The Utilities Industries
Implementing the Digital Nervous System in the Utilities Industries
Executive Summary............................................................................................................ 1
The Utilities Industries in Europe....................................................................................... 3
It Issues.............................................................................................................................. 5
Legacy system integration............................................................................................ 6
The customer relationship........................................................................................... 7
New customer interfaces............................................................................................. 7
The need for a universal platform.............................................................................. 8
The Digital Nervous System................................................................................................ 9
Windows DNA.............................................................................................................. 13
The Digital Nervous System...................................................................................... 15
Backoffice family of products................................................................................... 15
Key complementing technologies........................................................................... 15
Microsoft Backoffice family of products................................................................ 16
Key Complementing Technologies.......................................................................... 18
The Digital Nervous System delivers true business value to utilities............... 20
Microsoft Certified Solutions Providers.................................................................. 21
How to find out more.................................................................................................. 21
The utilities industries in Europe are undergoing a fundamental transformation. The electricity companies are evolving from state owned regional monopolies into fully privatised businesses, which must compete in order to retain their current customers and capture new ones. The gas and water industries are being de-regulated by the EU nation states to varying degrees. For many utilities these changes are driving a cultural shift from being enterprises which provide customers with a minimum service at a cost specified by government authorities, to enterprises that are efficient, maintain strong cost control and are focused on their residential and business customers.
A major part of achieving this transformation is to integrate many disparate data resources that include millions of customer records, usage profiles and service histories, together with information on asset usage, material replacement cycles, and work scheduling.
The need to integrate these previously separate resources is complicated by the continuing trend for utility companies to merge in order to achieve operational synergies within shared geographical regions, or to achieve vertical integration. These ‘Integrated Utilities’ represent the next step in the evolution of competitive energy and water provision - companies that are driven by a desire to integrate in order to compete more effectively, and to provide ever higher levels of service at an ever decreasing cost.
A crucial component of the Integrated Utility is the universal IT infrastructure which supports the drive for cost control, customer care and operational efficiency, through the integration of isolated information resources into a common command, control and customer support system. It achieves this by creating an environment which supports both legacy systems, thereby protecting the prior investments of the utility, whilst enabling new technologies to be introduced as the company wishes.
Such a universality of IT enables utilities to treat IT as truly ubiquitous for the first time - a true Digital Nervous System (DNS) through which information generated anywhere in the corporate body is transmitted, in a timely fashion, to wherever that information forms a valuable input. The DNS enables the utility to provide data resources to parts of the organisation that had previously been data starved, and only through such a system can the utility achieve its goals of cost and customer focus. The DNS vision is articulated by the DNA architecture - an environment which embraces all of the systems and applications of the utility from the hand-held terminal to the corporate server, and enables the multi-vendor utility to connect systems based upon proprietary technologies for the first time.
Microsoft’s technologies can, therefore, offer the Integrated Utility the opportunity to reduce costs, link diverse operations and improve the quality of customer service and support.
This Microsoft White Paper sets out the crucial issues facing the modern Integrated Utility. It discusses how information technology provides the means through which the utility can reduce costs and achieve greater customer focus.
Whilst there are important differences in the structures of the European gas, electricity and water sectors, three operational steps are common to each:
· utility provision / capture;
· transmission or transport;
· distribution to the end customer.
The provision / capture tier consists of generators of electricity and owners of gas fields and water reservoirs. These first tier companies must drive down the costs of their operations to achieve higher margins, to fuel ongoing investment in plant and system infrastructure. They can also pass on lower prices to their customers and thereby increase their share of the market.
The companies operating in the central transmission tier must maintain tight control of the costs of maintenance, system replacement and new system construction in order to offer capacity to their customers at a reasonable price. They must also ensure that system downtime is kept to a minimum.
Final tier companies - distributors - must ensure that they maintain control of costs so that they too can generate funds for continued investment in infrastructure, or pass on cost reductions to their customers, thus also increasing market share. They must also, however, repair leaks, reconstruct downed transmission lines, provide accurate and timely bills and a high level of service to the end consumer.
