The City of Calgary’s energy utility says a project to prepare its IT systems for deregulation four years ago will more than prepare it for any changes the province’s market operator makes to the way data is handled.
the wholly-owned Calgary subsidiary which handles the city’s electricity and natural gas needs, is among many utilities awaiting a decision this week from the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) about how to improve the integrity of information processed between various industry players.
“”They’re now looking at implementing a hub concept similar to the one that Ontario is using, whereby every transaction is transmitted electronically to the hub, and the hub essentially conducts a continuous and ongoing audit,”” said Peter Graham, Enmax’s wholesale services team lead – business integration. “”Once they’re satisfied that the transaction is indeed valid, they will pass it forward. So they act almost as a mail server.””
AESO has been struggling with the potential cost of such a system, Graham said, but Enmax already addressed the security and accuracy of its data when the industry faced deregulation in 2000. That’s when the firm began enabling online data transfer over a secure FTP server, a project that was outsourced to Toronto-based Soltrus Inc.
“”If you get a new retailer, the retailer has to notify the wires company that they have a customer at a site,”” he said. “”We wanted to go SSL, and one of the other wires companies wanted to go with the old-fashioned EDI, and that was because they already had an account. I don’t know if they wanted us to share the pain, but boy, the price was just stratospheric.””
At the time, Enmax was actually dealing with CIBC, which launched Soltrus as a joint venture with Telus two years later. Soltrus has put Enmax on a digital certificate authentication system based on VeriSign technology. This helps deal with a common pain point among enterprise firms, according to Soltrus vice-president Anthony Santilli.
“”When they’re looking to address some of those constraints — the auditability, being able to track whose gotten access to what information — our solution is appropriate for that,”” he said. “”They can prove, or at least shown due diligence in making sure that only the appropriate people have access. User name and passwords just don’t cut it anymore.””
The short timeline for the project put a lot of pressure on Enmax, Graham said.
“”It was awful,”” he said. “”We had 15 months to develop and deploy seven major online apps that had to be capable of handling large volumes securely,”” he said. “”The audit requirements, because we are a regulated industry, are pretty stringent . . . I feel as if I’ve been almost under a continuous audit since the day we went live.””
Although the AESO plan would simply mean a slight change in the way Enmax routes transactional information, it may shake up the rest of the industry, Graham added. Many firms are still working with legacy mainframe applications, with two only supporting batch transactions.
“”It is such a horrendously complicated industry. I’ve always had my doubts as to whether we could really make this work,”” he said. “”Alberta’s just about at the point now where we have an open and functional electrical industry.””
Enmax got an early start in its preparations for deregulation when it developed a customer information system based on technology from Toronto-based Enlogix CIS.