Cloud nine - Haven's experience of cloud computing
Haven Power is taking advantage of the lower costs and increased flexibility of cloud computing, as Paul Armstrong explains.
Cloud computing is a concept that many in the utility sector will not yet have experienced first hand. Cloud services were developed as a way to offer companies computing resources on a pay-as-you-go basis. It provides alternatives to onsite hardware because companies can get the computing resources they need on demand over the internet. This allows them to turn on computing power when they need it and turn it off when they don't, optimising the cost model based on demand. Nor do they have to spend time on maintaining computer hardware. They can focus their resources on serving their customers and using technology to help their companies grow.
Haven Power is one of the first energy companies to make use of the cloud. The company was started in 2006 and now has more than 350 staff and revenues of more than £125 million. In those five years, with such a rapid level of growth, Haven's hardware was struggling to keep up with demand. Its systems were not as flexible as it would have liked, it had limited support for technology testing and development and had not implemented a complete business continuity and disaster recovery plan. It had invested in technology on a reactive basis as a result of business change rather than to drive growth. The company was hiring more staff in order to hit targets rather than investing in technology and systems, but a programme of work was undertaken to build systems to support the growth and change.
To complement this investment in technology, Haven moved its disaster recovery and technology development and testing to Amazon Web Services. This means it has a replica of its technology infrastructure and services ready to go at a moment's notice should something happen. By having it in the cloud, Haven does not have to build a separate data centre for disaster recovery. In terms of development and testing, it only pays for the resources it uses, meaning it saves money and can get computing power on demand, rather than waiting days or weeks to get new hardware. This also ensures it can be flexible and agile in responding to the ever changing needs of the business and its customers.
Moreover, Haven's IT department is freed up to improve the service it offers to the wider business. Haven earned the number one position in Datamonitor's B2B Energy Consumer Survey for 2010/11, which looks at customer satisfaction across key areas relating to electricity procurement and account management.
In a marketplace still dominated by a handful of companies, such a demonstration of success and commitment to finding effective business systems can only spell good news for business customers, for whom increased competition is needed.
Paul Armstrong is business systems manager at Haven Power - part of the Drax Group.
Cold call: cloud telephony to cope with extreme weather events
As a customer, there is nothing worse than feeling isolated or ignored. Yet when heavy snow hit Northern Ireland in December 2010, this was exactly how the community felt as a result of Northern Ireland Water's failures. Widespread pipe bursts left thousands of homes struggling without the most basic of amenities during the Christmas period, pushing the population, particularly the elderly and infirm, to the brink of a serious health risk.
For a utility, burying its head in the sand about extreme weather or natural disaster is a risky strategy. Cast your mind back to the nationwide floods in June and July 2007, the devastating floods in Cumbria in November 2009, or the volcanic ash cloud chaos in 2010 and you'll quickly realise that emergency situations are much more regular than you might think. In February 2009, the Federation of Small Businesses estimated that 20 per cent of employees could not make it into work because of heavy snowfall, and in January 2010 a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce reported that the hazardous weather had caused problems for 74 per cent of businesses.
In Northern Ireland Water's case, better telephone communication could have mitigated anger in the community and reduced the bad press. More personal than email, an open phone line is the most effective way of providing reassurance, maintaining customer relationships, and conveying a presence. But with limited staff and a dramatic increase in calls, how could this call centre presence have been achieved? Cloud-based telephony can be accessed from anywhere over the internet and can flex up and down on demand. Users can access their own platform from any web browser, re-route calls, manage settings and ensure their business is fully operational, regardless of where staff are working from.
For this reason, cloud technology can really come into its own in a crisis - for example, when workers might have to work from home because of weather-induced travel chaos. With cloud-based telephony it is possible to set up agents from any location as long as there is a phone, PC and an internet connection. This enables disaster recovery plans to be implemented at short notice, to maintain service levels and keep businesses running during adverse conditions.
There is no excuse for a utility not to have a fully deployable disaster recovery plan in place, particularly when the health of the public is in danger, and access to timely information is key. Protecting the telephony system is not a nicety, it's a necessity.
Jonathan Gale is chief executive of New Voice Media
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