By Shelly Clark
In 2005, Sierra Nevada launched its SNR Customer Portal to communicate and share information with its energy and transmission customers. It was WAPA’s first standalone customer portal. As both technology and the energy industry have evolved, the time had come for some change.
This summer, the SNR Customer Portal was migrated to the newer WAPA Portal, offering increased security and improved efficiencies for WAPA employees and customers.
Although there is still work to be done on the back end, users are already reaping the benefits of the migration.
“The migration has been seamless,” said Power Marketing Advisor Rosemary Jones, who has used the portal since its creation. “It offers a more modern look and overall increased performance. It allows us access to a tremendous amount of critical data from customers every day, in a convenient way that saves us all lots of time.”
Thinking bigger, wider
Although the development of the SNR Customer Portal was fairly groundbreaking, some Information Technology leaders at the time were already thinking about building something with a WAPA-wide focus in mind.
“We had a vision of a single portal,” said Vice President of IT – Power Management and Marketing Brett Fisher. “We knew creating and maintaining multiples would not be ideal.”
At that time, the organizational structure of IT didn’t lend itself to accomplishing this vision. It wasn’t until 2015, when the IT Evolution happened—bringing IT together into one organization, rather than having IT leadership report up through regional managers—that it became more feasible to tackle.
“There are pages of documentation outlining the benefits of the IT Evolution and the projects that have been enabled because of it,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Mike Montoya. “This project is a prime example of how it’s since become the norm to more efficiently and strategically provide standardized solutions across WAPA, offer increased support to our business partners and reduce risk.”
In 2017, WAPA launched the long-envisioned WAPA Portal. Though there were plans to migrate the SNR Customer Portal, it wasn’t an immediate priority.
“Lots of our work in IT is planned around lifecycle replacements, and the SNR Customer Portal was running reliably,” said Fisher. “There simply wasn’t urgency to make a change.”
Additionally, market activities were shaping up across the West, and resources were dedicated to those initiatives.
Timing is everything
After more than 15 years of use, and four years after the launch of the WAPA Portal, the SNR Customer Portal was nearing the end of its life.
“The software framework it was built on was no longer being supported or maintained, making it vulnerable to security breaches,” said IT Specialist Ray Churgovich, who works under the Innovative Management Concepts contract. “The SNR Customer Portal software was based on ancient frameworks that were very much in need of a complete replacement and rewrite.”
The hardware on which it was running was also past its end-of-life. It was uncertain if the system would survive long enough for it to be migrated into the larger WAPA Portal, a project that was scheduled to take place six months later.
“We agreed we couldn’t wait any longer and prioritized the migration to protect against security breaches and hardware failure,” said Supervisory IT Specialist Mark Phelps.
Moving the project up six months meant that it had to happen concurrently with multiple other high-priority markets-related projects. The backend, technical components of the migration were also tedious, involving moving apps and building a new security model.
“Tons of customer information needed to be tracked down, verified, updated and input,” explained Phelps. “But the effort was well worth it, considering the increased security and enhanced access management and visibility the WAPA Portal offers.”
For example, in the SNR Customer Portal there was no mechanism to force password changes at regular intervals. When a change was needed, it was done manually via communication with the WAPA IT Call Center. The WAPA Portal has built-in mechanisms to automate password changes.
“It’s almost difficult to remember what technology and security were like all those years ago,” said Fisher. “Times have changed. There are standard practices we expect now and we needed the portal to reflect that.”
Migrating the portal offers increased functionality.
“Additionally, it provides our customers an experience they’ve come to expect from other entities with whom they do business,” Phelps said.
The migration of the SNR Customer Portal was a big milestone in a much larger project. There’s an SNR Employee Portal, too, and some Operations applications that still need to be migrated.
“The final touches and clean up for the larger migration project are expected to take another year,” said Phelps. “But for now, we are taking a moment to celebrate the increased security, efficiencies and visibility the migration offers.”
“IT spent a great deal of time gathering requirements from us to make sure our needs were met,” Jones said. “I appreciate their efforts and our partnership. Mostly though, I am thrilled with the product—and its improvements over time—and how it serves Marketing, Operations and WAPA’s customers.”
Note: Clark is an administrative assistant.