In some European countries these roles may be undertaken by one entity as in France (Electricité de France), whereas in others there may be many companies competing within each tier (as in the UK).
In Europe, the electricity industry is being driven by EU regulations towards greater liberalisation. The EU commission intends there to be a fully competitive cross-border electricity supply by the early years of the next century. Gas supply has been liberalised in the UK, and will be liberalised to varying degrees by the EU states over the next ten years.
The drive towards
liberalisation will drive ever increasing IT expenditure as companies faced
with an intensification of competition try to make better use of their
customer information to retain customers and obtain new ones.
The drive towards liberalisation will drive ever increasing IT expenditure as companies faced with an intensification of competition try to make better use of their customer information to retain customers and obtain new ones.
The chart below illustrates the impact of domestic competition by revealing how many UK domestic gas customers have transferred to new entrants in the past two years. UK domestic gas liberalisation was split into three phases - with the introduction of each phase more customers moved from the traditional provider.
Regardless of sector, the twin aspects of cost control and customer care are where the modern utility must focus. The utilities that operate further downstream are concerned with offering not only a reasonably priced product, but also with providing a high level of customer service. IT is employed to support these two objectives, however at present utilities maintain isolated systems that prevent them from putting the information they already own to its fullest advantage.
The twin aspects of operational
control/effectiveness and customer care
IT is the operational support system for the modern Integrated Utility, enabling it to centrally store data obtained from customers, employees and suppliers and make that information available to any relevant distributed application, supporting the drive for operational efficiency and customer care. The four core elements of this IT ‘nervous system’ are:
· asset and work management, in order to log the location, use and physical condition of its resources, and ensure that efficient maintenance and replacement cycles are in place to reduce infrastructure downtime to a minimum;
· SCADA / operational control to enable the utility to obtain data from meters and monitoring stations throughout its network and automate its operations;
· call centres provide customer contact lines and emergency telephone numbers to their customers, as well as enabling them to answer bill queries and provide information;
· billing and tariffing processes to access customer records and meter data in order to accurately charge the customer for the resource that they have used. For large customers real time metering and tariffing may be employed.
Utilities, however, have often maintained these systems as isolated components, and they are not integrated into a coherent IT infrastructure. This raises several disadvantages:
· higher administration and ownership costs. Multiple network administrators and other support staff are needed to ensure that the system is available for as long as possible. Systems resources may go unused in certain networks, whilst other networks need to invest in capacity in order to cope with data traffic and storage requirements;
· reduced operational efficiency. Functional departments cannot share data resources and so the organisation may duplicate processes and prevent parties from obtaining data that would enable them to be more efficient;
· reduced customer service. Call centres may not have access to work schedules on which work requests can be placed, thereby preventing them from telling the customer when their problem will be resolved.
Some integration has been effected in the utilities between systems that have obvious synergies. Call centres are often integrated into customer databases to enable agents to deal more effectively with customer queries. More advanced utilities will further integrate the call centre into the work schedule system, so that the customer can be given an approximate time for resolution of their problem. This scale of integration is, however, rare.
Utilities have been left
with systems that were designed for functional applications and which are
now highly inflexible and costly to maintain.
Utilities have been left with systems that were designed for functional applications and which are now highly inflexible and costly to maintain.
In addition most utilities currently store asset and customer records on central mainframes. The utilities will upgrade these mainframes only once every five to ten years, and so new applications must integrate with hardware which was never designed for state-of-the-art software technology. Utilities have attempted to resolve this problem by placing non-core systems on client-server architectures. However, mid-range server software has not until recently provided the robust operating environment and storage / processing capacity of a mainframe, which would enable utilities to migrate core applications to more flexible mid-range platforms. This has prevented the utility from achieving the key benefits of migrating from mainframe to distributed computing, which are:
· reducing the cost of IT ownership;
· maintaining scaleable and flexible systems;
· maintaining some resources on the client system to reduce network congestion.
As a result, integration of applications into legacy systems increases the utility’s costs of administration, of staff training, and generates a constant need to create bespoke software that will enable disparate systems to communicate with one another.
