Delaware Electric is a really solid small to medium sized business (SMB) SOA reference. It is one of IBM’s.
CFO Gary Cripps came to the recent IBM SOA analyst update to talk to us about his electric cooperative’s use of IBM software, notably WebSphere Process Server. He seemed as surprised as anyone a smaller business was at the event to pitch a story about IBM enterprise software…
Delaware Electric was founded in 1936, it has 140 employees, 65k members, and 75k meters.
SMB… QED. Not your average IBM reference.
Gary wrapped the industry analyst audience, from cynic to shill, around his little finger, with direct speech and no litttle humour. My job is simple, he joked, "I keep the lights on." Gary came to give us a taste of life in the business, but, he added, when it comes to electricity, "I strongly suggest you don’t touch it".
Gary put forward one of the clearest explanations of how SOA could help a business that I have heard.
Electricity is the very definition of a shared service, isn’t it? There is nothing more commodity than electricity – therefore the advantage has to be in information about the electricity…[its the metadata that counts].
Delaware Electric needed to be in a situation where they could advise customers how to reduce their bills. How else do you compete against bigger rivals, that may benefit from economies of scale for spot pricing? If customers are running batch jobs, running heavy machinery at peak time, Gary can help them reduce their total cost of energy. WPS, in this case, enables the flexibility that turns a billing engine into an information service provider within a SOA.
Gary explained that in the past his organisation was at the mercy of the billing engine, and the associated application provider. Not any more.
"Webpshere Process Server puts me in charge, so other vendors can’t tell me how to run my enterprise… No proprietary apps."
Kind of sounds like "Read My Lips", doesn’t it? Listen out packaged application vendors – that’s a voice from the mid-market. In this case its IBM Software that is helping the customer to keep others honest, but SOA should enable similar benefits whatever the specific technology deployed. One final point to note: Delaware Electric is not the kind of organisation that can afford to throw money at IBM consultants to get things working. Did IBM cut the firm a break during the installation? Probably. But Gary Cripps doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would let himself get railroaded down the line of contract… in services or software.
The key argument about being in control of process change, rather than at the mercy of a third party, put me in mind of a similar customer perspective, from Ben Moreland, manager of application infrastructure delivery for insurance and financial services group The Hartford, who said:
"One of the comments we make to vendors in this SOA world is, ‘the easier it is to replace you, the more we like you’. We want to have a lot of flexibility to pull in a new vendor without having a major 18-month application rework."
(thanks Anne Bednarz and John Fontana. at Network Work for the quote.)
We must start making the SOA case in business terms. After all, customers are… Let’s try and narrow the language gap.
Disclaimers: IBM is a subscription client. IBM paid travel and expenses for the visit to trip, but I got stuck in New York til 2am.