Case Studies

OFWAT – Support

The Water Services Regulation Authority, more commonly known as OFWAT, is the body responsible for economic regulation of the water and sewerage sectors in England and Wales. OFWAT are there to make sure that the companies provide household and business consumers with a good quality service and value for money.

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OFWAT do this by:

  • Keeping bills for consumers as low as possible
  • Monitoring and comparing the services the companies provide
  • Scrutinising the companies’ costs and investment
  • Encouraging competition where this benefits consumers.
  • OFWAT works closely with a wide range of other stakeholders, including water quality regulators (the Environment Agency and the Drinking Water Inspectorate) and the Consumer Council for Water.

 

One of the ways OFWAT regulates is to set the price, investment and service package that customers receive. This includes setting limits on the prices the companies can charge their customers. When they do this they must balance the interests of consumers with the need to make sure the sectors can finance the delivery of water and sewerage services. OFWAT also needs to make sure that companies are able to meet their other legal obligations, including their environmental and social duties.

Challenge

Ixxus was initially engaged to design and build a new web application and hosting service to replace a legacy website which was slow, costly and inefficient from an editorial and maintenance perspective. OFWAT also required the integration of an internal document and records management system which would allow them to store and make accessible a large amount of information in the form of PDFs and Word documents; the form which much of their regulation documentation was stored in. This repository also needed to include powerful metadata and search functionality, improving the discoverability of data and avoiding the needless, time-consuming process of sifting through files and folders.

OFWAT’s specific business requirements meant that they required the web platform to be very robust and flexible; particularly during an upcoming major announcement they were about to make around price limits for water companies from 2010-2015. To meet the expected high levels of traffic without exceeding IT capacity, Ixxus were tasked with delivering a powerful single-site solution within a limited timeframe.

OFWAT legacy website

OFWAT legacy website

Solution

A complete web platform was designed and delivered, leveraging Alfresco’s Document Management System (DMS) alongside Ixxus’ own Web Framework – a robust and scalable framework designed to provide clients with an easily-maintainable and highly customisable web architecture.

The resulting system incorporates both a DMS that stores the large library of information that OFWAT has to control and a WCMS (Web Content Management System) to enable the information to be published and managed easily on the OFWAT website. In addition to this, Ixxus designed and developed an entirely new web presence for the organisation.

Because of the large amount of .pdf and .dov files which OFWAT wanted to make available via their website sitting alongside simple web-based text content, Ixxus took the decision to build the system entirely using Alfresco’s DM solution. This meant that OFWAT could take advantage of the rich metadata and advanced search and filtering capabilities available in Alfresco, allowing fast searches across the entire document and content library from both the website and within the enterprise. This improves data discoverability for both knowledge-workers within the organisation and end-users accessing the website online.

Following extended discussion with the client to uncover their requirements, Ixxus also carried out customisation of Alfresco to include other advanced features, including registration of site visitors, editable navigation menus and ability to place access control on restricted areas of the site. Registration of site visitors kicks off an automated workflow that means that Alfresco sends them an email each week, notifying them of any new content, ensuring that users are kept up to date with changes, and providing OFWAT with a valuable marketing tool.

For a full demonstration of the WCMS’ functionality, watch the Ixxus OFWAT webinar.

The slide below illustrates the basic structure of the deployed architecture. Alfresco is installed in both the staging and live environments. Content is prepared, previewed and workflowed in the staging environment, which lives inside the client’s private network, and then pushed out into the live environment for public consumption.

OFWAT2

The web application which delivers the website is distinct from the Alfresco application, communicating with it by making standard HTTP requests to a RESTful API which was developed using Java-backed webscripts. Java was chosen over Javascript due to the substantially better developer support that tools like Eclipse offer for Java. It also meant that rather than writing templates to marshall data manually into the responses, simple Java object serialisation could be used to populate the HTTP payload with data, enhancing developer productivity and reducing development time even further.

OFWAT3

OFWAT new Ixxus-built website

Following a three-month Agile development process, the web platform was successfully deployed on time and to budget.

Support

100% Up-Time 24/7 Since 2010 – Providing Proactive and Reactive Support

Following this, and capitalising upon the positive relationship which developed during the initial project, Ixxus entered into a long-term operational support contract, which has been now been ongoing since 2008.

The Ixxus approach to support is built around developing a thorough understanding of the client’s environment and needs, and acting as a comprehensive knowledge-pool around the client’s solution. This includes infrastructure needs, operational needs, security, monitoring, application extension and scaling. The emphasis is on providing both proactive and reactive support, giving clients the confidence and peace of mind that their service will remain stable when they need it the most.

Due to concerns about security vulnerabilities and site instability, Ixxus was asked to assist OFWAT in a tendering process to help them select a new third-party hosting partner. This resulted in a hosting and support partnership between Ixxus as web application support and Attenda Limited as web hosting partner, providing 24/7 support and problem-solving. Ixxus works closely with Attenda to monitor OFWAT’s requirements; for example, when legislation changes and new documentation is released onto the site, major spikes in traffic occur as a large amount of users attempt to access the files at the same time. In cases such as this, Ixxus works together with OFWAT to anticipate their needs and increases capacity accordingly, ensuring that a stable service is maintained. During the four years providing support for the OFWAT platform, Ixxus has quickly identified, diagnosed and resolved network support issues with minimal disruption, with a highly effective outcome: no downtime, outages or security vulnerabilities since 2010.

This success has resulted in a strong, open and pragmatic relationship with the client, leaving them assured that they have a reliable IT support team who they can trust to go the extra mile.

“When it comes to both proactive and reactive support, Ixxus’ services have been exemplary,” said Carl Poulton, Head of IT & Technology, “Any issues arising were solved quickly and with minimal interruption to services, and whenever we have required extra capacity bursts the process has been smooth.”

Date Published : 23rd of October 2014