The CSS was pleased to have been offered the opportunity to visit the Barbados Light & Power Company Limited (BL&P) on Friday, 9th September, 2016. The purpose of the visit was to expose the CSS to the concept of enterprise IT. Enterprise IT or Enterprise Information Technology, also known as enterprise-class IT, refers to the design and use of hardware and software to meet the demands of a large organization1.
The Barbados Light & Power Company Limited is committed to customer value and utilizes a range of information communication technologies (ICTs), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other systems in order to provide the country with power, as the sole electric energy provider in the country.
As part of Emera, a Canadian based corporation, the BL&P is owned by a division of Emera Inc. (www.emera.com) called Emera Caribbean (www.emeracaribbean.com). BL&P deals in energy and gas transmission with stations located in Haggatt Hall, Spring Garden and the Garrison.
In order to attain its goal of providing energy where customers pay less, BL&P strives to be customer facing in the future in order to support customers. The use of technology is important for many large corporations because it facilities improved business processes and allows a corporation to transfer the savings earned by engaging in more efficient processes and business practices, to customers in the form of improved customer service and greater customer value. One such way is the planned implementation of Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI); a project where meters will be replaced by state of the art systems that will allow 2-way communication. From a network of fibre-based communication, these systems will allow data capture and monitoring from BL&P wirelessly, as well as allow BL&P to communicate with each system. By implementing such a system this means there will be an inevitable change in some business processes, some of which have already taken place.
This communication system built across the island has been Alpha and Beta-tested in the Garrison and Kingsland areas, respectively. The end goal of the AMI system is that of a self forming, self healing network; where if one node within the system fails, meters should be able to find other nodes to connect so that the entire system does not fail.
As with new technologies, many existing systems will be affected and therein lies one of the challenges with engaging in enterprise IT among many corporations that have been in existence for decades; that of integrating with legacy systems, change management with updates and service packs, and an ease of continued management.
A legacy system is any technology, system or method that has been originally used for a prolonged period of time that may be outdated and in need of replacing2. In some cases, legacy systems cannot be replaced and may need constant and continued management and developments in order to continue operations because a company may not have the financial resources to switch to a newer system altogether, or perhaps because the old system provides a measure of convenience and security not seen in more modern technology. For instance, some banks still use magnetic tapes to store certain data because they offer superior storage of large volumes of data, and have a much lower up-front cost than the more costly modern drives that are also more susceptible to certain risks. However, if a company has the financial resources or investment to do so then they will engage in the usually momentous change once the alternatives have been weighed and found to be more beneficial.
As computer scientists, this is a factor that often arises especially when working for large corporations whose daily operations demand that systems be kept at optimal performance. As we students enter the work force and, for instance, are called upon by our superiors to change from a previously manual system to an automated one, and depending on the scope of the project, it may range from a small to a large undertaking that may require increased labour, outsourcing of certain tasks, the purchase of new equipment, obsolescence of existing equipment, as well as potentially thousands to millions of dollars in costs.
In addition to speaking about the various departments, functions and ICTs the BL&P uses, a short demonstration was given as to some of the devices in use in the company’s IT department. Within the scope of the IT department, many technicians have to grasp the intricacies of the many types of cables, connections, mechanical monitoring devices and the types of wires and tools for handling them, as well as various software management and manipulation skills in order to facilities daily operations, smoothly. Virtualization was one such software management tool used.
Within the concept of information technology, virtualization consists of creating a representation of something, rather than a physical one3. Therefore, using virtualization, we can represent real world systems to a variety of effects. Using virtualization one can create environments that simulate existing environments and then test or monitor systems without removing or affecting real world physical systems. Through virtualization it is possible to run multiple operating systems on a single hardware device. This allows for agility, flexibility and scalability while creating cost savings since it reduces downtime, increases productivity and enables business continuity.
As explained by Ryan Hutson, Senior Technical Solutions Administrator at BL&P, they employ VMware to form a private cloud where each app was separated into its own Virtual Machine (VM). VMware is software that lets you run multiple virtual machines on a single physical machine, with each virtual machine sharing the resources of that one physical computer across multiple environments. With this flexibility, administration-users can move the virtual machines from host to host without end-users noticing. This also allows for faster set up of machines, high availability such that if a host goes down, other hosts can be used, and good fault tolerance since a copy of the virtual machine is stored for backup in the event the virtual machine crashes.
With all the ICTs in use at the BL&P, information security is a huge priority and the company’s IT department is committed to ensuring that such assets are managed and secured. The BL&P employ various types of security measures such as physical (tangible devices such as locks and dedicated rooms), logical (intangible devices such as passwords, encryption software etc), and awareness (education about proper and responsible use of information). The BL&P is committed to investing in appropriate systems, investing in trustworthy people, and in education and raising awareness as to the appropriate information handling practices among its staff.
After the seminar, the CSS was treated to exclusive looks at the BL&P’s server room and a presentation on how their business analysts use software analytics to manage customer information and use additional information to provide better service. Additionally, the CSS got the chance to engage in more informal chats with many of the employees from the business, IT and administrative departments. In essence, the trip covered quite an expansive range of information and insight into the daily practices of BL&P and how they use enterprise IT. Some insight was given as to which direction interested CSSrs may go regarding information security certifications, software engineering and other information technology areas from Senior Security IT Administrator, Leon Brewster.
After the presentations by members of the BL&P staff from various departments, the CSS bestowed tokens of appreciation in the form of the newly designed and printed CSS badges with our newly designed logo. Former Public Relations Officer Ariel Brathwaite, who served in the role in semester I of the 2015 – 2016 academic year, was on hand to bestow BL&P staff with the CSS badges as tokens of our appreciation.
The Computer Science Society wishes to thank the staff of the Barbados Light & Power Company Limited who took the time out of their busy morning to chat with us, and allowed us access to various areas within the wider offices of the complex. Special thanks goes out to Ms. Janet White, Mr. Muneshwar Parasram, Leon Brewster, Rhe-Ann Niles, Richelle Bowen, and Gerard Gill for their informative presentations.
1Rouse, M. (2013) Enterprise IT Definition, Available at: http://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/enterprise-IT-enterprise-class-IT, [Accessed 5 September 2016].
2Rouse, M. (2011) Legacy System Definition, Available at: http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/legacy-platform-legacy-operating-system, [Accessed: 12 September, 2016)
3Christensson, P. (2009), Virtualization Definition, Available at: http://techterms.com/definition/virtualization , [Accessed 12 September, 2016]