The story of Warner Bros. Wyle E. Coyote is a cautionary tale. A self-proclaimed genius, Wyle E. sourced his equipment exclusively from the fictional Acme conglomerate; resulting in spectacular failure, again and again. The undoubtedly enormous expense and repeated injury, typically (and sometimes literally) crushed him by the end of the episode. Meanwhile, the nimble Roadrunner continued to accelerate forward without consequence. Perhaps the manufacturer of quality anvils does not necessarily produce the best catapults or flying bat-suits.
The API Economy for Utilities
Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) provide a set of procedures that access either features, data, or libraries of a software system. API’s can be leveraged within a software solution; or to integrate multiple applications. Generally, API’s are leveraged across software solutions that require common data or functionality, to avoid redundancy. As an example, a utility may use API’s to integrate their Customer Information System (CIS) with a customer engagement platform and field service / workforce management solutions, as they share common data, including but not limited to:
- Customer information
- Premise information
- Consumption History
- Billing History
- Payment History
- Outstanding Balance
- Service Call Request / Status
API’s provide a library of efficient and high performing services that can easily be packaged and re-purposed to support other points of integration and are superior to traditional approaches such as heavily customized integrations using custom code, flat files / XML.
Best of Breed vs. One-Stop-Shop
The emergence of API’s, supporting streamlined integration among otherwise disparate software solutions, have changed the dynamics of software choices for energy and water utilities. API’s allow “Best of Breed” systems to be implemented and well-integrated, undermining the “One Stop Shop” approach that previously pervaded software selection criteria. Best of Breed delivers a more flexible, scalable, cost effective and high performing portfolio of applications within a utility’s enterprise software portfolio.
API’s are not new to solution integration in the utilities industry, but standardization among the API economy is ever expanding. Desiring a single vendor to satisfy needs across a utilities multiple organizations and business functions is no longer necessary and often is not compelling. API’s facilitate sharing of common data and accessing relevant functional capabilities, which allows for a utility to choose the options that are best suited to the needs of each business unit and requirement in the organization
The utility industry is evolving quickly in the advent of utility digitalization and evolving technology such as, AMI, MDMS, DER, smart grid, interval data, ToD, conservation, customer engagement and self-service, Artificial Intelligence and IoT, to name a few. All require innovative and complex technologies that must leverage deep domainknowledge. It would be imprudent not to evaluate each service based on the merits of the application and fit for purpose.
Extended Value of API’s
API’s facilitate easier transition to alternative solutions and upgrades, as cumbersome flat files and customized integrations are minimized. As a result, the platform provides scalability and lowers the barriers to introduce new technologies and solutions and thus adapt over time to avoid obsolescence. If a software provider fails to meet expectations, a component can be replaced without disrupting the entire enterprise software environment. API’s, as a component of a base solution, simplify and accelerate software implementations and subsequent upgrades.
In addition, API’s Facilitate partnerships and coordination among Best of Breed software providers. These relationships provide potential to lower costs, drive innovation, improve performance and provide an enhanced user experience by enabling automation and reducing cumbersome and time-consuming manual tasks. Motivated partners also reduce development costs, sharing the effort of API alignment and validation.
Perhaps a one-stop-shop to do all or have redundant modules, might not be the best solution for evolving utilities like with Wyle E. Coyote in the tale above. The API economy will continue to expand, as new digital products and services are required to address both disruptive and enabling technology; manage infrastructure; assure system integrity; and satisfy customer self-service expectations through multi-channel platforms. Modernized integrations are paramount to assuring harmony among a portfolio of purpose-focused, Best of Breed applications, allowing utilities to take their big data to the next level.
Matt McNeill is Director Product Management and looks after our market leading customer care and billing solution for US utilities, and municipalities.