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April 21, 2017
For utility performance gains, accelerate the pace of IT/OT integration
By: Bill Ernzen

Utility leaders recognize the potential of uniting data and processes from the once-distinct domains of information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT). Just think of the tens of thousands—or millions—of smart devices on electricity networks. Each digital device—whether a smart meter, a fault current indicator, to a voltage regulator—is essentially a small computer requiring hardware, firmware and software.

The benefits of IT/OT integration can be seen in how smart meter data is being used for outage management, which allows “pinging” of meters to confirm failures and service restoration. Asset management strategies are also being improved by viewing asset-performance data in real time. In addition, information on distributed energy resources—photovoltaic, solar, wind, battery, electric-vehicle chargers—enables greater control in real time.

Barriers to implementation
While organizations recognize IT/OT integration is vital, few distribution utilities are making major progress. The IT/OT survey from Accenture’s Digitally Enabled Grid research shows that as many as 80 percent of utilities executives say their companies have not yet undertaken IT/OT integration, or are at only the initial phases of strategy formulation and framework deployment. A mere 5 percent cite completion of IT/OT integration.

One of the chief obstacles seems to be overcoming cultural obstacles and organizational siloes—barriers faced by nearly two-thirds of survey respondents—followed by developing a business case to justify investment. In addition, nearly half of executives are concerned about integrating their long-standing legacy systems into IT/OT platforms.

Here are four key avenues to help accelerate progress

  1. Reduce siloes and integrate from end to end. Whether linking operations, business and IT, or the control center to the field force, IT/OT integration extends knowledge where needed, rather than confining data within a department. A new approach—one favoring matrixed, multi-disciplinary teams leveraging technologies—is needed to share knowledge and collaborate for improved performance.
  2. Upgrade analytics capabilities. Creating dedicated analytics teams—composed of data scientists, business users and IT resources—can help develop differentiated capabilities yielding high-value business insight.
  3. Bridge the skills gap. Gaps in data management and analytics capabilities are holding back realization of the greater value inherent in integrated data. Establishing a new skills framework is an important step to getting the most from IT/OT integration.
  4. Strengthen cybersecurity. Utilities may be underestimating the risks of so many interconnected devices. Along with grid attacks, the inherent risk of Internet of Things devices magnifies the importance of designing IT/OT systems with risk management top of mind.

Overcoming current utility industry challenges such as cost, reliability and network access hinges on further IT/OT integration. Holistic convergence is now a necessity rather than a choice. It requires developing a compelling business case, investing in advanced analytics and orchestrating organizational change.

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