Better workflow, less coding

An assessment of workforce management practices by Toronto-based electricity distributor Hydro One Networks Inc. resulted in a new series of software that had to be integrated but with minimal coding by developers.

Hydro One purchased applications to better manage aspects of workflow like customer service, work order and asset management, which taken together, optimize scheduling, reduces timekeeping errors, and provides timely and accurate information on the status of field work.

The infrastructure overhaul was partially driven by new regulations necessitating utilities to separate their generation, transmission/distribution and retail business units. “We needed to update our workforce-management and work-scheduling practices so we could improve the utilization of our field workers and designers,” explains J.J. Blais, project director at Hydro One.

But a new integration architecture was required to ensure that data flowed among the new applications as well as with legacy systems. It was decided that an integration hub would be built using services-oriented architecture (SOA) so that developers would be shielded from technical complexities like coding, said Blais.

It would have been prohibitive, noted Blair, to create multiple interfaces between the applications.

To resolve this challenge, Hydro One used Information Builders’ iWay Service Manager, an enterprise service bus enabling organizations to create, compose and manage services – whether through a Web interface or some other. The company also used the Universal Adapter Suite to connect systems like applications and databases.

The technology created a layer that allowed the new applications to work in a single infrastructure, and “basically shielded developers to having to write that complex code,” said Kevin Quinn, vice-president of sales support services with New York-based Information Builders.

And the custom adapters “simplified the APIs among our planning, dispatching, and timesheet systems,” said Blair.

“There was significant drop off,” according to Quinn, in the degree of coding required by developers during the integration.

While the goal was to automate the work execution process, Hydro One also wanted to create a “clean abstraction layer” between IT and the business in order to reuse and simplify development, said Blair. The result was the iHub, a general purpose messaging layer to manage interactions among back-end systems and business processes.

Enterprise-sized business like Hydro One are not the sole beneficiaries of the technology, said Quinn. There is a lot of appeal to small-to-medium sized businesses as well, which seldom have the IT infrastructure to simplify integration and accelerate projects.

And, providing users with the option of a Web-based interface through which to manage different services across the architecture works well given the familiarity of the browser, said Quinn. “People live on browsers when they’re at home. In a sense, it’s a home appliance. To come into your office and go into an office portal is a comfortable thing for people,” he said.

The work execution process automates between 10,000 and 12,000 steps daily, for instance, updating crew schedules, obtaining approved work designs, and getting details on service requests.

Moving forward, Hydro One can further build on the versatile integration platform by quickly accommodating new systems and interfaces, said Blair. For instance, developers are in the process of migrating Passport ERP, one of the work management applications, with SAP.

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