A distributed and fully integrated infrastructure reduces the cost of ownership as software is capable of supporting communication across otherwise incompatible platforms, staff only have to be trained in one operating system, and common tools and applications can reside anywhere in the organisation and yet be fully compatible. Portions of a utility’s system can be upgraded without needing to reinvest in a complete architecture.
Customers must also have access to the utility’s call centre in order to resolve their queries. As the number and type of customers changes over time this will necessitate amendments to the customer database and the scale of call centre operations.
Gaining access to
customer profiles allows the call centre agents to more effectively select
which products and services to attempt to sell to the customer. Call centre
/ database integration also enables the utility to take customer complaints
and build a failure profile for assets across a region, thereby enabling it
to plan its investment and replacement schedule more effectively.
Gaining access to customer profiles allows the call centre agents to more effectively select which products and services to attempt to sell to the customer. Call centre / database integration also enables the utility to take customer complaints and build a failure profile for assets across a region, thereby enabling it to plan its investment and replacement schedule more effectively.
The call centre is not the only technology which enables the utility to interact with its customers. Newer interfaces are enjoying growth at the moment based on the development of the Internet and smart cards.
The Internet enables the utility to extend a range of customer services into the home or business premises of its customers. Services range from provision of a basic web-page which provides contact numbers and addresses, to a site which provides full interaction between utility and customer. Specifically the Internet enables the utility to offer e-commerce services.
E-commerce enables the
utility to offer on-line bill payment to its customers, thereby providing a
more convenient method of payment for some consumers who have Internet
access and reducing the utility’s administration costs.
E-commerce enables the utility to offer on-line bill payment to its customers, thereby providing a more convenient method of payment for some consumers who have Internet access and reducing the utility’s administration costs.
Another customer interfacing technology is the smart card, which enables the utility to control bad debts by forcing certain unreliable customers to prepay their electricity and gas bills. This is achieved by giving the customers a card which must be charged to the value of the utility that they wish to use, and only on using the card to charge the home or business meter can the utility be activated. The customer can obtain details from the card reader concerning price per kilowatt hour or average daily usage.
Benefits can be made possible only through the adoption of a universal architecture that enables applications resident on different machines to communicate with each other, though they may be located in different parts of the country and on different hardware. Microsoft’s strategy for delivering this universality of infrastructure is achieved through:
The Digital Nervous System
Windows DNA (Distributed interNet Applications Architecture)
Windows NT, SQL Server, Microsoft Exchange,
The utilities have recognised the value of information. They have introduced new processes, flattened their organisational hierarchies, and improved their internal communications and organisational cultures, all to improve their use of information and improve cost control, customer focus and operational efficiency. These changes have enabled them to forge closer relationships with their customers and suppliers, and they now find themselves in the midst of an information economy which stretches throughout the value chain.
However, the IT infrastructure of the utilities remains highly stratified, functional and based on older systems that are expensive to maintain and difficult to make amendments to in rapidly evolving circumstances.
Utilities, like people, cannot operate efficiently in this increasingly uncertain environment if their functions are uncoordinated, and if their skills and resources are not utilised to the full. Just as a human being needs a nervous system to ensure that each of the various components of the body can act and react quickly and efficiently, a digital nervous system (DNS) enables utilities to react with speed and efficiency to changing business circumstances.
Windows DNA – The Development Model for Windows
A digital nervous system for a utility’s computers must sort and prioritise a huge amount of data quickly and efficiently, and present that information in a manner which enables problems / opportunities to be dealt with in the best way.
Today, large utilities
typically contain numerous computer systems that have been acquired over a
number of years. Frequently, those systems have grown and evolved in
different ways, effectively creating "islands" of technology that
can't easily "talk" to each other and exchange information.
Today, large utilities typically contain numerous computer systems that have been acquired over a number of years. Frequently, those systems have grown and evolved in different ways, effectively creating "islands" of technology that can't easily "talk" to each other and exchange information.
A further major issue is the increasing complexity of the systems needed to deliver business value. Twenty years ago customer relationships were simple - utility systems and IT architecture could therefore also be simple. With the fragmentation of the utility industry and the increase in competitive pressures placed upon them the systems needed to respond have become increasingly complicated. These complex systems are often designed around functional lines of business, but with limited communication links to other systems where a further input or output is required. This mesh of complex inter-connected systems, all with highly limited access privileges and based around ageing systems which demand increasingly expensive maintenance and increasingly skilled staff support is one of the major issues facing the utilities today.
