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Written by: Andrew Jornod

Recently, TechRepublic published photos of what it called antique computers that won't quit These marvels range from the long-defunct Commodore 64C to the venerable PDP-11, built in the 1970s by long-vanished Digital Equipment Corporation. Far cries from today’s powerhouses, they continue chugging along, defying the passage of so many years. 

Their makers have vanished, but the jobs these machines do have not. In fact, some of them drive critical utilities that millions of customers depend on every day. PDP-11 minicomputers, for example, are still a critical part of the system that operates Canada’s nuclear power plants. General Electric Canada doesn’t plan to replace them until the year 2050.

Compare this to the average lifespan of a utility CIS—15 to 20 years—and you’ll start to appreciate just how quickly your shiny new CIS will reach its mid-life crisis. Here’s how to meet the challenge and slow down the aging process.

Your workforce and its skills are aging, too

No matter how you labor keeping a PDP-11 running for “just another year”—or how much money you throw at your CIS as it approaches its 18th birthday—one fact remains: those systems were built on technologies and platforms from what today seems a by-gone era.

There’s a more human problem though. When GE Canada needs a PDP-11 assembly programmer, where does it look and how much must it spend to get one? How large is the pool of available COBOL programmers and technicians to extend the capabilities of a CIS built in the 90s? (Hint: They were scarce and expensive even before Y2K.)

If your utility CIS and infrastructure are approaching retirement, the staff maintaining them is also aging. That means the skills and know-how you need may soon be in short supply, if they aren’t already.

The applications of a lifetime

Why are those particular skills in such short supply, and what can you do to keep your staff more up to date?

The 1970s computers running those nuclear plants are extreme examples. But with most utility CISs living to a respectable 15 or 20 years, they may be as inflexible as the older hardware they run on. Software development has changed a lot over that time. And with the explosion of the web, mobile devices and social media, so have customer expectations of those systems. It’s no wonder a 20th century CIS has trouble keeping up. 

Many older utility CISs were proprietary to a single vendor, which may not even exist today. Others were built in-house, written in languages and protocols popular back then but no longer widely used today. Adapting such a legacy CIS to meet the needs of today’s utilities and their customers is like major surgery. Even if it’s possible, it may not be practical.

It’s true that major advancements in hardware and software make maintaining an older CIS difficult. Those same advancements, though, can mean a veritable fountain of youth for your next solution. A utility CIS that leverages the right technologies can let you stay current by providing built-in upgrades for both the software and hardware.

Slow down the aging process with better planning

How can you keep your CIS up to date and adapt to industry changes for years to come, while also addressing the problem of a utility aging workforce?

Fortunately, you can slow the aging process with your next utility management solution.

That’s where a cloud-based CIS can help. By putting your IT infrastructure in the cloud, you shift the day-to-day management and maintenance responsibilities from your internal staff to the cloud provider.

A cloud-based utility CIS comes with a team of experts, dedicated to keeping the technology up and running day to day. The cloud provider keeps the hardware up to date and the software current, continuously adding the capabilities your customers, regulators, and employees demand. That means you can focus on your core business of serving your customers, safe in the knowledge that service levels and total cost of ownership are guaranteed.

When you select a cloud-based CIS, you can be confident both the hardware and software stay current—not to mention the workforce supporting it all.

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Andrew Jornod
Andrew is Vertex's CEO. With over 15 years of experience in the utilities industry, he is responsible for leading the company’s go-to-market strategy. Prior to joining Vertex, Andrew directed the global energy and utilities business unit at HCL AXON. He was instrumental in helping HCL AXON become the fastest growing, and one of the largest utilities service providers, offering services around management consulting, infrastructure management, application management, systems integration with Oracle and SAP, custom application development and customer service BPO operations. Before HCL AXON, Andrew was a Vice President within Oracle’s Utilities Global Business Unit, with responsibilities that included product management and development, and sales and marketing. In addition, he held key roles at Indus (now Ventyx), British Telecom, Control Data Systems and Microsoft.

Utility CIS