Energy Solutions features an in-house Information Systems (IS) team of directors, software developers, system architects, and product and project managers. We work with our clients to understand their needs, design software solutions, allocate resources, build those solutions, and provide ongoing support.
So, what is a software project?
A software project is a defined amount of development work that has a beginning, middle, and an end result. The result can be a website, new process, documentation, configuration, or anything else our clients or our internal team needs to get their work done. Most of our work is project-based, but not all. Additionally, our IS team manages the ongoing operations of many different programs.
Give me an example!
I have been helping out with the California Solar Initiative (CSI) Thermal Program since I started with Energy Solutions in 2011. The program provides incentives for home and business owners installing solar hot water heating systems in California. Energy Solutions designed and built the website and underlying database that takes in all of the information about the solar thermal systems. We then calculate the rebate the customer gets based on the energy savings of their personal system configurations.
CSI Thermal is a dynamic program that changes frequently to meet the demands of the market. We receive directives several times a year from our clients, the California investor-owned utilities, and our regulator, California Public Utilities Commission. We have to quickly adapt to these new requirements, which usually involves the execution of one or more software projects to update the system.
Last year, the CSI Thermal Program needed to start accepting incentive applications for commercial pool heating systems. As a team, we designed a new form from scratch to accept inputs related to pools, to work with an outside contractor to enhance the calculation tool to accept these inputs, and to make sure that none of this work interfered with the existing forms on the website. (All of this had to be released to the public with a strict timeline mandated by law!) As one of the project managers, I worked on translating the program requirements into a technical specification that could be interpreted by our development team, breaking out the work into tickets, and testing the work that was produced.
If you want to see the results of this project, you can access the public commercial pools incentive calculator from this page: https://www.csithermal.com/calculator/pool/. The calculator actually simulates 365 days of all of the water moving through the system using finite element analysis. That’s why it take a few minutes to an hour to return your results. If you want more information on how this is done, go to http://www.trnsys.com/tess-libraries/. We’ve also just released the CSI Thermal Statistics website, where you can check out data for all incentivized solar hot water projects installed in California so far (which was also a software project by itself!): http://csithermalstats.org/.
So, what does everyone else do?
Software project management is interesting because it can’t happen in a vacuum – you can’t sit in a room somewhere and do it all by yourself. You need a product manager to manage the clients’ expectations and communicate their budget and schedule constraints. You need the developers to write the code, but you also need them to engage in the goals in the project and collaborate on the design of what you’re going to make. You need administrative, operations, and executive staff supporting the program and portfolio of programs that need the project completed in the first place. It takes an entire team to adapt to the fast pace of changing requirements; software project management is only a tiny part of the complete project.