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    A digital Swiss Army Knife: UK energy provider nPower’s website serves 3m customers, 24/7

    September 29, 2020

    When one of Britain’s largest energy suppliers needed to ensure around-the-clock availability and security of its transactional website, they chose Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS ) to provide managed cloud services — a resilient and scalable private cloud platform that keeps their infrastructure available and secure.

    npower serves more than three million residential and business accounts with electricity and gas. It is now part of the E.ON group, a European utility that runs one of the world's largest investor-owned electric utility service providers. To deliver the most up-to-the-minute services and updates, npower’s website serves as a digital Swiss Army knife – as useful as it is versatile – in providing a convenient, 24/7 platform for customers to contact and interact with.

    THE CHALLENGE: Maintaining a Constant State of Readiness

    Digital and Data Director Jon Drinkwater and his team must assure a constant state of readiness for their site, continually being able to satisfy their customers’ needs at any moment. According to an audit prepared by a third-party group on behalf of npower, approximately 60% of customers engage initially with npower over its website, while about 85% of all transactions come through its web presence.

    “Customers are not only able to self-serve basic transactions, but also review and change tariffs, move their account when they move homes, manage payments, arrange smart meter installs, interact with consumption tools, facilitate messaging and much more. The level of fully automated functionality has evolved significantly over the last few years,” added Drinkwater.

    In 2017, following the time when Innogy npower’s infrastructure was hosted (or colocated) in one of its own data centres, Sungard AS proposed moving the npower infrastructure onto its Managed Cloud platform. This satisfied npower’s desire to move away from a CapEx model to more of an OpEx one. To make this move successful, three criteria had to be met to support the partnership: availability, resiliency, and security.

    THE SOLUTION: Supporting Three Pillars

    For availability, Sungard AS’ Enterprise Cloud Service (ECS) brought an enterprise class, multi-tenancy scalable IT infrastructure that provides a platform to deliver IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service). Customers need only buy committed resource pools (compute, memory and storage) to meet their specific requirements. Extra resource or burst capacity can be provisioned to a live environment, and any changes made to that environment are automatically replicated to the secondary site/data centre. In the event of a disaster, the live services can be activated within the secondary data centre, providing customers with a resilient solution without having to purchase additional hardware.

    “What makes Sungard AS stand out from other providers is its level of response,” said Ian Jordan, Digital Operations Manager, npower. “In the instance of a major incident, a bridge call with the respective teams happens very quickly and includes the engineers investigating it. This gives us a view into how the investigation is progressing and allows us to speak directly to the engineers rather than having to go through an intermediary.”

    Resiliency is also integral to availability. Having a full replica of the environment within a second data centre means any changes made within the production environment are automatically replicated to the second data centre. Should a disaster disable the primary environment, Sungard AS can activate all services quickly and easily, recovering environments with only seconds of data loss.

    Achieving that level of business continuity and disaster recovery is especially meaningful for npower and its customers. “Getting people heat and power is a basic need. To that end, we need to ensure all of our services, including our website, are as resilient as they are commercially viable,” said Drinkwater.

    A third pillar, security, is likewise indispensable to npower operations. In addition to providing services such as IDS (Intrusion Detection System), log harvesting, DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) monitoring and OS security, Sungard AS provides npower with a monthly security report which highlights vulnerabilities such as security incidents that were raised during the month.

    “This gives us the confidence that our environment is in safe hands,” said Jordan. “Sungard AS takes the security of our environment very seriously. We know the importance of protecting our infrastructure and customer data, as well as the impact a security break would have on our business.”

    Sungard AS solutions also support npower’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements, providing evidence of what npower was doing with customer data, how it was protecting it, and who has access to it.

    THE RESULTS: A competitive model that demands uptime

    “We try to view everything from the customer’s perspective, putting their needs first,” said Drinkwater. “Our interactions with customers have resulted in direct improvements to our digital services. For example, the type of tools and data they want alongside interfaces that facilitate easy transactions. By partnering with Sungard AS, we have never been constrained to satisfy customers’ expectations when they come to our website.”

    At the heart of that journey is npower’s relationship with Sungard AS. Kiel Wright, npower’s IT Service and Commercial Director, concluded: “My mandate is simple: to work with partners that make things happen. To step up to challenges we’ve identified in the business and not have to spend weeks or months going through a lot of red tape to address things that are impacting customers right now,” he said. “Ultimately, we wouldn’t be able to do any of that without the frontline support of Sungard AS in the provisioning of our website."

    Read the case study here.

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