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Creating new insights that support Britain’s shift to low-carbon electricity

The Challenge

Build the first phase of the data insights platform used by decision-makers across the British electricity market, while upskilling Elexon in agile, user-centric product development.

Elexon is a not-for-profit organisation at the heart of the British electricity system. It plays a critical role in ensuring there is always sufficient power available across the network to meet the country’s demands in real time.

Part of Elexon’s remit is to publish a wide variety of data about the electricity market. With government pressure on the industry to ensure all electricity comes from low-carbon sources by 2035, data published by Elexon helps stakeholders such as traders, forecasters, researchers and data providers make decisions that move the country towards this target.

New offerings

The data has long been available through Elexon’s Balancing Mechanism Reporting Service (BMRS). However, the organisation has ambitious goals to expand the offering. This will include more datasets and richer visualisations, linked to news and analysis to add context, as well as a more flexible API, all running on robust, scalable foundations. This required it to build a new platform, known as the Insights Solution.

This sophisticated data platform will sit at the heart of UK electricity analytics and trading for years to come, supplying data to decision-makers through its own website, as well as via an API and a data push service.

Secure and extensible

Key requirements at the start were that the Insights Solution needed to conform to the extremely strict security requirements for systems in the electricity market. It also had to be easily extensible, and lower-cost to maintain and evolve than its predecessor.

User-centred design upskilling

In addition, Elexon wanted its product-development processes to become more user-centric and responsive, so that it could dramatically reduce the time taken to get new features to market. It brought in Softwire to build the Insights Solution, and upskill its product team in agile, user-centred ways of working.

Our Solution

We designed and built the first phase of Elexon’s Insights Solution, including the cloud architecture, data pipelines, visualisations and API. We also helped the organisation towards user-centric product development, and backed this up with a DevSecOps approach that enables rapid iteration.

Elexon had split the delivery of the Insights Solution into phases. The first addressed electricity generation and demand data. We formed a combined team with Elexon for the project, working alongside its technical and product specialists.

In line with Elexon’s desire to be more agile and user-centric, we worked closely with stakeholders from the industry throughout. This involved frequent user research to shape the product we were building, along with regular testing to validate our designs and ensure the whole delivery team understood the different personas’ requirements.

Cloud architecture design and security

We designed and provisioned greenfield Microsoft Azure cloud architecture for the platform, in line with the electricity industry’s stringent security requirements. The delivery team worked with Softwire and Microsoft cloud infosec specialists to lock down the platform in line with the latest best practices, and had the solution independently penetration-tested.

Data engineering, API and visualisation

Our data engineering team built the pipelines to ingest the large volumes of data, and ensure it could be output in real time. This involved addressing various complexities associated with the legacy file and data formats being used. We then built the API to enable industry users to pull the Elexon data into their own decision-support tools, and produced interactive visualisations of the data for the Insights Solution website.

Modernising Elexon’s product development and operations

While Elexon had created a traditional requirements specification for the first phase of the Insights Solution, its aim was for subsequent phases to fully embrace agile, user-centric methods. One of our agile evangelists worked closely with the customer to showcase the approaches the Softwire team would be using. This helped secure the buy-in required to make agile, user-centred working the default for subsequent phases of the Insights Solution delivery.

The Result

The first phase of the Insights Solution has been welcomed by electricity industry stakeholders. And our work to showcase agile and user-centric product development best practices has seen these adopted by teams across Elexon.

Successful go-live and superb feedback

Elexon launched the beta of the Insights Solution, including electricity generation and demand visualisations, as well as the API. It invited comments from the industry, and feedback has been superb, including around ease of use and quality of the visualisations and the API.

And with the Insights Solution being fully cloud-based, it’s significantly lower-cost to run and maintain than its predecessor, while giving Elexon access to the scalability it will require as it builds out the offering.

Agile impact

Alongside delivery of the Insights Solution, we’ve helped Elexon quickly evolve its ways of working, both on this project and more widely.

Zaahir Ghanty, Elexon’s Product Manager for the Insights Solution, explains: “As an organisation, we wanted to shift from a waterfall-centric mindset to be more agile. All eyes were on Softwire to see whether they could help us do this, and what the benefits would be.

“One of our aims was to be faster to market with new features. In the past, new functionality would take up to eight months to deliver. We can now do things in as little as two weeks, which has been genuinely transformational.

“Benefits like this, coupled with the fact that the whole delivery with Softwire went really well, have given Elexon confidence we can run successful agile projects. Others in the business have since followed down the agile path, which was our ultimate aim.”

“Softwire has gained a really good reputation”

Ghanty concludes with some further reflections on Softwire: “Several other things really stood out about Softwire. The first was how quickly they picked up the necessary domain knowledge, in a very complex industry. And second is the collaborative culture we’ve fostered, where Softwire and Elexon operate as one team, with everyone taking ownership and contributing to the success. Overall, Softwire has gained a really good reputation within Elexon as a supplier that can deliver successful agile projects in this sector.”

The team from Softwire and Elexon is now working on subsequent phases of the Insights Solution, including the introduction of the next-generation pub/sub messaging service.

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The project
Build the new data insights platform for analysts and decision-makers in the British electricity market, while helping Elexon adopt user-centric, agile delivery approaches.

The results
We delivered the first phase of Elexon’s Insights Solution, using an agile, user-focused approach that is now being used more widely within the business.