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Evolution of Technology Architecture in Applications for the Energy and Resources Logistics Sector

Evolution-of-Technology-Architecture-in-Applications-for-the-Energy-and-Resources-Logistics-Sector

Technology evolution has pushed the boundaries of global energy business from desktop software applications to cloud mobility at fingertips. Today, cutting-edge technologies help in better business planning, cost optimisations and faster delivery in energy sector.

Geetha S Nair, Principal Engineering Consultant, Energy & Resource Logistics at IBS Software shares some insights on the path-breaking technological advancements in the sector.

Could you throw some light on the technological reformations in the energy sector?

All legacy systems, right from desktop-based on-premise software applications have been replaced with multi-platform UI-rich responsive web applications and mobility apps in the cloud. Cloud also provides improved interfacing options using orchestrated integration layer. As the technology evolved, the limitation with high-cost licensed tools could be overcome with secure open software tools that help in reducing capex and operational cost for customers.

Mobility and tough-pad apps now enable both travellers and logistics personnel to perform their operations on the go. IOT Integrations leveraging RFIDs and QR Codes have helped in automating most of the manual logistics processes in the energy sector, thereby reducing operation down time.

The legacy architecture supported only custom-built reports but now data is readily available for customers for quick business insights and decision making with the help of reporting tools like Power BI, SAP BO, Crystal reports etc. In addition, the current architecture supports dynamic reporting within the application where user can build custom reports based on their needs. Protecting the personal sensitive data is getting extremely important. Current applications are regularly updated with latest GDPR and security norms where all Personally Identifiable Information (PII) data are secured.

Digital transformation has increased the vulnerabilities and cyber-attacks in Energy sector. Periodic vulnerability assessment is performed to eliminate the newly emerging vulnerabilities before every market release of the product. The modern cyber security architecture like DevSecOps is designed to defend against security vulnerabilities, malicious attacks, and unauthorised access during the earlier phase of SDLC. This helps the organization to maintain confidentiality, integrity and availability of the data within its business operations.

The future will see more democratization of Micro-front-end architecture with micro service deployment from current monolithic deployment. In future the Web applications will be fully migrated to micro service with multi-tenant deployment in which one application can be used for multiple clients with their customised features in single deployment. Real-time data from IOT sensors enable predictive data analytics and real-time KPIs will be available on the fingertips of customers.

In future, the integration of GPS and map-based real time tracking of logistics resources with AI will provide huge business benefits. Offline capability of mobility devices will support the usage in high latency or no network areas. AI and Blockchain technology will come of age to automate complex processes and making the self-learning and self-optimizing low-carbon collaborative supply chain a reality in the energy sector. AI-powered mathematical modelling and optimization algorithms will help logistics planners to further improve utilization of resources, increase operational efficiency and reduce costs. This will emerge as a promising technology in future for optimal routing of vessels and trucks.

What benefits do cloud and modern technology architecture bring to the clients?

By moving to SAAS, energy operators no longer have to be bothered about the high infrastructure cost, the cost to procure licenses of supporting software, and the maintenance cost. The multi-tenant cloud hosting optimizes the operational cost and they pay only for the transactions.

Cloud hosting removed the IT overheads of on-premise applications like updating software, overseeing security, release deployment, server maintenance, data backup etc. SAAS offers improved RTO, RPO, and no overheads to the customer during the switch over to the DR environment compared to on-premise hosting. Cloud architecture helps in optimum resources used by auto-scaling up/down the server based on the usage volume, thereby helping in reducing operational costs.

Other benefits include automating manual processes by using RFID tags and digitalizing data at customers' fingertips through mobile apps. The digital QR-coded boarding passes provided in mobile apps help in reducing paper copies to be carried by the customer during check-ins which in turn help in reducing carbon emissions.

The introduction of DevOps deployment was a turning point in the change management process. Faster environment setup, which in turn reduces the overall implementation timeline. Single click deployment reduced delivery cycle time from development to Production. Enhanced health monitoring options are currently available for infrastructure in the cloud. Cloud also offers more redundancy and ensures high availability of applications to customers. Zero downtime and seamless release upgrade are other major benefits.

What are some of the fundamental technical challenges with rolling out new technologies for your clients?

When new technologies are introduced or a framework upgrade happens, most of the non-functional requirements need to be revised and baselined. In addition, multiple interfaces like mobile app, portals and web services consume the same server API and hence technical upgrades usually affect all these features. Robust quality assurance mechanisms are needed to cover these impacts, which often act as a road blocker in technology upgrades.

Rolling out mobile apps from the customer mobile app store and its distribution is another challenge. We have faced challenges while moving from on-premise hosting to SaaS model due to certain data residency restrictions in some countries. IT policy of customers does not allow certain software / tools / protocols to be used which is a challenge in rolling out a new feature in the product across customers.

From a product standpoint, the latest modules are developed using new technologies, and it may not be always practical to rewrite all features to the latest technology in a single go. When modules with multiple technologies co-exist there are challenges in communication between inter-modules which is often a technical challenge in implementing new technologies.

What are some of the strategies to further reduce the cycle time of technology implementations?

Upgrading the product to the latest technology on a regular basis is important for energy and resources operators to improve technology implementation cycle time. Moving to pipeline deployment with DevOps will help in a further left shift of the implementation timeline from development to production. Instead of going for a big rollout, the upgrades can be done in a phased manner service by service.

Automating the test cases will reduce the testing cycle and will aid in accelerating technology upgrades. In the case of hardware device integration and upgrades, the technical specs should be mutually agreed upon during the initial phase of implementation, which will give more bandwidth for time taking activities like device procurement. In the cloud, once technology upgrade is done for one customer, by use of Terraform scripts Docker images can be built, which will accelerate similar upgrades in other implementations. Through training and videos, the rollout phase time can be improved.

How do you scale up your people skills on new & emerging technologies like AI, RPA, Block chain, etc.? 

We have a dedicated RND team to do research on new technologies. This team performs market study and does PoC on value-adding use cases. After successful POC and approval from the Product board, this is handed to the delivery team for development. Training sessions are arranged for developers and training videos are offered for reference. RND team members will be attached to the development team for the initial sprint cycles and later the development team will fully take over the technology implementations across the product. 

Developers are also encouraged to publish technical white papers in new areas. Technical forums and hackathons are conducted where new and innovative ideas are presented. Once approved by the selection committee, time and budget are allocated for the selected ideas. Additionally, topics from IBS training platforms and hands-on external training are arranged for developers during the initial learning phases to scale them up to the new technologies.

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