Utilities have begun the
shift from a mainframe dependent, highly functional environment to which
they have been shackled for twenty years, and are now moving towards more
flexible mid-range systems and cross-functional computing environments that
enable the utility to react more quickly to changes in the environment and
make changes to its own systems and operations.
Utilities have begun the shift from a mainframe dependent, highly functional environment to which they have been shackled for twenty years, and are now moving towards more flexible mid-range systems and cross-functional computing environments that enable the utility to react more quickly to changes in the environment and make changes to its own systems and operations.
The result is a continuing patchwork of incompatible operating systems and hardware platforms that cannot share resources, that cannot scale to the utility’s future requirements without considerable rework, or support a common application. This chaotic infrastructure also prevents the scaling of applications to more users than the utility originally envisaged, and the introduction of new applications is limited to those written specifically for that platform or (for example) for that variation of Unix.
The above discussion illustrates that the utilities are facing a period of great change within an increasingly competitive environment, where cost control and customer focus are already affected by the ability to take ‘data’ and turn it into ‘information’. The ability to take cold data - customer records and asset data - and use that data to competitive advantage is determined by who has access to that information and how it is engaged into the operations of the utility. This is where a Digital Nervous System can generate value for the business.
The pace of change, intensification of competition and complexity of the systems of large utilities means that the management of information is paramount to the company being able to successfully deliver customer satisfaction at a reasonable cost. The utility can only perform as well as its systems which can only perform as well as their supporting IT infrastructure. The traditional IT infrastructure of the utility has been function-oriented, with the emphasis on automated structured tasks and routine procedures. This is no longer the key role for IT - information has to be made available across non-functional lines, delivering whatever type and format of information a diverse range of users desire.
Increasingly this information is focused upon delivering business value, rather than supporting specific tasks. A call centre operator may have to fulfil a sales role, marketing role, client query and work scheduling role all during one phone call. The blurring of individual roles and line procedures means that systems and infrastructures have to be universal, reliable, and designed to deliver information wherever and whenever it is needed.
To build this universal information management infrastructure in which every desktop PC, mid-range system, application and operating system forms an element of a controlled, universal IT environment there are a number of possible options. One possibility is to base the infrastructure of the utility on proprietary, closed systems, on which reside closed applications that must export in a standardised format to other users. The second possibility is that every application may make use of a universal data storage location, within which there is only one copy of the data required, and which determines the format of exported data. Both of these systems are feasible - though the utility is more likely to centralise some resources, whilst fragmenting others depending on need.
Microsoft has the vision, architecture and tools that enable the utility to create this universal business-value IT infrastructure, whichever route is selected. Through its overall vision - the Digital Nervous System, the supporting architecture – Windows DNA, and individual tools - from Windows NT to SQL Server 7.0 providing the utility’s core operating system and application requirements, Microsoft offers the utility a true universal computing environment which supports core systems and processes, enabling them to deliver true business value.
The Digital Nervous System
The Digital Nervous System is Microsoft’s vision for an enterprise wide information architecture that turns cold data into valuable business information, that empowers employees, and enables those complex IT systems supporting core business operations to deliver true business value.
The vision is of a utility which maintains an environment in which both centralised and devolved systems, using Windows NT or other operating systems, and using Microsoft applications (SQL, Exchange) or those of other organisations can be co-ordinated into a single information entity, that empowers staff and systems to deliver true business value to the organisation.
This represents a shift:
Automating task workers
Raising productivity of knowledge workers
Focus on cost management (as an exclusive goal)
Focus on value creation
Vertical and functional systems
Universal, intelligent infrastructure
Linear, sequential development and deployment
Interactive, rapid development
Monolithic, hand-coded systems
Systems using modular and objective parts, exploiting shared resources
In delivering functionality to these ever more complex procedures and processes the IT systems themselves have become extremely complex. Complex systems are difficult to change as and when the company wishes, even though utilities are undergoing rapid evolution in their industries and demand flexible, easily adaptable systems. As partners in developing the utility’s Digital Nervous System, Microsoft seeks to reduce complexity through simplifying systems, and embedding any complexity necessary to enable a system to carry out its functions within the intelligent infrastructure, therefore reducing the complexity facing the end user.
