Utilities Are Breaking Down Silos To Achieve Operational Effectiveness

Systems integration will help utilities close data gaps and run a more effective and efficient business.
Published: Thu 24 Sep 2015

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The utility model, created over 100 years ago, is outdated and is understandably facing disruptive changes on a number of levels. In response, utilities are compelled to completely change their business processes.   

One way flows of energy and digital information are evolving into multi-directional flows of energy and real time information spanning various aspects of operations.

Major drivers of this transformation include the increased need for consumer centric technologies, rising regulatory pressures, and sensors in the grid. In addition to this, renewable energy sources are becoming more affordable and technologically feasible. Reducing carbon footprint is also a major driver for the energy sector to make necessary changes. The transmission and distribution of energy is also changing-that is, from large critical distribution and infrastructure to smaller, distributed energy sources.   This is causing a major structural impact on the value chain.

With the advancement of technology and adoption of information technology by sectors such as banking and telecom, customer expectations are growing and utilities need to respond by becoming more digitized to stay ahead. This is causing a disruption in the way utilities interact with their customers.

These disruptions call for some calculated changes.  For utilities to successfully navigate this changing business and technology landscape and prosper in a highly competitive market place, intelligent asset management is essential, explains  Ranjeet Vaishnav, Director of Engineering Services for Utilities, TATA CONSULTANCY SERVICES, who will be presenting the upcoming webcast, How to improve Operational Effectiveness through IT OT Integration for Utilities.

Intelligent asset management

According to Mr Vaishnav, intelligent asset management can help utilities prosper in the future market.

He says that traditionally, utilities have been working with two business silos-‘operational’ and ‘enterprise’. ‘Operations’ have focused on technology that has relevance to the grid, power and generation side. This side has been investing in solutions that have relevance only for this part of the business. When IT became pervasive, the primary focus of IT was on the enterprise side. Focus was placed on how to enable or automate various business processes as well as improve customer interactions.

However, when these systems begin to mature, a significant gap forms between the two silos and very little information is shared between them. This so-called gap between the two parts of the utility business should be closed quickly through systems integration.

“Without this integration, very little information sharing takes place which can lead to a number of issues especially in asset management. An integrated asset management system is a means of assuring that the view of assets is uniform across the enterprise. This can only be achieved through the integration of operational and IT systems.”

IT/OT integration benefits

The opportunities of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) integration exist in several domains, says Mr Vaishnav.

“The integration will provide utilities with accurate outage information in the form of restoration notification to customers, for instance. The information needed to provide such accurate reports resides in the different systems so integration is critical.”

“When a major storm like Sandy hits and all systems are stressed, the ability of the utility to collect all the information and provide an accurate estimated time of restoration becomes a huge challenge.”

Unless  IT/OT information is married, utilities  won’t be able to respond quickly enough. Without an efficient reaction, the ability to make important business decisions on time becomes challenging. Integration enables overall asset maintenance efficiency and helps the utility to serve its customers better.

Mr Vaishnav points out that integration is made difficult because IT and OT silos have been using their own technologies. “The challenge is to break down the so-called ‘iron curtain’ between the two silos. The challenge is more technological. If you want to integrate IT/OT operations, a new mindset is also called for.”

Taking the first step needs planning

Some utilities are already carrying out IT/OT integration. But, there are those that are hesitant to take the first step.

“Larger utilities have already tapped into the benefits of integration and are moving forward despite the significant investment required in terms of money and effort. But, if you don’t plan it very well, it can be quite a mess.”

This is where system integrators prove their worth. Utilities should view system integrators as partners since they generally have a great deal of knowledge and experience when it comes to the various types of technology.

“Based on this experience, often gained from working with different customer needs across the globe, they can be relied upon as consultants who will provide the appropriate approaches to the integration processes.”

Enabling new levels of operational insights through integration

By integrating real-time sensor based data with geospatial data, utilities can look forward to new levels of operational insights about network operations and asset management. According to Mr Vaishnav, it brings about a “completely different perspective of viewing a problem.”

“If real time data is married with a geospatial view, when you represent data on a geospatial context, it provides a completely different impact. This is highly relevant for control centre operators for instance because when you marry real time data for control centre operators, it helps them improve situational awareness. They can be a great deal more effective because they can view the data in a different dimension. The integration process provides a more holistic view of operations so that the information provides a more holistic view. The data is made more usable.”

This highly insightful data gives utilities more insight into their business operations and functionality of their assets. For instance, the data will help utilities predict the effects of weather conditions on the grid and enable them to prepare for possible infrastructure damage and resulting outages. The data will also help to recover debt from unpaid bills more efficiently and effectively.

“Data integration provides tremendous benefits in terms of the efficiency of operations and business processes. OT/IT integration does not require a business case. Just ensure that you plan and stage your process properly.”


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