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Why Utilities Need to Work with Next Generation iPaaS Solutions

image credit: Greenbird Integration Technology
Frederik ten Sythoff's picture
VP Marketing Communications Greenbird Integration Technology

Utilities worldwide are starting to recognise the need to become a platformed utility that can innovate rapidly and offer new services quickly. At Greenbird, I can fulfil my ambition to help...

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  • Aug 19, 2020
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The premise of iPaaS (integration platform as a service) is simple:

Pay a monthly fee to vendors and they’ll handle the complex integration tasks behind the scenes. They’ll sync on-premises applications and data to the cloud, manage APIs, and ensure business tools can interact with each other without issues.

However, traditional iPaaS is not as effective as it could be. Many organizations still end up with poorly-designed APIs and suboptimal data flows. This often requires manual intervention to fix things, which defeats the purpose of paying someone else to do the work in the first place.

 

The role of iPaaS in enterprise tech architectures (Image Source)

 

This is a concern for companies in the energy industry. OT/IT integration, grid edge technologies, new energy models—none of this is possible without well-built integrations. Utilities need a better iPaaS solution to thrive in the future.

The Problems with Traditional iPaaS

1. Cost

iPaaS solutions come with astronomical setup costs. Utilities need to pay developers to modify their codebase for the platform. There’s a hefty price for onboarding and training. They might even pay extra for ‘add-ons’ like licensing and vendor support plans.

Utilities spend hundreds of thousands just to get started with iPaaS—that is, assuming they have skilled personnel in place. The costs are much higher if they have to outsource their API development. This is simply not feasible today when margins are so tight.

2. Complexity

Traditional iPaaS solutions don’t actually connect applications in an organized central hub. Instead, tools are linked from point-to-point, with each application having its own behaviors. This works for a handful of services, but not so much for enterprise technology stacks.

The complexity of traditional iPaaS networks scales with the number of applications a utility operates. Think of it as a line of dominoes. There’s no way to access a domino in the middle of the pack without toppling over everything. The same logic applies to utilities using old school iPaaS solutions.

When a change is made, every application has to change in response, leading to a rigid and highly-coupled environment. This hinders innovation as utilities need to assess the entire system before making any changes. Security becomes an issue as well, as a bug can take down every other component in the environment.

3. Project Duration

iPaaS projects take too long to complete. Developers need to build integrations from scratch and go through endless test cycles to make sure everything works as expected.

Long project timelines are expensive and they impact agility. Rapid software delivery is essential for innovation. Utilities cannot deliver innovative solutions if they’re spending most of their time on low-value integration work. They are severely handicapped if they are unable to capitalize on this by speeding up their integrations.

The Next Generation iPaaS: Why Is It the Future?

iPaaS solutions need to change to address these challenges—and it’s already happening. More and more utilities are moving to modern iPaaS vendors to enjoy better software integration results. This shift is happening so fast that Gartner expects two-thirds of traditional iPaaS vendors to go out of business by 2023.

Next-generation iPaaS providers tick all the boxes when it comes to integrating applications. A clear benefit is the availability of domain specific and pre-built integration content such as connectivity, data flows or APIs in modern iPaaS solutions. This lets utilities skip the laborious task of building orchestrations or APIs and writing integration code by hand.

Let’s dive deeper into why next-generation iPaaS solutions are the best choice for utilities.

1. Speed

Integration times are a lot faster in modern iPaaS platforms. Utilizing pre-built integration components, utilities only spend a few days at most connecting their applications. This improves agility as utilities can roll out changes and not worry about whether other IT components are flexible enough to catch up. Rapid innovation becomes a normal capability rather than a luxury.

2. Cost

Utilities don’t need to pay additional wages or outsource development to leverage next-gen iPaaS solutions. This leaves more money for high-value objectives to grow the organization in tandem with next-gen iPaaS deployments. Faster integrations also lead to lower expenses in the long run due to shrinking project costs.

3. Ease of Integration

Next-gen iPaaS vendors offer low-code configuration features to customize integrations. Utilities can import their applications’ interfaces and data to the platform and integrate them right away without requiring extensive technical expertise.

When a new piece of software is onboarded, utilities can simply add it to the integration hub and use its data. It’s just as simple to safely remove an application from the system as well. This eliminates the usual obstacles related to enterprise integrations, which boosts innovation and flexibility in utilities.

Next-Generation iPaaS Vendors for Utilities

Next-gen iPaaS providers eliminate the challenges of centralized integrations. However, they are not the best option for utilities. Instead, utilities need to work with domain-specific iPaaS vendors that understand the ins and outs of the energy industry.

So what should you look for?

Next-gen iPaaS providers that specialize in the energy sector offer out-of-the-box integrations to seamlessly link the various technologies used in utilities, including smart meters or IoT devices, DERMS, ERP systems, grid operations and energy management systems. Utilities should not have to wait months or years to complete their integrations. Plug and play model should be the way allowing data-driven innovation in just days or week, reducing risk and taking integrations out of the critical path for utilities.

Event Driven Architecture (EDA) is emerging as the dominating pattern for effective IoT or Big Data applications at utilities as it out-performs traditional process-centric integration architecture. EDA enables highly scalable, effective and resilient integration applications. Modern iPaaS  platforms embraces the concept of an Event Driven Architecture (EDA) per design making them high available and resilient systems for mission critical big data integration applications.

Data Mesh or Distributed Data Lake Architecture. The vast amount of metering or IoT data, the growing recognition of data as valuable assets, and the emerging energy data economy, leads utilities to invest in data lake implementations with the hope of democratizing data at scale to provide insights and make automated intelligent decisions. As a monolithic or centralized data lake architecture comes along with several short comings regarding stability, scalability, performance, development costs and operational efforts, utilities have discovered the concept of a distribute data lake or data mesh. Next-Gen iPaaS should encourage a distributed data lake architecture and through modern data APIs, provide a data virtualization layer creating unified access independently from the underlaying nodes (or lakes) in the data mesh.

Unified Information Model. Modern iPaaS solutions incorporate an Unified or Common Information Model (UUIM,  CIM) or IEC 61968-9 for high performance, high message throughput and effective data storage and retrieval. It should also provide various transformations and mappings to other commonly used data formats or information models such as Multispeak or DLMS Cosem.

Technology Stack. Look for a modern iPaaS built on open and cloud native technologies. Utilities benefit typically from using the open, accessible and lightweight components including:

  • Resource effective solution components simplifying operations and reducing infrastructure complexity;
  • Support for various deployment scenarios (on premise, private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud);
  • Continuous and incremental platform and technology innovation;
  • Community with huge knowledge base;
  • Easy access to expert competency and development capacity through the community;
  • Minimal dependencies on third-party commercial components;
  • Minimal vendor lock in

Next-gen iPaaS improves agility and flexibility in utilities to help them succeed in tomorrow’s energy landscape. We believe technology should provide organizations and its clients the best experience possible. That begins by turning iPaaS from a burden into a major business advantage.

Frederik ten Sythoff's picture
Thank Frederik for the Post!
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