Microsoft’s vision is, therefore, that the Digital Nervous System provides the utility with a universal information infrastructure which:
· connects systems that use proprietary technology. This is crucial for the utility company which uses Windows NT, Unix, OS/400 etc.
· shift the emphasis to delivering business value - rather than supporting functional computing
· empower staff to deal with changing circumstances and deal with problems and opportunities more effectively
· integrate new and old systems, so that the utility can make use of new technologies without endangering their prior investments
· integrate the whole enterprise so that the organisation can adapt as a corporate whole, and not as a set of isolated business units and departments
Microsoft’s Windows DNA provides the technical means of achieving the DNS vision. It is crucial that the Digital Nervous System be translated into deliverables that present genuine business solutions to the utility. DNA, together with Microsoft’s applications and tools provides these deliverables.
The utility’s Digital Nervous System requires open communications at its foundation. This is achievable through Microsoft’s COM technology (Component Object Model). COM is a model that enables a utility’s applications to be constructed so that different tools can communicate with each other in a flexible manner. Object Oriented development applications lie at the heart of the model, where each service that a business process may require is treated as a distinct object that can be manipulated.
What is Windows DNA?
Microsoft Windows DNA is a strategic framework for applications in a distributed environment which unifies the information resources of the enterprise into a cohesive, single unit.
Rather than being a rigid set of data and executables forming an application process, the application becomes a set of services which can make use of common software components to carry out like functions. In this way the utility’s core business processes can be broken down into conceptual objects which can be mapped directly onto software equivalents, and multiple processes and applications can make use of the services which a universal software element provides.
This not only speeds up application development time, it also enables the utility to adapt to changing circumstances, such as those brought about by liberalisation and increasingly aggressive competition, more quickly than has previously been the case.
Windows DNA makes use of Microsoft’s COM technology, which distinguishes between data and business process rules, which enables the utility to make changes to business processes without endangering either database security or disrupting application usage throughout the organisation. Prior to the introduction of COM, IT business processes had to be completely translated into data constructs. When a business process is amended this will necessitate changing the application infrastructure and the code underlying it, and this will extend the amount of time needed to make any changes to business processes.
An example of an IT process would include ensuring that when a customer record is deleted, that all related customer files are deleted. A business process could be the offering of a particular energy tariff for certain classes of user. In traditional data processes a change in tariff would necessitate re-writing both the business process and the underlying data processes, whereas with COM-based modelling the business process can be changed without needing to disrupt the underlying IT process. This speeds up application development, but it also gives the utility more flexibility in changing business processes and prevents developers from having to make constant amendments to the core application which could endanger data integrity.
Microsoft’s vision for the utilities - the Digital Nervous System together with the universal architecture that brings it about – Windows DNA, represent the ‘glue’ that enables the utility to co-ordinate functions, and turn cold data into valuable business information which can enhance operational effectiveness, customer focus and cost control of the utility. Within this broad architecture are a set of products each of which adds a level of greater functionality to core aspects of the utility’s IT resources. Together with the assistance of Microsoft Certified Solution Providers, these products can help create a corporate Digital Nervous System that delivers true business value for the organisation. Microsoft’s products scale throughout the organisation, from Windows CE residing on hand-held terminals to SQL Server residing on Server clusters and serving the organisations data warehousing needs, all supported by a Windows NT environment.
Microsoft Scalable client/server platform
The products are:
Windows NT Server
SQL Server 7.0
Systems Management Server
OLE for Process Control
DMAC / ODM
Microsoft Windows NT Server
Windows NT Server equips the utility with a true distributed operating system that is scaleable, reliable and can reside on a range of platforms, thereby enabling the utility to introduce a common infrastructure across the company. The operating system supports powerful systems, yet is also installable on the desktop. Windows NT is therefore capable of replacing outright most of the middle- to low-tier platforms that are used by utilities to satisfy their distributed computing requirements.
