An API-led approach to energy and utilities digital transformation

January 27 2020

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In light of the digital transformation imperative, IT has taken center stage as a key enabling function supporting the survival and growth of the modern energy and utilities provider. New technologies and tools support anytime, anywhere access of data, real-time processing, and increasingly rich analytics functionality. As executives and line-of-business owners increase the pressure on IT teams to deliver these new capabilities to support strategic business objectives, demands on IT have exceeded IT delivery capacity. 

Integration consistently proves to be the most critical bottleneck to delivering an increasing number of IT projects as the number of technologies required to support the digital experiences and functionality needed to remain competitive continues to grow. The challenges of integrating stakeholder data, supply chain information, and contractor records can drastically bog down IT from focusing on more important initiatives. 

Digitally transforming energy and utilities with APIs

Energy and utilities companies have typically followed a point-to-point approach or service-oriented architecture (SOA) approach to integration. Point-to-point approaches appear attractive for quick delivery of a single given project or when there are a limited number of endpoints and a slower pace of change. However, this approach is increasingly untenable when used for field enablement or customer experience, which must manage an explosion of endpoints and increasing demands from internal stakeholders for location, customer, or infrastructure data access. Designing with the consumption of data as the primary objective, APIs are the instruments that provide both a consumable and controlled means of accessing connectivity. 

Three-layered reference architecture for API-led connectivity

Large enterprises have complex interwoven connectivity needs that require multiple API building blocks. In this context, putting in a framework for ordering and structuring these building blocks is crucial. Agility and flexibility can only come from a multi-tier architecture containing three distinct layers. 

  • System Layer: Underlying all IT architectures are core systems of record (such as ERP, CRM, EMS, SCADA). Often, these systems are not easily accessible due to a lack of connectivity between systems. System APIs provide a means of accessing underlying systems of record and exposing that data, often in a canonical format, while providing downstream insulation from any interface changes or rationalization of those systems.
  • Process Later: The underlying business processes that interact with and shape this data should be strictly encapsulated independent of the source systems from which that data originates, as well as the target channels through which that data is to be delivered. For example, in the employee enablement process, there is some logic such as resource inventory and reporting data that is common across all issues, geographies, and channels that can and should be distilled into a single service that can then be called by issue/geography/channel-specific parent services. Process APIs perform specific functions and provide access to non-central data.
  • Experience Layer: Data is now consumed across a broad set of channels, each of which requires access to the same data but in a variety of different forms. For example, a customer service representative, a web portal, and a mobile application may all need to access the same customer information fields, but be presented in different formats. Experience APIs are the means by which data can be reconfigured so that it is most easily consumed by its intended audience, all from a shared data source, rather than setting up separate point-to-point integrations for each channel.

The three-tiered reference architecture of system, process, and experience layers APIs maintains critical governance while enabling a bottom-up, agile IT infrastructure to meet the speed and innovation demands of both energy and utilities customers and employees.

Six benefits of API-led connectivity

  • IT as a platform for innovation: By exposing data assets as a service to a broader audience, IT can be a platform that allows lines of business to self-serve and accelerate innovation. To learn more, see the case study on BP.
  • Increased developer productivity: Realizing an API-led connectivity approach is consistent with a service oriented approach, whereby logic is distilled to its constituent parts and reused across different applications. This approach prevents duplication of efforts and allows developers to build on each other’s efforts.
  • Predictable and controllable change: By ensuring modularization of integration logic and by providing a logical separation between modules, IT leaders can better estimate, plan, and ensure the delivery of changes to the code with minimal testing and downstream impact.
  • Distributed and tailored approach: An API-led connectivity approach recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all architecture. This helps address connectivity in small pieces and exposes capability through APIs or microservices.
  • Greater agility through loose coupling of systems: Within an organization’s IT architecture, there are different levels of governance that are appropriate. The so-called bimodal IT or two-speed IT approach makes this dichotomy explicit. API-led connectivity supports the ability to carefully manage and gate changes to the core systems of records, while retaining the flexibility to iterate quickly for user-facing edge systems, such as web and mobile applications.
  • Deeper operational visibility: Approaching connectivity holistically allows greater operational insight that goes beyond whether an API or a particular interface is working or not. It provides end-to-end insight from the receipt of an initial API request call to the fulfillment of that request, based on an underlying database query. At each step, a fine grained analysis is possible that cannot be easily realized when considering connectivity in a piecemeal fashion.

MuleSoft: The API-led connectivity platform for energy and utilities

Energy and utilities industries are in the early stages of digital transformation, providing a massive opportunity for leadership to enable IT to reimagine and reengineer traditional business models. In an increasingly volatile and competitive market, effective digital transformation will be a key competitive differentiator between companies that thrive and companies that falter.

Integration is the anchor powering the type of digital transformation required to succeed. By enabling organizations to enhance the customer experience, empower employees, and build out new services and products, MuleSoft will be the key to surviving and thriving within an industry fraught with market volatility, environmental pressures, and disruptive technologies. 

To learn how MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform gives energy and utilities providers a decisive competitive advantage in today’s and tomorrow’s market, download our whitepaper, How APIs power digital transformation for energy and utilities



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