Utility Cloud Application Integration

Almost everywhere you look in IT, “the cloud” is a prevalent topic.  While there are many commonly stated upsides of the cloud-based applications and platforms—for example, scalability, low up-front costs, and lower maintenance costs—utilities also must consider certain factors when thinking about moving their applications to the cloud.

Key considerations for utilities contemplating using cloud-based applications revolve around security, data privacy, and access to existing internal systems.  Because most utilities will find themselves in a hybrid environment, with both on-premise and cloud-based applications, data will be crossing technical boundaries that in the past were fully contained in the utility.  This is most prevalent with on-premise systems such as a customer information system (CIS), which can now get readings via a cloud-based AMI and MDMS solution or a cloud-based enterprise asset management (EAM) system that sends data to the on-premise financial system and graphical information system (GIS).

As a result, utilities need two things:

  • New user and data policies to ensure proper data privacy both in the storage of data and the transfer of data within the cloud system and during the transition between systems
  • Additional security for all inter-system communications as well as user access controls to make sure data and security policies are upheld

A utility may also require network changes and additional monitoring of the network traffic in order to grant proper access but also alert the appropriate people in the utility and those managing the cloud solution about any suspicious activity in a timely manner.

Don’t overlook the system integration costs.
Perhaps the most interesting—but often overlooked—consideration is the need to increase costs for systems integration when working with a hybrid environment.  While cloud vendors typically have robust, pre-defined interfaces to their systems, the decreased access to the system can cause challenges.  For example, if a utility typically integrates systems by directly accessing an application’s database, that is no longer an option with a cloud-based application.  Additionally, if a utility typically has complex integration requirements that require modification of vendor interfaces to meet its needs, those requirements can be difficult if not impossible for many cloud-vendors to accommodate.  Utilities in this situation will need to reduce their integration complexities, find alternative vendors, or invent work-arounds.

So what is a utility to do in this environment?  While the ultimate answer will differ for each utility, one approach that has a lot of upside is to put as much as possible into the cloud, including the systems integration platform.  By doing so, a utility will keep the amount of data coming into and out of its environment to a minimum and leverage the interconnectivity of the various cloud applications it has chosen to use.  If using a cloud-based integration tool such as Microsoft’s Azure Service Bus, a utility can tightly control secure connectivity from cloud-applications into its IT premise.  And by ensuring that the connections between the systems are also done in a secure fashion, a utility can quickly take the necessary steps to have a highly functioning, hybrid environment that is secure and scalable.

For further cloud-based application, integration, and security information, please contact Cory Chaplin at West Monroe at cchaplin@westmonroepartners.com.

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