The scalability of Windows NT also means that the utility does not have to acquire expensive licenses to use proprietary software.
It is also possible to integrate Windows NT and Windows applications so that the utility can scale as and when it chooses, not when a system upgrade dictates.
Windows NT also includes:
Microsoft Terminal Server
Windows NT Server Terminal Edition enables the non-Windows user within the utilities industries to gain the functionality of Windows based applications without having to upgrade their existing legacy infrastructures. MTS provides 32-bit Windows-based line of business applications to terminal users, enabling utilities to deploy business critical applications across their existing legacy systems, and throughout a varied desktop environment.
Microsoft Internet Information Server
Microsoft Internet Information Server is an Internet file and application server included with the Microsoft Windows NT Server operating system, which enables the utility to make full use of the range of customer and employee services which the Internet represents.
Microsoft Message Queue Server
Microsoft Message Queue Server 1.0 is an important new feature of Microsoft Windows NT that enables utilities to obtain loosely coupled and reliable network communications services based upon a message queuing model. Message Queue Server makes it easier for utilities to integrate applications, and crucially - build reliable applications that work over unreliable but cost effective networks.
Microsoft Exchange Server
For communications, Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 is a reliable, scaleable and secure messaging and collaboration system which integrates fully into the existing electronic communications infrastructure of the utility. Exchange delivers a messaging environment over which utilities can build their own powerful collaboration tools, and increase the degree of inter-group and inter-departmental communication. Exchange can be used to create applications for electronic mail, group work scheduling, workflow, task management, document routing and real time conferencing.
Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 is installable on Windows 98 and Macintosh operating systems, though it is optimised for use with Windows NT. In combination with this operating system Exchange can verify user identities and improve the overall security of the utility’s internal communications.
Microsoft SQL Server
Microsoft SQL Server is a common data management application that enables distributed client / server systems to access shared data warehouses. Its open architecture enables the utility to use SQL Server as an integration tool - enabling different applications residing in different parts of the organisation to gain access to data using a common query language. The language is suited to systems that have large numbers of end users that require simple to use interfaces in order to gain access to quite widely different output. This makes Microsoft SQL Server a database of choice for businesses that wish to integrate data in different formats from several unrelated inputs into a unified source of data, which then uses a retrieval system that enables different end users to access any information that is relevant to their requirements.
The data storage and retrieval environment is powerful enough to provide the utility with a coherent integrated data storage and retrieval infrastructure, one that enables the utility to finally migrate core systems such as asset management and customer databases to more flexible and easily upgradeable mid-range platforms, which are then made accessible to a large number of users on client platforms. Using SQL as the heart of the data warehousing environment the utility can interconnect individual systems that were previously islands of functional computing into a holistic IT infrastructure.
Microsoft SNA Server
Microsoft SNA Server 4.0 is a comprehensive gateway and application integration platform that provides utilities with the best method for integrating their Internet, Intranet, and client/server technologies whilst enabling them to maintain their existing investments in mainframe and mid-range technologies. Traditionally the utility would have to employ terminal emulation to provide access to mainframe and AS/400 resources. Microsoft SNA Server 3.0 enabled utilities to integrate applications residing on different platforms - SNA Server 4.0 takes this functionality a step further by enabling utilities to integrate VSAM and AS/400 data and CICS or IMS transactions from host environments directly with Windows-based applications. This enables the utility to build powerful solutions ranging from distributed transaction processing to web-to-host integration - vital in an era of electronic billing.
Microsoft Systems Management Server
Systems Management Server is a key component in Microsoft’s Zero Administration initiative for the Windows operating system. It enables the utilities to manage hardware and software inventories, software distribution, installation and remote diagnostics. All of which is vital in an environment where shared resources are the key to competitive decision making and operational support. Microsoft SMS enables the utility to reduce the overhead cost for system administration whilst enabling it to increase the effectiveness of the IT resources it deploys.
