Utility services are the lifeblood of our society. We rely on them to deliver electricity while they, in turn, require dependable and efficient operation of their equipment to deliver uninterrupted service at a competitive price.
In many parts of the U.S., utility deregulation has created a glut of providers and a host of firms that help them perform that task, which makes the arena even more competitive.
“Since the industry is now market sensitive, based on the twin dynamics of cost and dependability, companies that have entered this arena must remain competitive if they’re to attract and retain customers,” says Will Fox, director of marketing at Portland, Oregon-based Serveron, which helps electric utilities deliver reliable power and reduce costs.
His firm is a 2001 start-up that provides dedicated turnkey equipment and services to monitor the health of electric generation, transmission, and distribution substation equipment. This allows utility owners to make appropriate, timely operations and maintenance decisions, which helps avoid costly (sometimes dangerous) failures and optimizes scheduled maintenance.
Serveron staffs a 24/7 response center to provide monitoring and alert notification to its electric utility generating customers.
A Unique Challenge Inspires an Equally Unique Service
“Most of our competition is going the ‘new monitoring software’ route in attempts to perform these services. We, on the other hand, are committed to the personal 24/7 approach,” says Serveron’s Fox. “We feel that people make the best decisions based on being given the best information. And, in our opinion, the ‘more software’ approach does little more than confuse the customer. They don’t need another software package to throw on their laptop; it’s one more dubious thing they need to worry about. Rather, they tell us there’s more value in a turnkey process that tells them when there’s a problem and what they can do about it.”
According to Fox, Serveron quickly reached a developmental crossroad as to how to bring its service to market. The company could do it two ways: either build and manage this system itself or outsource the management tasks. He says it ended up being a no-brainer since the former would have cost millions of dollars and dozens of personnel to man the center 24/7 and provide the level of security and data redundancy that its customers needed.
But who should be its outsourcing partner?
A Powerful Marriage
Denver, Colorado-based Inflow provides hosting, network management, network design, data backup, recovery and security services to a large array of companies, utilizing 18 full-service and fully-staffed Internet Data Centers (IDCs) in the U.S. and Europe. Serveron brought its data management challenge to Inflow; from that collaboration came a new type of service, Enterprise Data Center Management.
“Severon had wonderful new technology to monitor electronic generation transmission and distribution station equipment,” says Inflow’s director of professional services Todd Johnson. “They didn’t want to build a data center because of the increased time to market as well as the cost. They also wanted to leverage our expertise to manage the data and bring it to market. And they needed it quickly.”
Inflow’s technically trained Network Operations Center staff provides around the clock monitoring of Serveron’s equipment installed at each customer’s substation. This equipment can be interrogated regularly via modem to monitor changes in the operating condition and performance of critical transmission and distribution equipment.
This outsourcing solution bypassed Serveron’s need to build, deploy and support an enterprise class command and control center. “Typically it can take companies up to a year to build a network infrastructure to support mission-critical business operations like Serveron’s”, says Inflow’s Johnson. “And they needed a system that’s highly scalable because they were anticipating a lot of growth. If done right, a good data management system can be very scalable. That directly impacts the savings we can offer the customer.”
The product of this collaboration was the very quick launch of the Serveron Response Center (SRC).
A Reliable, Safer Power Grid
This marriage of Serveron’s expertise and Inflow’s proprietary operations automation system, FlowTrack, appears to be a good one at this early stage. Serveron reports genuine interest by the utility industry and encouraging feedback from the customers they’ve developed so far.
One utility quickly found through FlowTrack a weakness in a primary transformer, repaired it, and then adjusted the maintenance schedule as a response to this averted calamity. “This saved a lot of money, not to mention the downtime from an emergency transformer shut-down,” says Serveron’s Fox. “The premise for the service is that it’s better when utility maintenance is preventative rather than reactive. So we’re pleased with FlowTrack’s performance in the field.”
“I can’t say that one day we won’t say ‘thanks’ to Inflow and take this entire operation in-house,” he continues. “But we couldn’t have gotten this off the ground without its data management services. I probably sound like an ad for Inflow, but it’s the truth.”
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- Suppliers must have the infrastructure to give you the virtual presence that you want.
- Outsourcing provides speed to market, especially when the solution is complex.
- Outsourcing can help businesses compete in the marketplace by offering a unique service.