How will the technology and policy changes now sweeping through the industry affect the architecture of the utility grid? Will America build an increasingly robust transmission infrastructure, or...
Breaking down silos to achieve a more enabled workforce and more informed stakeholders.
Electric distribution operations are changing rapidly as the application of operations technology (OT)—particularly two-way communications, intelligent devices, and SCADA—is changing the way distribution systems are monitored and controlled. In the same way, evolving information technology (IT) continues to affect distribution operations, with seemingly endless advances in mobile technologies, analytics, systems integration, and computing platforms.
Historically, OT and IT for distribution operations were developed, maintained, and used by different silos in the organization. However, the concept of IT-OT convergence isn’t new, as Gartner defined the concept in the mid-2000s. Practical examples exist at many distribution organizations, but only a fraction of the potential benefits in the industry have been realized. While technical and organizational challenges exist for those looking to cross IT-OT boundaries, there are compelling business reasons and strong technology drivers for increased IT-OT convergence in distribution operations.
Experience has shown that benefits of IT-OT convergence can include improvements in an electric system’s performance, an organization’s business processes and decision-making effectiveness, and its customer satisfaction. Going beyond the smart grid enabled by field automation devices only, where much investment has been made in the last several years, IT-OT convergence is fundamentally changing distribution operations, enabling: a smarter grid, with system optimization; a more effective workforce, with better-enabled employees; and more informed stakeholders, through closer connections with external parties.
IT-OT convergence will continue to be a leading contributor to improving distribution system performance and organization productivity over the next decade. However, now more than ever, distribution organizations need to plan their IT and OT strategies not one application at a time, but as a comprehensive portfolio of applications that must work together to support the organization’s goals.
Improving Organizational Effectiveness
There are no industry-standard definitions of IT and OT for electric distribution operations. IT is traditionally associated with back-office information systems that are used for conducting business-type transactions, such as cost and tax accounting, billing and revenue collection, asset tracking and depreciation, human resource records and time-keeping, and customer records. Manual data entry is often involved, and the computing resources are likely to be in office locations, server rooms, and corporate data centers.
OT is typically associated with field-based devices connected to the distribution system, and the infrastructure for monitoring and controlling those devices. This includes control center-based systems such as SCADA and distribution management systems (DMS). Most communications is performed device-to-device, or device-to-computer, with relatively little human interaction.
Plainly, historic barriers between IT and OT still exist, but now they’re being overridden by the organizational objectives and operational goals that today’s distribution organizations are expected to achieve. To meet those objectives, the electric distribution industry must overcome numerous challenges—including controlling system operations and maintenance (O&M) costs—particularly in light of aging infrastructure and high percentages of the workforce that are nearing retirement—while maintaining or improving system reliability. Maintaining or improving customer service, and finding the most effective way to communicate with customers using web-based and social