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MainPower and its 170 staff have big ambitions for a bright future. The electricity distribution company already connects over 41,000 customers to the national grid via 5,121 kilometres of overhead lines and underground cables in the North Canterbury region of New Zealand. Yet, while an essential service, it's one being transformed as network management becomes increasingly data-driven.
Thousands of cables and poles are drawn on to deliver additional digital services for communities, businesses, and regional councils. But MainPower found its IT systems just didn't have enough energy to cope with modern requirements.
Like a lot of businesses, MainPower’s tech stack had grown in an ad hoc fashion over the decades. There was no common framework for integrating applications and, crucially, no single source of truth for the company’s data. Customers were telling MainPower about faults in its network before its own monitoring systems.
“What we were missing," says Geoff Gale, general manager network operations at MainPower, "was an integration layer; a managed and monitored way for us to join our application stack together and manage the data flow.
With MainPower and the electricity industry set to undergo significant change in the next few years, the company’s IT systems needed an overhaul. MainPower drew on its existing relationship with an IT partner it knew was reliable – Datacom.
Over the course of three months, MainPower reviewed its processes and architecture mapping, and how it identified solutions to pressing problems.
“It was a surprise to most of us in the team, just how many different applications we had,” says Geoff.
The core components were easy to identify – applications for enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM), as well as the obligatory Microsoft Office-based productivity applications.
“But all of a sudden, we realised there were another 10 databases or cloud-based apps, and they were all doing their own little thing.”
It revealed the extent of MainPower’s physical IT architecture.
“It was an eye-opener. We didn't want an exhaustive list of vendors and applications to reimagine the company’s systems. We wanted to draw on Datacom’s knowledge and experience of what was working in the marketplace."
The solution was built around the Dell Boomi integration platform, which handles application programming interfaces (APIs) and master data management, as well as preparing data to feed a diverse range of applications. It meant traffic could go back and forth at the same time.
Crucially, it was cost-effective from the start, while giving MainPower options to grow quickly and deploy any sort of application to use new or existing data. Upon completion, the benefits of the work were quickly apparent.
“I don't have the same issues with integrations falling over in the middle of the night and nobody knowing about it,” says Geoff.
"We know straight away when there is a failure, and the right people are managing and monitoring those applications now based on the messaging that's coming through from the integration platform.”
A few months later, another key benefit of the new system came to light.
"We wanted to introduce an important new application to provide better control of its electricity distribution network.
“A lot of the project time and effort that would have been spent building all these separate integrations between the applications was saved. Most of the connectors were already there because we were running all of our key applications through Boomi.”
Applications are running much quicker now, with some jobs now automated and scheduled in just four hours.
I don't have the same issues with integrations falling over in the middle of the night and nobody knowing about it. We know straight away when there is a failure, and the right people are managing and monitoring those applications now based on the messaging that's coming through from the integration platform.
MainPower is now working with Datacom to develop its CRM system – applying the lessons of the Dell Boomi integration project to another platform integral to the electricity distributor’s future growth.
“Our goal is to move away from being an IT team which sits in one corner of the building that people come and see, to one that goes out into the business to find out how we can help improve it,” says Geoff.
“With the changes in place and the support of Datacom, we have the ability and opportunity to have a brighter future.”