INF30020 Information Systems Risk and Security Case Study
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OVERVIEW. Green Genie specialises in the production, installation, and maintenance of photovoltaic (PV) solar panel solutions for homes in the Victorian domestic market. Green Genie was established in 2012 in Torquay and, although the whole region is prone to wild winds, storms and erratic weather events, this idyllic town remains the company headquarters to this day. Company founders, Jessica Hill and Joe Farelli, met while studying Information Systems at Swinburne University of Technology, however, a passion for surfing took them to the Surf Coast where they could ride waves the whole year around. Together they developed sunGenie combining solar panel inverters (to feed solar electricity into household Mains) and a monitoring system that continuously tracks the performance and use of the solar installation’s contribution to the electricity supply of customers. sunGenie comprises two patented hardware and software devices (the inverter and the monitor) that Green Genie installs in a kit mounted alongside household electricity meter boxes when customers first buy their solar panels. Green Genies unique inverter converts DC electricity produced by photovoltaic panels into required AC electricity currents at levels of efficiency that the company claims cannot be matched by any of its competitors. Customers can also feed any excess electricity they create back into the local grid. sunGenie requires an Internet connection that is achieved via a Wi-fi link from the kit to the customer’s household broadband. By monitoring solar usage sunGenie can present customers with live digital reports that they can use to optimise their consumption and make cost savings. A connector interfaces with the meter box to feed data, via the Internet, back to Green Genie’s data centre. Customers can access reports via any networked device including PCs, smartphones and tablets on the sunGenie App or in the home on an included Green Genie monitor. The system provides reports of household electricity generation to the main electricity supplier which is critical for accurate tariff rebates or credits to be paid from the supplier to the customer. Green Genie’s high performing inversion and monitoring solution has made it the most successful company in its field in Victoria with a reputation that it needs to protect.
MOBILE SUBBIES AND AN EXPANDING MARKET. While Jessica and Joe are still the company’s chiefs, by 2015 they had employed six solar engineers to build and test prototype systems before updating and assembling the final product. Also in 2015, Green Genie was incorporated to limit the financial liability of its founders and managing the legal responsibilities of the company, e.g., as this company earns more than 3 million per annum it is bound by the NPP and Australian Privacy legislation and the more recent Notification of Data Breaches Amendment. Green Genies components such as the casing, sensors and electronic parts for the final product were initially sourced in Australia, but in 2017 Green Genie shifted manufacturing and basic assembly of the system to Guangdong, China. Nowadays licensed sub-contractors (subbies) complete the distribution and installation of sunGenie units to households. Green Genie continues to manage sunGenie’s monitoring and reporting systems centrally, at the Green Genie data centre, on behalf of its licensed subbies and in addition to charging the ‘subbies’ for their license and products, it also charges an annual service fee to customers for the reporting system. Jessica and Joe decided early on that they did not wish to develop the installation side of the business but recognised the value in retaining the technological advantage and income stream generated by the sunGenie intelligence system. They now focus on research, development and innovation required to grow their network, while Green Genie’s pool of trusted subbies is instrumental in growing the business by bringing in new customers. The subbies are always out in the field and access Green Genie systems and services remotely on a wide range of BYOD mobile technologies.
Standards: All Green Genie products are built to diligently comply with relevant Australian standards. Green Genies continuous product innovation requires time and energy to meet the requirements of communicating, testing and monitoring quality control for accreditation across standards for solar energy and it has become proficient in meeting the rigorous demands of reporting by incorporating document management that allows for the reuse of document templates into its enterprise solutions. Competition in the solar energy space is fierce and, while so far Green Genies has kept ahead of the game, its long-term competitive advantage rests on maintaining documents unique to the company in Green Genies custom made enterprise system, enterpriseGenie; which is used to protect patented designs and ensuring a stable uninterrupted revenue stream. To this day Joe Farelli keeps the original designs for sunGenie in pride-of-place, in a wooden filing cabinet at his home office.
Confidential design: Between 2012 and 2021 the company has added a full suite of products for installation into solar powered apartment buildings based on a new generation of wireless technology. Increasingly, they are working with major construction companies who are installing their systems into apartment complexes as they are built, requiring Green Genie to work with, manage and store (digitally) architectural designs and plans that are often highly confidential. The experience Jessica and Joe gained in the early years has provided them with a good knowledge base about smart, environmentally friendly electricity monitoring systems and although nowadays the two founders spend very little time “on the job” the demands they can make on behalf of their preferred “prestige” clients can still override the opinions of their Board, design engineers and business managers. They see their network of licensed subbies as the core to a revenue model that allows them their lifestyle while taking a balanced risk approach to new product offerings in a small but growing domestic market. Their CFO however, would prefer a more aggressive market stance of lowering costs to sell fully assembled units to an international wholesale market. So far Green Genie has avoided this strategy.
