To Build Your Business-Integrate Your Silos

The integration of IT-OT silos is resulting in more efficient business operations providing decision-makers with a holistic view of the utility.
Published: Fri 28 Feb 2014

In the electrical industry, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) have always operated separately. While this has worked in the past, there are now a number of drivers (thanks to the major transformations taking place in the industry-both technological and operational) forcing these two departments to finally come together.

With this integration, utilities can establish collaborative teams and interoperable systems in order to really benefit from advanced smart grid technology, explains Thomas Zimmerman, CEO of the Services Business Unit of the Siemens smart grid division.

The utility is beginning to realize that it needs to integrate operational technologies such as energy distribution management, real-time grid operations at the transmission and substation level with IT systems that support metering, customer business processes, analytics, billing and field dispatches. Without this integration, the utility cannot expect to run effectively.

These characteristic systems exist in different departments or sometimes organizations-they both have different costs of failure. One can affect a company’s revenue and customer satisfaction, while the other impacts physical safety, security of supply and broader economic scenarios. It is because of these differences in impact that the utility set up two different departments and unique systems. However, this is now changing as impacts are crossing over departments.

IT-OT Integration Drivers

The development of technologies and business processes is driving IT-OT integration. Smart devices are generating a significant volume of data which affects both the IT and OT departments.

Smart technologies require a new scale of data, device and configuration management. Initially, they drive integrated IT systems such as meter data management (MDM) and work management systems, but increasingly they also support grid operations through integration with SCADA and advanced distribution management systems.

Growing consumer engagement in grid operations is also driving the integration. What started with reactive measures such as dynamic pricing, e.g., time of use, to influence load distribution has extended to include customer-owned renewable generation, new loads such as electric vehicles, and new forms of distributed generation and storage. These all require a more active engagement between the more customer-oriented systems and grid control systems.

Dispatchable virtual power plants' aggregating small and distributed generation or demand response management systems are just examples of business applications that increase the need to further integrate the control centre and the customer.

The organizational demand for relevant data and the ability to support business decisions is growing significantly. Planners and forecasters want to optimize operations based on data and information from meters and intelligent grid sensors. This is also crucial for the customer as they aim for lower bills through more efficient energy usage. They also expect to receive information about outages and reliable restoration times in an efficient manner so that these can be planned for.

Management requests up-to-date key performance indicators reporting and integrated information dashboards across the enterprise. To address these information needs, integrated and combined data from multiple systems across both domains must be taken into account.

Based on these drivers, it is clear that the two departments need to work in together in an interconnected environment. This will enable and support process automation, optimization, as well as improved and faster decision-making based on more holistic business intelligence.

Integration calls for proper blending

Achieving IT-OT integration requires blending of teams, processes, budgets and cultures. With this, comes various challenges-this was discussed in our article, IT-OT Integration-Overcoming the Challenges.

Utilities need to establish enterprise integration policies that accommodate OT and IT solutions with processes for harmonizing data modelling and semantics.

During this process, the utility may have to re-examine organization chart and its alignment with the new operational roles these systems create.

Cyber security should not be overlooked during the integration process. Utilities will need to employ defence, in-depth security policies and limit access to the most sensitive systems.

It is crucial to establish organizations that maintain the cross-functional connections. This will prevent IT-OT teams from snapping back into silos. It is suggested that utilities partner with vendors that have experience in IT-OT integration so that the transition and skills development process is smooth.

There is great potential in integrating IT-OT systems. Most IT and OT software applications are not independent and need to be considered within a utility technology landscape. Open platforms can help reduce integration and maintenance costs substantially while promoting flexibility so business applications can be developed and integrated quickly into the landscape.

By moving to a fully interconnected energy system, utilities can exploit the full potential of deployed technology, optimize their operations and meet rate of return expectations, concludes Mr Zimmerman.