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The Role of Service-Oriented Architecture in Enterprise Integrations

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Utilities host a number of enterprise applications to process day-to-day tasks, including meter data management systems, customer information systems, advanced metering infrastructure, outage management systems, and more. Implementing enterprise integrations provides a strong foundation and is critical to streamline business processes, keep utilities prepared to meet changing needs, mitigate business risks, and efficiently manage utility operations. Integrations help utilities manage real-time information and transactions across enterprise applications and systems.

Every application or system used by a utility is distinct in terms of its operation and technology implementation. For example, within the Oracle Utilities Application Framework suite of enterprise applications, Operational Device Management (ODM) is the system of record for meter assets and meter testing information, Meter Data Management (MDM) stores and processes electricity usage data, Customer Care and Billing (CC&B) is used to bill the customer and process the customer requests, and Command Center is used to manage the electric grid. Each application is dependent on other applications for specific information. ODM receives the firsthand information which needs to be sent over to MDM to load electricity usage against the meter. MDM sends usage data to CC&B to bill the customer, Command Center communicates information back and forth with meters and applications. It is essential for utilities to keep all the applications and systems in sync to process day-to-day business transactions.

Let us consider some of the business processes of a utility using Oracle Utilities applications:

  1. Operational Device Management (ODM) creates field activity and sends it to Service Order Management (SOM). Eventually, information is sent to downstream applications and systems to perform field work required for meter asset testing and meter exchange.
  2. Customer Care & Billing (CC&B) receives firsthand information about customer and contacts, and this information is sent to other enterprise applications such as MDM (Meter Data Management) and NMS (Network Management System) to enable end-to-end business processes.
  3. Head-end systems such as Landis + Gyr, Sensus, Itron, and Elster collect electricity usage and events from smart/manual meters, which is sent on to enterprise applications to process and bill the customer, generating revenue for the utility.
  4. Utilities set up charging stations such as Charge Point to capture usage for charging electric vehicles, and the usage data is shared across meter management and billing systems to bill the customer.
  5. Utilities perform a rate check for validating rate calculations and comparing customer bills on different rate schedules. Utilities use enterprise applications like Customer Care and Billing to perform this task, which further requests usage information from other applications, such as the meter data management system.

There are hundreds of business processes involved in the day-to-day operations of a utility. The main challenge for utilities is to integrate heterogeneous enterprise applications and systems to seamlessly talk to each other in order to complete business processes. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) helps utilities to achieve this goal and meet their integration needs.

SOA is based on a set of industry standards which enable the flow of data between enterprise applications and legacy systems. SOA lays down a strong foundation for utilities to meet the increasing demand for integration, facilitating the interoperability, reusability, stability, and scalability to operate business processes in enterprise. SOA provides standard patterns and reference architecture to help utilities expedite their implementation efforts by making sure integrations built for enterprise take care of not only existing needs, but future needs as well.

There are many vendors in the market who provide robust tools and technology resources to implement SOA integrations for utilities. Some of the major vendors’ products are Oracle SOA Suite, IBM SOA, TIBCO SOA, and MuleSoft. These SOA suite products contain a sophisticated development environment which provides plug-n-play features to implement reusable and scalable enterprise integrations.

Let’s take an example use case to understand how SOA plays an important role in enterprise integration to build an interoperable, scalable, and reusable service portfolio for business.

Oracle Utilities Operational Device Management (ODM) receives firsthand information about meters and their manufacturer details, which are further synced over to other applications in enterprise. These meters or assets in ODM are part of a periodic asset/meter testing process where ODM determines if a meter is to be exchanged and retired if the meter set is identified as a bad lot. This business process involves sending asset testing requests or meter to be exchanged/retired requests to downstream applications to perform respective action. Enterprise integrations using Oracle SOA Suite products and tools enable seamless integration across all applications to effectively and efficiently operate such business processes at the utility.

This business process includes multiple sub tasks:

  • Create field activity in Operational Device Management. This field activity request contains periodic asset testing or meter exchange/retire requests.
  • The field activity request is sent to downstream applications such as Service Order Management, a testing system, or a mobile workforce like PCAD.
  • Once the field activity is completed, the completion details are sent to upstream applications to complete the business process.
  • In case the field activity needs to be aborted before it is processed, another task is triggered to cancel the field activity across all the applications and systems.

SOA services help utilities transform such business processes and modular tasks into specific technical deliverables. The SOA product suite provides a set of message patterns, reference architecture, and design patterns to produce robust, scalable, and reusable enterprise integrations. The design and message patterns support a publish-subscribe message model, real-time web service integrations, and batch processing references.

The below diagram provides details around a SOA suite and its components to implement the business process discussed above. A SOA suite provides a rich set of prebuilt adapters to connect to legacy and third party applications, web service integration points to process real time data, Rest API and JSON support for mobile integrations, and support for JMS queue and topic interactions.

  • Service Management Diagram

Integrations of enterprise applications are crucial to a utility’s ability to streamline their day-to-day business processes, minimize risk, and quickly adapt to changing requirements. Service-oriented architecture is the toolbox that allows utilities to reach their integration goals faster. At Red Clay Consulting, we have a proven track record of implementing enterprise integrations for utilities with a wide array of varying needs. We have implemented both productized and non-productized SOA integrations. Red Clay has worked with SOA and Smart Grid Gateway product technical architects to discuss utilities’ integration roadmaps and strategize solution recommendations. Red Clay has built integrations for large and mid-size utilities to facilitate business processes across enterprise applications, legacy systems, and third party applications. Learn more about our System Integration & Implementation Services.

 

About the Author:

As a Senior Consultant at Red Clay Consulting, Veeresh Hawalkhod is responsible for developing and configuring integration solutions tailored to clients’ varying needs for usage, event data upload, and device communication commands. Veeresh brings over nine years of experience in the integration space, mainly focusing on Oracle middleware products. As a subject matter expert in Oracle Fusion Middleware, he has experience designing, developing, and deploying custom integrations for enterprise distributed applications.