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CIS: Middleware Mashup: Smart Grid and the Back Office

Utilities are learning how smart-grid data will interface with CIS and other back-office systems. Meters and middleware are rapidly evolving in this brave new world.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2007

open standards, it may not need to go through the MDM.”

Alternatively, another piece of middleware might evolve with comprehensive event-management functionality, to manage the massive amounts of data coming from smart-grid systems, and route operational and billing-related data streams according to their application and timeliness.

“This type of central component doesn’t exist yet, but we have the concept and requirements in mind,” Taylor says. “It would be an intelligent platform that sees the events that happen on the network, understands which systems needs information about those events, and then hands the data off.”

Such middleware functions—whether they are handled in MDM or some other system—might be the key to making the smart grid fulfill its potential.

“The in-between is becoming very significant,” says Ron Chebra, a senior principal consultant with KEMA in Mercerville, N.J. “Utilities have been islands of information, and we need to bring those islands together. To do that you need to manage where data traffic goes, who owns it, who needs it, and how it is used by various applications. It really is a mindset change to view metering as an extension of distribution automation and SCADA.”

Interop Dreams

One of the latest buzzwords among utility IT experts is “service-oriented architecture” (SOA). In general it refers to software systems that play well with others, using data standards and communication protocols that are open and interoperable.

As the intelligent grid evolves, SOA will be critical to ensure smart meters, automation gear, and middleware systems function well together and remain relatively future proof.

“It’s up to the vendors to develop platforms based on reasonable standards,” says Henry Bailey, utility-industry principal with SAP in Philadelphia. “That’s what the vendor community is doing right now. In the end there will be more than one standard. But using SOA, each will have the ability to adapt and integrate with different standards, so customers can pick different hardware and software vendors.”

With SOA and advanced-automation systems, even the most audacious smart-grid visions are theoretically possible. Data from metering and SCADA systems will be integrated fully with CIS, OMS, and asset-management systems, and intelligent processes will make full use of that data in restoring outages, optimizing the efficiency of assets and giving customers all the information they need to make decisions about their utility services.

“The foundation has been laid to do all this,” Bailey says. “The call centers and workforce-management systems are there. Devices are communicating in real time, and sensors and controls are enabling switching and dispatching in real time. The next step is to connect the pieces together.”

Connecting the parts and making them play nicely together will be the challenge, and it also will unleash the many opportunities of the smart grid. And as more systems go live and smart-grid functions become available, their uses become increasingly apparent. For example, when the start date for daylight-saving time moved ahead this spring, UI was able to reprogram its entire AMI network in less than 24 hours at a very small cost. Similarly the company implemented a major change in rate design in