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Texas-Sized Integration

Energy deregulation in the Lone Star state has created a kaleidoscope of data that CenterPoint Energy hopes to monitor with the help of a massive integration software rollout.
Rich wants to go live with 5.0 by late October. She is waiting on CenterPoint's other departments -- billing and business-process management, for instance -- which have yet to complete their testing runs on the new version. Rich says that IT, which has seven people working on the rollout, is finished on its end.

The deployment of ICAN 5.0 is the latest step in CenterPoint's ongoing integration project. After Texas utility deregulation splintered duties between power producers, transmitters, retailers and even bill collectors, a simple transaction (a new resident wanting to switch on the lights, say) had to move through dozens of computer systems. Meanwhile, electricity usage information, or how much energy is being consumed -- the data upon which a power grid depends if you want to avoid blackouts -- had to be sent by CenterPoint to ERCOT.

The state mandated that EDI be the standard format for communication between all these disparate entities -- 85 electricity retailers, ERCOT, and the market. Unfortunately for CenterPoint, its legacy computer systems -- a Loadstar client server that handles industrial and commercial customers, and a homegrown mainframe that handles residential customers -- weren't using EDI. CenterPoint, therefore, needed integration software to translate information as it flowed back-and-forth from the legacy systems out into the world. Enter SeeBeyond.

But not before Rich -- who had the freedom to choose whatever software-integration vendor she wanted -- gave a test to SeeBeyond and an unnamed competitor. It was a small project. Rich had just purchased three new IBM servers, so she wanted a certain kind of data translated from Cobalt into XML. It was a tricky project rather than a straight translation that involved, if you made the wrong moves, an infinite loop. "I said to them, 'Here's my data. You have one week.' SeeBeyond had no problem with it. The other company did."

She says CenterPoint initially paid around $1.5 million for the SeeBeyond software. Maintenance and service and upgrades cost a little less than $200,000 a year. The system uses an Oracle 9I database and an IBM AIX box. Rich continues to have a conference call with the SeeBeyond people each week, in which they discuss potential problems on a scale from one to three. Level 1 issues are "showstoppers," Rich says, such as the memory leak in its AIX server that CenterPoint experienced after converting to SeeBeyond version 4.0. ("But they fixed that right away," she says.") Level 2s are "workarounds," or problems that have been satisfactorily jury-rigged, and Level 3s are mere inconveniences, such as a GUI that doesn't refresh, for instance. "I don't think we have any Level 1s left," Rich says. "And we'll suspend those calls once all of our issues get down to Level 3s."

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