Texas-Sized Integration - InformationWeek

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9/29/2004
01:32 PM
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Texas-Sized Integration

Energy deregulation in the Lone Star state has created a kaleidoscope of data that CenterPoint Energy hopes to monitor with the help of a massive integration software rollout.

In a move to cope with changes brought by energy deregulation, CenterPoint Energy Inc., plans to an integration software upgrade that includes improved data-flow monitoring dashboards for company management and the capacity to drill down and look closely at individual transactions.

CenterPoint, Houston, has worked with SeeBeyond Technology Corp. since it made the transition from an old-school utility to an electricity delivery company in the wake of Texas energy deregulation in 2002. After separating from its parent utility, Reliant Energy, that same year, CenterPoint became the company responsible for transmitting electricity in the Houston area. It owns the wires, the transformers, the meters, and it charges energy producers like a toll road for the use of those electrical byways.

But because the state's energy market created a constellation of new players, CenterPoint had to undertake a large and complex software integration project, linking its old legacy computer systems and databases to those of its energy-producing customers as well as the state agency, the Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which oversees the power market and most of the Texas grid. With millions of transactions -- from service orders to usage data to maintenance calls to outages -- moving between all these different entities, Texas decided on SeeBeyond to translate those transactions from one system platform to another.

SeeBeyond introduced its latest integration product, called ICAN 5.0, in March 2003. From CenterPoint's perspective, among the more important new functions are improved Web-based dashboard-building tools, says Mary Rich, IT manager at CenterPoint. The graphical displays on executive desktops will now give them an "an overview of the entire system." The dashboards will show the status of all the company's transaction and power usage data in near real-time (it refreshes every minute), whereas the old dashboards were not updated. To extract transaction data, managers needed to make individual database queries.

Also, Rich says, the new dashboards will let CenterPoint drill down into transactions that have gone awry and to fix them. Many of those errors involve start and stop times for electricity service orders -- a customer who cancels service, for instance, and another customer who moves in and wants to start it back up. For whatever reasons, the timing of the start or stop order is sometimes not filled in properly. Without 5.0, a CenterPoint employee would need to query the database, find the individual transaction, and go through it field-by-field to locate the mistake. Then they'd have to tell IT to make the appropriate change in the database directory. Now, with 5.0's "very readable" graphic interface, Rich said, the correction can be made immediately by the user "without us in IT ever having to touch it."

The new version will offer CenterPoint other conveniences as well, Rich says. It runs on J2EE, the latest Java architecture, which will allow for greater speed in writing new codes for new functions, including the dashboards, and for greater flexibility in building those functions on existing infrastructure. ICAN 5.0 is, in other words, an open system, a marked departure from the norms of the software-integration industry. The old version of ICAN was in SeeBeyond's proprietary scripting language, called "Monk," which wasn't nearly as fast or portable, Rich says.

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