Tech Ed 2011: Ausgrid replaces "useless" intranet with SharePoint 2010

The energy utility replaced the previous platform, a combination of a Legacy Aptrix Portal and Lotus Notes, as it had as much functionality as an Excel spreadsheet

Battling with a virtually useless intranet, Australian energy utility Ausgrid set about finding a platform its users could trust and one that would provide some benefit to the organisation.

The utility, previously called Energy Australia, covers an area of 22,275 kilometres with 50 sites and about 6000 employees. It creates and maintains the electrical infrastructure across Sydney, the Central Coast and the Hunter region.

“We basically provide transmission and distribution of electricity across that network through a complex collection of substations, transformers, poles and wires,” Ausgrid project manager, Tyson Nutt, told attendees of Tech Ed 2011.

With existing infrastructure, called eNet, which comprised a combination of a "Legacy Aptrix Portal" and Lotus Notes, information was difficult to find, Nutt said. Additionally, when staff did find information it was often out of date or incorrect.

“We had an intranet of little value and it was at the stage where, if we were to turn off eNet and replace it with an Excel spread sheet with names and phone numbers, our users would actually have seen that as an improvement," he said.

According to Ausgrid solutions architect, Craig Hutchinson, SAP drove its intranet content and was “front ended” with a Domino Notes solution to manage the users hitting the site and enable them to look up phone numbers. Additionally, it was running a trial of SharePoint 2007 for collaboration services.

“That was great in that it actually took some of the load off our SAP servers but it was also bad because it hid all of our intranet content from users,” Hutchinson said.

Ausgrid compared a number of technologies it already owned including Sitecore, which was already used for its external face website and also outsourced a market survey to an external company which considered various intranet platforms including Oracle. Following this, SharePoint was selected for its potential use in publishing SAP content.

Extensive research was done into what Ausgrid users needed to do their job, including surveys, workshops and focus groups, Nutt said, Workplace observations were also crucial as the result is often different to staff responses, uncovering pain points, cumbersome processes and the gaps in common needs.

“We made the decision to create an intranet that was very task-focused and helping staff to get the information they need to do their job and move away from that organisational siloed approach.”

This was done using paper-based cards and online tools, and resulted in a tiered information structure that made sense to users and helped them find the information they needed to do their job.

According to Nutt, the use of wire frames, a set of drawings or plans which show the components of the infrastructure and how they’re going to run and interact, was an excellent talking point in demonstrating the IT side of the project to the business and graphic design teams.

“It really was great to be able to use them as a talking point to clarify very clearly the components and how they were going to be implemented,” Nutt said.

The new system currently services 3000 users, soon to increase to 6000 users, Hutchinson said. It is spread across two data centres and has a whole bunch of application servers, two of which are currently housed on the front end, one in each data centre. Routers are run “round-robin” to spread the load across the implementations.

“With our SQL servers, we have two clusters an active and passive cluster ... in the future we want to extend that cluster so we can actually have it running hot across both sites,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson noted the importance of testing land detailed the three types of testing Ausgrid conducted throughout the implementation including, the work stream, persona testing and performance testing.

“To have a system that runs smartly is great but the last thing we wanted to take place when the covers cam off was ‘well it’s good but it’s really slow’, so that was crucial to get sorted early and during the development process.”

He also recommended the use of third-party partners for times of overload and skills gaps, as well an ensuring the integrity and transparency of data.

“The profiles was another area because we amalgamated data from a lot of different sources and we got quite a bit of feedback from users saying ‘that’s not my photograph’ ... the data had always been there it’d just been obscured,” he said.

“So just being mindful that when that does go live, you’re going to get a lot of questions around that.

Hutchinson also advised IT professionals to be careful with navigation which they found “a bit tricky” when they pushed SharePoint beyond its natural limits.

Chloe Herrick travelled to Tech Ed 2011 as a guest of Microsoft Australia

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags MicrosoftSAPLotus NotesEnergy Australiasharepoint 2010Ausgrid

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