BlueStar Energy uses stepwise SOA to reinvent its IT

2009 InfoWorld CTO 25 Awards: Tom Keen

2009 InfoWorld CTO 25 Awards

Tom Keen

BlueStar Energy Services

The success of an enterprise-wide SOA initiative depends on many things, and most of them rest at the feet of the CTO. First and foremost, there needs to be a meeting of minds between business executives and IT officers, business needs to understand what the technology can do, and IT needs to understand what the technology must do. After that, you worry about project execution and showing business results. And all along the way, you worry about the costs, skills, and discipline necessary to build the system, as well as to maintain it after it's built.

BlueStar Energy Services CTO Tom Keen invested in a service-oriented architecture because it was the right way to streamline the electricity retailer's core business processes: enrolling and provisioning customers, customer care and billing, and energy purchases. For BlueStar, millions of dollars in revenue hinge on timely access to information and the ability to act quickly on that information. Keen helped business leadership recognize that a homegrown SOA -- by tying together the necessary legacy systems, workflows, and vendors and trading partners -- could manage this flow of information better than the industry's packaged applications ever could.

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Instead of trying to define the architecture for the entire company all at once, Keen and his technology team smartly set about partitioning the business in narrowly defined domains, building out the features iteratively, and showing early value and success. Naturally, there were challenges. Time, budget, and resources were limited. They would have to make extensive use of open source technologies within the architecture, and Keen felt it was critical to establish enterprise architecture and software engineering best practices. But the project team had limited experience with software methodologies or the technologies they would be using.

Keen felt the future of the business depended on the developers being versed in engineering disciplines: software engineering lifecycle, domain-driven design, model-driven development, continuous integration, CMMI, ITIL, COBIT, and so on. "Our largest intellectual property or largest intellectual asset is our systems," he points out. The company needed to invest in these skills, but Keen held little hope that he could find such expertise "out there walking the street." The answer was to build an offshore development training center in Lima, Peru, and establish a fast-track, six-week training program. Today, the majority of the company's developers -- upward of 50 -- are located in Peru. Keen and a small staff in North America are focused on project management, architecture, and analysis, along with management of the system.

Ultimately, Keen and his enterprise architects built not only a business infrastructure but an entire technology organization. Behind a flexible SOA business infrastructure that automates customer provisioning, billing, and interactions with trading partners -- and that has fueled the rise of the country's fastest growing energy retailer -- they put the expertise and discipline in place to continue to extend and adapt it.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.