IS/IT INFRASTRUCTURE –ENTERPRISEGENIE. Green Genie is sourcing components from around the world. Most of the underlying electronic components are standardised and ordered from large online B2B catalogues (containing product descriptions, detailed specifications – tolerances, test data details and so on) and shipped to Guangdong for assembly. Maintaining the supply chain for manufacturing and assembly in China hasn’t been easy and most orders are still managed by email. When a special component design is required (such as solar panels with Wi-Fi stations for an apartment complex) technical specifications are couriered to a few selected suppliers so that they can tender for the work and send samples to Green Genie. The samples are tested for quality and tolerance before Green Genies Chief Engineer, Trent Felix, selects each supplier. Once a supplier is selected, purchase orders are emailed through, along with instructions for delivery to the Guangdong assembler. All operational records associated with the exchange are maintained in enterpriseGenie. While this business process seems to work, maintaining the information trail, of important documents, sub-contractors, contracts, suppliers, customers, orders, invoices and receipts is placing a significant administrative burden on the system. A Geelong based software-company built Green Genie’s enterprise system, enterpriseGenie, almost 10 years ago but the company no longer exists. Keeping up with changing business demands has required Green Genie’s IT department to develop “patches, extensions and workarounds” just to keep enterpriseGenie running. Rapid development means detailed documentation about the system was put to one side and changes made to the system have been dependent on a churning roster of Database Administrators and programmers to keep all systems operating. Jock Jordan was appointed to the role of Chief Data Officer in 2020 following a DDOS attack on Green Genie’s customer facing web servers over Christmas 2019 that resulted in heightened security concerns around Green Genies weakest points; however, Jock is not a security expert and his brief, covering new data analytics, gives him little time for legacy systems. While Green Genie does have an Information Systems Manager, Alain Monte Perrie, he is preparing for retirement and considered by many to be a little ‘old school’; Jock is seen his inevitable replacement At the business level enterpriseGenie is becoming a problem too, the Accounts reconciliation officer responsible for banking, Sally Brent, exports and converts invoicing data daily, in CSV format, so that she can reconcile accounts and complete banking from ledgers on her own desktop. While Jock has asked her not to do this work from her laptop, her busy schedule sometimes demands ignoring the ‘IT guy’. Complicating matters, it is not possible to share customer transaction records between enterpriseGenie and the data centre in real-time, instead this customer information is processed in a nightly batch process. While Green Genie has established a secure extranet and VPN for its sub-contractors, agents and suppliers that allows them to communicate orders, invoices, billing and procurement records, Jock is constantly having to undertake additional work and activate new scripts for processing the information received through the ‘partner portal’ just so it can be included in the enterprise system. The problems with enterpriseGenie have been flagged with the Board of Directors, but they are somewhat ignorant about enterprise systems and see the problem principally as an “IT issue.” They “just want it fixed”, Without an IS/IT manager reporting directly to the Board they remain unaware of any broader implications, issues or opportunities in this space. Recently, their attention has been focussed on the company’s new state-of-the-art data centre.
NEW PRODUCTS AND SERVICES. At the beginning of this year Green Genie decommissioned its original customer data management servers and opened “Jock’s baby”, a new Green Genie Data Warehouse on the outskirts of Torquay that will serve as a platform for new products and services.
Green Genie Data Warehouse: The data warehouse has taken over data management for the sunGenie customer monitoring and reporting system and is being prepared to support and drive multiple aspects of the company’s future directions. The amount of data that is exchanged and shared about customer electricity generation and use via sunGenie has grown exponentially over the last 10 years and maintenance of the reporting system for customers has remained a core activity of the business. For customers the data warehouse promises faster real-time processing of their accounts and reports for electricity use including a dynamic reporting interface that allows customers to undertake detailed analysis of household appliances energy consumption and forecasting of use; they can now monitor and send information about electricity use to multiple devices and social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter. In addition to extending the operating capacity of sunGenie (itself a major revenue stream for Green Genie), the resource presents a significant opportunity for ‘big data analysis’
that will support business intelligence and, at this stage; it is an opportunity that cannot be matched by Green Genies competitors. Green Genie is exploring licensing options for the resale of its data to government, electricity suppliers and other interested businesses both domestically and internationally. However much of this will depend on the centres capacity to interact securely with customers over Wi-Fi and mobile networks. To support this the centre has implemented a continuous uninterruptible power supply and its own continuous backup facility. It is linked to the outside with high-speed broadband connections.
