the immediate concerns of user functionality and overall application reliability.
Aligning Technology with the Business Needs
Ascendant Technology assisted IBM in presenting to Austin Energy the SOA Reference Model, including the following applications: web application server, process integration, Portal and security products. This solution focused on meeting the continually growing needs of Austin Energy, while providing cost efficient solutions that both business and technical users can manipulate.
The first project identified by AE was called MPP (Multifamily Partnership Program) Portal. The MPP portal is designed as an easy way for owners and managers of multiple premises properties (apartments, condo’s, duplexes) to see which residents have had utility services turned on or off for their properties. This is important because property owners do not want to have to pay for utility services for their residents while they are occupied. The general manager of Austin Energy committed this project to the Austin City Council with a go live date in October 2006.
The original version of this portal was built on Oracle Portal, but they had difficulty with single-sign-on, registering new users, deleting old users, and performance. After examining the overall options within WebSphere Portal, AE decided that it would much better alternative and would allow them the much needed functionality to manage their many applications.
Ascendant Technology was engaged specifically to assist in the determination of the technical aspects of the project and the requirements of the solution. The first step was to conduct a Proof of Concept (POC) to show the flexibility of WebSphere Portal. Ascendant led this POC and 18 people from Austin Energy attended including the managers of their development teams, web content teams, marketing teams, infrastructure teams, and their project leaders. During this session, all aspects of the project were discussed, including technical architecture, overall aesthetic design and specific business goals the solution had to address for each individual group.
After the POC, Ascendant brought in architecture experts, particularly Business Integration Process Management (BIPM) Practice Lead Cheng Zhou, to help design the solution. During these architecture sessions, additional opportunities beyond portal were identified which were added to help complete the project. The solution expanded to include Tivoli Access Manager, Tivoli Identity Manager, Workplace Web Content Manager, WebSphere Portal, and WebSphere Process Server.
After the architecture solution was defined, AE asked Ascendant to expand the scope once again to determine how and when would be the best way to bring all of their external facing web sites under the WebSphere Portal umbrella. John Dubois, CTO of Ascendant Technology, led a session to design a solution infrastructure to encompass all AE web sites in future versions of their portal, and also fit with the SOA framework.
The Resulting Benefits
The implementation was done on time and under budget by Ascendant, resulting in a ESB and portal platform they can base all future portal applications on top of rapidly and efficiently. The new application performs much better, allowing users to self-register, and property owners to manage the property manager users who manage their properties by assigning properties to them in the portal application. The environment utilizes technologies from across the IBM portfolio, including Tivoli Identity Manager and Tivoli Access Manager to secure the website and handle user self-registration, WebSphere Portal Server and WebSphere Content Manager to house the portal application and allow marketing employees change content on the site without coding HTML or java, and WebSphere Process Server to choreograph Web Services that integrate with legacy back-end systems. Based on the benefits they realized from the IBM platform installed during the MPP project, Austin Energy is now building their second portal application on this platform and plans many more.