Enterprise SOA Initiative Spurs Business Process Improvements Without BPM

By Angsuman Chakraborty, Gaea News Network
Friday, July 21, 2006

Austin Energy isn’t using any business process management (BPM) suite, but it is realizing business process improvements as part of its enterprisewide service-oriented architecture (SOA) initiative.

Two years in the making, the SOA initiative is helping the $1 billion electric utility integrate and leverage disparate legacy systems. It’s also helping the business adapt in the face of deregulation and new competition thanks to new energy storage and lower cost power generation technologies.

On its way to building the new architecture, including an enterprise service bus (ESB) and enterprise portal built on the IBM WebSphere application server and middleware, Austin Energy decided to tackle business processes very tactically, with well-defined requirements and desired benefits. First the company targeted the customer-support process around power outages. Austin Energy used the WebSphere Business Modeler to spot bottlenecks and potential improvements in the existing process, which was supported by a system written in COM objects and Visual Basic. Scalability was the key problem, as the system could only handle about 4,000 calls per day. To speed the process they created a composite application comprising five Web services that link existing systems and databases on a robust SOA infrastructure. “The new application went live on May 3, and the very next day we had a storm and were able to process 20,000 calls,” Carvallo says.

Average call times dropped to one-and-a-half minutes from the previous range of three minutes to five minutes. Adding to the savings, work orders were streamlined from a paper-based, batch-oriented system to direct integration with a workforce management and dispatching system.

“We haven’t been able to quantify the savings yet, but when you can only get to 4,000 calls–instead of 20,000–you’re missing a lot of outage information that can give you a better picture of the source of the problem,” Carvallo says. “That means you know right where to send the repair trucks, and that’s a big deal, given that every truck roll costs at least $70.”

Where does an SOA initiative end and BPM begin? In Austin Energy’s case, the literal point of intersection is the business process modeling tool. But from Carvallo’s perspective, “if you don’t have your infrastructure, data models and integrations in place, you can’t do enterprisewide BPM. Maybe you could do one BPM solution at a time, but to me, SOA was the solution we wanted because we were trying to solve a corporatewide challenge.” via Link

We are just starting to realize the true potential of Service Oriented Architecture after years of hype as the processes are maturing.

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