Microsoft Proxy Server
Microsoft Proxy Server 2.0 is an extensible firewall and Web cache server that provides Internet security and firewall functionality to the utility whilst providing an improved network response time and system efficiency. This product enables the utility to obtain the functionality of the web cache and security categories within one product, thereby reducing the total purchase cost of that functionality.
Microsoft Site Server
Microsoft Site Server 3.0 is a powerful Intranet server, optimised for Windows NT Server, with Microsoft Internet Information Server, for publishing and finding information quickly and simply. This tool provides the utility with a range of functionalities relating to Internet publishing which are crucial for those utilities that see the Internet as a means to enhance the relationship between themselves and their employees, and improve internal communication and teamworking. Site Server 3.0 provides utilities with a comprehensive offering that enables them to build powerful and cost effective Web solutions for publishing and delivering relevant information.
OLE for Process Control
OLE PC is a standardised procedure which gives Windows based applications access to process and production data. It allows devices and applications from different vendors to be combined - crucial in the multi-vendor / multi-system environment of the utility. The basic principle of OPC is that OPC client applications communicate with an OPC server via a standardised, open and vendor independent interface. Many vendors have created OPC-compliant products - Siemens Automation serves as a good example. OPC servers allow users to address programmable controllers, query statuses, configure variables and trace outputs. OPC can also be used within test conditions by separating the OPC from the necessary hardware components. More information can be obtained from : http://www.opcfoundation.org/
OLE DB is a specification for a universal data access application programming interface (API), which enables any proprietary application to publish data through an OLE DB driver. OLE DB technology provides a common way to access and manipulate data from different proprietary data stores. This enables integration of data from multiple utility data sources, including accounting, asset management, customer records and personnel work scheduling.
ODM / DMAC
OLE for Design and Modelling (ODM) enables utilities to share data between different 3D design systems, thereby enabling engineering and GIS systems to share details on infrastructure, or enabling asset management systems to share resources with field operations. This reduces the time spent translating 3D resources into formats that can be used either by other departments, or by applications that were developed to different initial design specifications.
ODM is being designed by the Design and Modelling Applications Council (DMAC), which is an informal organisation dedicated to finding solutions to problems facing 3D developers and implementers. More information can be obtained from : http://www.dmac.org/
The utilities have entered a new era in which information technology is no longer just a support mechanism for operations and basic management control functions. IT is now at the heart of the utility’s core business, supporting its drive for greater cost control and customer care, and forming a core element of competitive strategy.
Many IT infrastructures currently employed by utilities are inadequate for the role that they must play in supporting 21st century fully integrated businesses. Legacy systems hold back the rate of systems evolution and reduce the potential for systems integration and applications development. Separation of data resources along functional lines reduces the value of the information held, by making it a functional resource, rather than one which can be employed by the whole organisation.
An integrated information infrastructure - a Digital Nervous System - enables the utility to generate greater business value from information resources that are already held, and reduce time spent on system administration, reduce cost of ownership and improve internal and customer communications.
Each of the technologies described above represent the breadth of Microsoft’s product portfolio to the utilities industry. Microsoft’s vision is that these resources be used together to enable the utility to achieve this integrated Digital Nervous System. They enable disparate and complex applications residing on proprietary systems, supplied by different vendors at different points of time, to be integrated into a universal IT infrastructure that delivers true business value.
The Digital Nervous System – universal connectivity through Microsoft technologies
Microsoft’s Digital Nervous System, Windows DNA and the tools which enable the utility to achieve full integration of its resources are fully supported by all of Microsoft’s Certified Solutions Providers. Microsoft’s Solutions Providers include application developers, consultants and systems integrators, all able to provide solutions that employ Microsoft technologies to deliver business value to the utilities industry.
Each Solution Provider is accredited by Microsoft to have reached the highest degrees of business and technical competence, and can discuss with the utility the full range of Microsoft products, and how they can help your business grow and prosper.
The ‘Designed for BackOffice’ logo was developed so that resellers could identify which hardware and software had been created specifically to take advantage of key Microsoft technologies. Products which display this logo are approved by Microsoft through a series of tests at Microsoft’s headquarters, to ensure that they comply with the highest standards of performance and integration with the BackOffice platform.
For further details see www.microsoft.com/backoffice/design
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