AWS for Industries

powercloud Helps Utilities Innovate through Digital Transformation on AWS

The global energy and utilities industry is often viewed as a monolithic system, but it is very important to understand that the systems in each region, nation, and state have their own underlying characteristics.

Around the world, there are 57 overseas territories and dependencies and 193 nation-states. Between each of these are numerous electric systems and grids, all with their own technologies, regulations, and government supervision.

Even countries that appear similar or are part of the same regional bloc exhibit underlying differences in the way they operate at a national or state level. Regardless of local deregulation, the future of energy retail requires agile business models, processes, and systems.

Cloud software provider powercloud, an AWS Advanced Technology Partner, seeks to support the energy industry by providing innovative solutions for digital transformation on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Helping Utility Customers Transform on the Cloud

powercloud offers a utility-core machine room, which manages billing and regulatory processes in a safe, reliable, and scalable way. The powercloud system covered over eight million customer contracts and had only 7 minutes of downtime in 2018. powercloud currently has contracts with more than 200 global utilities supporting more than 25 million end-customer contracts.

With its full software as a service (SaaS) solution, powercloud helps utilities to achieve low cost-to-serve and cost-to-acquire benchmark costs. In live customer deployments powered by powercloud’s automated system processes, utilities have proven a cost to serve of $12 USD or less per month. Utilities can also lower their cost to acquire new customers or engage current customers in new programs by using powercloud to launch new digital channels and tailor offerings to the needs of specific customer groups.

Utilities can now avoid dependencies on legacy suppliers and technologies by using powercloud’s open-architecture and open-source approach. The integrated event system and the web service gateway enable a seamless integration of legacy and special-purpose utility systems. The combined provision includes a range of options for suppliers to consider when transforming, enabling them to take both incremental and transformative innovation steps. This supports the ability to protect against initial customer disruption in the short term while looking at longer-term strategies for customer interactions through centralized cloud-based services and new utility-branded customer experiences.

Increasing Agility and Compliance Using AWS Services

To support its SaaS solution, powercloud uses various AWS services and open-source solutions. The company uses HashiCorp’s Terraform for infrastructure as code to automate and standardize environments in the onboarding process of new customers. This not only speeds up infrastructure provisioning but also helps prevent errors by removing the need for human interaction.

And powercloud’s automation in its SaaS model doesn’t stop with infrastructure. The company implemented a change management process to orchestrate all components and dependencies in a continuous delivery pipeline.

AWS ISVs providing SaaS solutions for the power and utilities industry know that to reduce risk of operational incidents, versions across tenants must not drift. So powercloud introduced HashiCorp Nomad and AWS Elastic Beanstalk—an easy-to-use service for deploying and scaling web applications and services—to orchestrate services in a containerized application. This enables powercloud to roll out updates in a controlled process, such as through blue/green deployments. The high level of automation—combined with the global infrastructure of AWS—enables powercloud to deploy new customer environments within 2 hours around the globe and meet regional requirements on data sovereignty.

Another concern in the utility industry is tenant isolation. Compliance often demands strong isolation because of the sensitivity of processed data. So powercloud uses AWS Organizations, which helps companies centrally manage and govern their environments as they grow and scale their AWS resources. By using AWS Organizations, powercloud can manage compliance at scale in a setup that isolates customers by means of dedicated AWS accounts. powercloud follows AWS best practices for its multi-account strategy. For example, through AWS Organizations, powercloud can implement principles of least privilege by applying centralized service control policies or writing audit logs to a dedicated AWS account.

powercloud can also offer access to customer systems in a secure and flexible way and better meet customers’ technical requirements by using other managed services such as AWS Site-to-Site VPN, which enables companies to extend their on-premises networks to the cloud, or AWS PrivateLink, which provides private connectivity between virtual private clouds, AWS services, and on-premises networks.

powercloud reference architecture

Figure 1: powercloud reference architecture

By building on top of AWS, powercloud has improved its development and operations by increasing its agility and accelerating its time to market.

Further, the shared responsibility model on AWS enables powercloud to reduce efforts and cycle times in audits and certification processes. This shared model for Security and Compliance can help relieve the customer’s operational burden because AWS operates, manages, and controls various components, such as the host operating system.

Because there is a clear line of responsibility between AWS and powercloud, powercloud has no need to prove compliance for areas that are the responsibility of AWS. powercloud can simply refer to existing documentation in AWS Artifact—a central resource for compliance-related information—for services it uses and can concentrate audit efforts on its own application and processes. For example, powercloud’s customer data is encrypted using AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS), a secure and resilient service for creating and managing cryptographic keys. Because AWS KMS is validated under Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2, powercloud does not need to prove meeting regulatory and compliance needs in this regard.

Driving Revenue and Innovation for Utilities on AWS

Using AWS enables powercloud to deploy its cloud solution anywhere in the world and helps it meet the compliance requirements of its customers. Because powercloud built its solution on AWS, its customers benefit from a significantly reduced cost to serve—often by more than 50 percent, and powercloud can drive new revenue streams and reduce churn by creating innovative, attractive customer bundles and offerings in hours or days with very low effort. powercloud has tested its solution to produce and issue 16 million customer invoices in 24 hours. Learn more about how powercloud is helping drive the future of energy retail.

Steven Dawson

Steven Dawson

Steven Dawson, VP powercloud North America, brings more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry, working for SAP, Oracle, and Genesys. He is recognized for building Salesforce Energy & Utilities (formerly Vlocity) in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland from the bottom up. His new mission is focused on migrating energy and utilities companies in North America away from old on-premises/legacy systems to a new, modern architecture and billing platform in the cloud. Dawson established powercloud’s North American operations within the Atlanta Tech Village, one of the nation’s largest technology innovation workplaces. Companies that are dedicated to the growth of the energy and utilities sector in the southeast and especially within the Atlanta area. In all of his endeavors, he has helped energy companies reduce operational and acquisition costs while achieving the best possible Customer Experience.

Axel Barbier

Axel Barbier

Axel Barbier is a results-driven professional with a proven track record of success in the field of Cloud Operations & Software Engineering. With almost 15 years of experience, he has developed a strong understanding of the industry, and is able to effectively manage projects from start to finish. Axel is known for his ability to lead projects, think strategically, and drive growth. He is a skilled communicator, able to build strong relationships with clients and team members alike. In his current role as Technical Architect, he is responsible for the target architecture picture of powercloud. In his free time, Axel enjoys reading and spending time with his family.

Markus Kokott

Markus Kokott

Markus Kokott is a Solutions Architect at AWS focused on helping German independent software vendors succeeding in their SaaS journey. He shares his experiences from working in a broad range of roles in designing, building and operating systems in the last 10+ years with his customers. Technology-wise he enjoys to dive deep into all things DevOps and containers.

Ranjan Banerji

Ranjan Banerji

Ranjan Banerji is a Principal Partner Solutions Architect at AWS focused on the power and utilities vertical. Ranjan has been at AWS for seven years, first on the Department of Defense (DoD) team helping the branches of the DoD migrate and/or build new systems on AWS ensuring security and compliance requirements and now supporting the power and utilities team. Ranjan's expertise ranges from serverless architecture to security and compliance for regulated industries. Ranjan has over 25 years of experience building and designing systems for the DoD, federal agencies, energy, and financial industry.