The U.S. utility landscape is more dynamic and uncertain than it’s been since Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse waged their infamous war over alternating current—and the results might be just...
The CIO Forum: The Changing Face of Energy I.T.
Budgets are expected to increase, even as new IT challenges present themselves.
more important at PG&E is what we’re spending the money on, than saying hard and fast, “This is the target we’re going to hit.”
Certainly, everyone has budget pressures, and there are always more technology projects you want to do than your budget allows. There’s always a supply-and-demand problem. What has evolved at PG&E in the time I’ve been here is the focus by executive leadership around the vision and goals for the corporation overall. That’s what really helps a CIO. Starting in January-March 2005 time frame, as [PG&E CEO] Peter Darbee became more and more involved in setting the goals for this organization, he really had a concerted effort to make sure we had an aligned vision, and objective. So when technology projects came in, we were able to establish a governance process whereby any technology project—and as I described, these are now larger, more focused projects—are focused on those specific goals, and [on] where Darbee wants to take the organization.
Much of that is around providing better customer service and being able to respond to outages in better time, being able to determine quickly what assets we should be replacing due to known maintenance conditions, or predictive maintenance.
When something comes in now, the business, with our facilitation, goes through a process where we evaluate anything that comes in, and says, “Does this align with our goals and objectives and where we want to take the corporation?” We can score it.
Fortnightly: You mention equipment that might need to be replaced. Have you addressed any system vulnerabilities?
PL: We have a very large investment we’re making in securing our infrastructure, but we don’t describe exactly what we’re doing. I wasn’t referring to just technology assets, but to distribution assets: transformers, other pieces of equipment where we know and can mine data to tell us, in a predictive manner, that these only have a useful life of 12.5 years, for example. If we replace them at 12 years, we’re less likely to see an outage. Those are the kind of projects that would get funding, versus an upgrade in the payroll system, for instance.
All of that falls under my responsibility. The determination of how to spend our technology dollars is governed by a committee that I’m the chair of. But it’s done by business people. Ther e’s a robust governance structure here because we have a very good understanding of where Peter Darbee wants to take this company.
What makes a CIO’s job easier from that respect is to have executive leadership alignment and good leadership and objectives of where you want to take the company. I’ve worked in a lot of different environments, and when you don’t have that, it’s always challenging to determine how to spend your technology dollars. Here it’s very easy for me to literally pick up a piece of paper and say, “This is what we want to spend our dollars on. This is the company’s focus.” Anything else is nice to have.
Fortnightly: Has the Energy Policy Act of 2005 affected your job?