powerGenie: Over the last 5 years sunGenie has committed a significant amount of research to the development of domestic lithium battery storage of electricity that has resulted in the 2021 release of powerGenie. powerGenie combines lithium battery technology (for storing solar generated household electricity) with an intelligence system that allows customers to control their supply mix and minimise their reliance on suppliers by using the electricity they have stored. With similar lithium power solutions now rushing to market, sunGenie has been quick to realise that its advantage resides with its benchmark intelligence system and it has developed powerGenie to allows customers to act on real time information new ways (e.g. home usage patterns, stored power level, consumer trends and energy prices) and optimise their cost. While powerGenie is currently on trial with a small number of customers, the Board has flagged this system as the inevitable replacement for the original sunGenie inverter and monitoring platform and, as such, the security of this new solar energy and customer information platform, including a completely new look Web and mobile platforms interface, is integral to the company’s future.
HR Cloud:The Data Centre is just one of several new initiatives Green Genie is exploring while facing a failing enterprise system. The company’s Human Resource manager, Rebecca Adams, has commenced looking at cloud technology and Software as a Service (SaaS) to support the HR function. She has initiated discussions with Workday, a US based SaaS provider that has been recommended to her by a colleague in the HR profession. Ultimately, her intention is to seek funding from the CFO for the purchase of a SaaS based Human Resource Management solution. While her initial planning has raised concerns about Workday’s servers being located offshore in the USA, at the moment she considers the functionality the service will provide as more important than concerns about offshoring HR data. She really can’t see that it matters where the data is stored.
Rebecca has found an ally in the Customer Service Manager for Green Genie, Theresa Alvantez. When Theresa became aware of the HR manager’s intention to adopt SaaS for HR, she too started to think about getting approval from the CFO to adopt Salesforce.com’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. A recent partnership between Salesforce.com and Workday – Work.com – is beginning to make this SasS solution look like an attractive way of integrating several core finance and business functions (HR and Customer Service). Theresa has been frustrated by the development of the sunGenie Data Centre which has proceeded without any policy established to define the relationship between its operations and the Customer Service team’s role in managing customer relations throughout the customer lifecycle – from beginning to end. She is planning to put forward a proposal to the CFO to use part of the Customer Service budget to explore the SaaS option. Theresa is reluctant to go through any consultative process with the Information Systems Manager, Alain Monte Perrie, whom she regards as a “just another IT control freak” without any power with the Board – Governance of customer data she feels, is her concern and not ITs. When it comes to the strategic direction of Green Genie, Alain is concerned that the IT function is being disregarded, but his is close to retirement.
Business continuity: Despite some of the internal issues between the departments, the management of Green Genie shares the same vision when it comes to the importance of its information and the company has recently adopted a good enterprise data backup strategy. All corporate data (which is vast at Green Genie, as it comprises operational data from multiple countries, transactional data from partners including manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, installers; customers under license with the installers and subscribers to the sunGenie reporting systems; project data; design specifications, logistics and supply chain data, financial) is done monthly. A small specialist company, located in Lorne (a small town near Torquay) provides the data backup service. The company is owned by a close and trusted friend of Alain Monte Perrie and although it is a relatively new company, so far it has made good on its promise to provide an “excellent and reliable service to secure all corporate data and information” and “provide cost effective solutions to corporate data backup and restoration”. The company has immaculate offices and presents an impressive looking backup facility as per the information provided on their web page, and (according to its website) it has a significant bandwidth leased from an ISP that ensures all backup processes can be performed offsite.
Of imminent concern: Business prospects seem healthy for Green Genie, yet it is easy to see that the corporate culture of this coastal company is not what its two surf-loving founders first imagined. A number of incidents in the past few months are compounding the already existing tensions and operational issues that surround the overburdened and aging enterprise system. Recently, employees who have been with the company for its first 10 years, including its Chief Engineer have left and a lot of corporate know-how has departed with them. Nobody is really sure why Trent Felix chose the suppliers that he did, but a recent review suggests that it may not have been based solely on the competitive tender process. Other departing employees seem jaded following the pressures of the past few years. Between 2019-20021, there has been a substantial rise in the number of viruses detected in email attachments scanned by the IT department and IT recently identified a targeted phishing attack designed to convince finance personnel to release account details to an unknown party. After careful examination of the emails it’s clear that this was the result of a scam designed to access corporate account details, but by whom? Between the Trent Felix issue and these campaigns, Alain is concerned that corporate espionage or company fraud may be just as real a threat at Green Genie as the malicious activity of organised criminal hackers outside of the company. Even the weather is affecting the mood. Constant rain on from Melbourne and south over the past 2 months has been interminable and surf conditions have been appalling. There are concerns that floods across south-west Victoria may peak at levels higher than the last recorded 100-year flood, while storms are battering Torquay and surrounds.
Green Genie seeks your advice in the management of its Information Systems risks and security.
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