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Energy Action fires up cloud based digital platform, plans AI push to rein in costs, speed growth

Energy Action helps business customers to lower their energy spend and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s easily said – but complex to achieve.

The organisation works with 5,000 clients across 9,000 sites, to reduce costs and optimise their use of electricity, gas and water while improving their environmental sustainability.

To do that Energy Action needs a fine-grained understanding of how and when its customers use energy, what they are currently paying, as well as a comprehensive understanding of what the energy market has to offer.

The data that delivers that understanding comes from multiple sources – from energy meters, from invoices and from an array of energy providers.

Energy Action is now unshackling itself from home grown legacy systems to build a modern digital platform. It is also building a strong internal technology and software engineering capability.

This will help establish the sort of tech intensity that will allow Energy Action to respond effectively to customer needs, be agile in response to changing market conditions, and create resilient digital foundations for growth and expansion.

Cloud transformation

Bruce Macfarlane, Non Executive Director, Energy Action

Bruce Macfarlane joined and invested in Energy Action in 2019 becoming a Non-Executive Director and Solution Design Manager for the new platform. “The first significant thing we achieved was the completion of a project to implement on-premise CRM and NAV, going live in Jan 2020”. .

Energy Action then completed migration of applications and data from its on-premise and dedicated virtual servers to Microsoft Azure, working with managed services provider First Focus.

Energy Action has also appointed its first Chief Technology Officer, Clint Irving, formerly of technology giant Honeywell and retail smart-energy disruptor Pooled Energy, who is leading the growing software engineering team and implementing the company’s technology roadmap including consolidating application servers in Azure.

Irving and the Energy Action tech team will also leverage Microsoft development platforms including .Net and SQL Server to build the new platform. Irving is championing agile development, rapid release cycles and code-first quality assurance of its evolving energy management platform.

According to Macfarlane; “We’re now able to trouble-shoot legacy applications. To scale up servers depending on demand – and configure and release code in an immediate way.”

Later in 2021 Energy Action will again work with First Focus to create a unified cloud-based voice platform, CloudCALL 365.

Already the new platform has delivered significant operational savings of $1 million plus thanks to the move from private servers to public cloud and the resulting consolidation and decommissioning of old hardware.

It has also, says Macfarlane delivered; “Higher quality service which results in which results in higher customer retention. 

We are now producing customer reports on time and without failure. Our core reverse auction service is experiencing high uptime and we are able to start enhancing the application.

Robust data governance – ensuring data quality, consistency and availability – is critical. The platform collects, standardises, monitors for gaps and creates a complete data set which is stored in Azure.

According to Irving; “Our roadmap includes investigation of the best data analytics capabilities – we see great potential to leverage Azure Synapse Analytics.”

AI plans

Once the cloud transformation is complete, Energy Action will also be primed to make greater use of a range of Azure cognitive services to expand its services and accelerate growth.

Increased speed to market is key says Macfarlane. “We want to enter new markets internationally so need to be able to recognise new data sources. For example, say I received a retail invoice that I hadn’t seen before – while I could manually map all the relevant fields, my preference is to use AI to map all, or most, of the fields so that the data on the invoice is recognised without manual intervention.”

The opportunity to reduce manual intervention across a range of workflows will reduce the risk of error and also accelerate processing.

Energy Action is also developing a cloud-based meter data management suite that will be important when Australia transitions to five-minute energy market settlement, slated for later in 2021. That will result in significantly more data, but Macfarlane is confident that; “Neither the file size payload or computational overhead should cause us issues as we will have cloud-based infrastructure and applications we can scale and flex to adapt to processing requirements.”