Interconnecting Applications to Revolutionize Energy Industry

Jerry Sullivan, VP, IT & CIO, OUC, The Reliable One
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Jerry Sullivan, VP, IT & CIO, OUC, The Reliable One

The energy industry is meeting an immense precipice with the advent of ‘Smart Grid’ technology and all the information it generates. We have all this data and the overwhelming question is what to do with it? Beyond big data and smart algorithms is the holy-grail that IT people seek. The goal is to connect all the applications so that smart technology becomes brilliant technology. Smart technologies mean that, all our related applications are indeed interconnected and talking to the next application. This connectivity allows employees and our customers to utilize the interconnected applications intelligibly, informatively, and effectively.

The historical challenge for the CIO has always been to deliver projects on time, on budget, and on schedule. That challenge is always there; however the new challenge is to connect these projects to form a brilliant technological smart grid infrastructure. So now there are two related challenges—project delivery into the IT/OT portfolio, and connecting these projects together.

Utilities are traditional infrastructure companies, but are fast becoming technology dependent companies. Electric/water/gas grids that were built many decades ago still function. These grids still convey electricity, water, or gas efficiently and their pipes and wires are unquestionably reliable. Electric generating stations and water pumping stations are efficient, but it is their technology that keeps evolving. The revolution in our industry is to connect many applications with one another. It is from this connectivity, that Big Data, Smart Algorithms, and Data Analytics will be the next new challenge.

‚Äč  Data connectivity between applications and the information it generates is beyond Big Data and Smart Algorithms. The next big wave in IT will be information received from connected systems 

In our electric and water utility, the connectivity benefits are just becoming a reality. We all use electricity and we all consume water. Everyone reading this interview will be affected by this beneficial connectivity in the Smart Grid of the future. It will be the Brilliant Grid.

One doesn’t need to understand the components of a utility grid to understand the benefits of being connected. We can simply look to our so called Smart Phone. Nearly everyone on the planet has seen or used these devices but does one really have a Smart Phone: if few if any of the applications (apps) really talk to one another? Even the smartest phones only attach a file or photo to an email, or check your contact info in your email, or spell check your document from your phone. We might have many apps on our phone, but how many are really connected to each other? One might ask, is it really necessary? The answer might be, not yet. It’s because there isn’t an apparent need for many of the apps to talk with other, for now. But one can imagine. But in an electric and water industry, the imagination is here, right now. Today, customers demand access to more information on electric and water. Unlike the Smart Phone, utility customers already realize the benefits of connectivity. For example, these applications can be connected to realize the benefits of a Smart Grid.

As Electric Vehicle (EV), Photo Voltaic (PV), solar, and other sustainable options enter the market, the connectivity between electrons and digital applications will further increase.

Nearly four years ago, OUC’s IT department, embarked upon on a major technological journey. We aspired to achieve a seamless connectivity within all of our applications and thus, provide more options and information to our customers and employees who need the applications. This effort aligned with our four strategic initiatives—1) maintain competitive electric and water rates, 2) optimize quality customer experience, 3) improve organizational effectiveness, and 4) sustainable use of electric and water resources. Many of these initiatives have technology at their core. Many can be improved by better communications, better metrics, higher efficiencies, and effective processes. Connecting the underlying applications was center to the technological journey. The challenge for us was how to plan, design, build, test, and deploy all the applications so that they were connected and information output from one could be used as input for the next application. We developed an organization that could blend all the “people” issues with all the “connectivity” issues. The former is led by our PMO, the latter by our Design Authority. We deliberately set out to make the PMs and not the PMO responsible for project delivery. This in itself is novel. Nearly every PMO organization I know, the PMO struggles because they are not only responsible for the management, but for leading the project. The director of project delivery should direct the PMs (often special expertise contractors) who in turn lead the assigned project. Essentially the following model was adopted for OUC’s Project Delivery Organization.

Beyond Big Data and Smart Algorithms

At a major IT conference a year ago, everyone was talking about Big Data. More recently, another major IT conference talked about the promise of Cloud applications. I understand the need for making use of big data, and I understand the need to adopt cloud applications if they are fast and cheap. Therein lies a paradox, how does one make sense of all the big data on systems that are not connected to each other, because they lie in the cloud? These two topics are almost at odds with each other. By virtue of placing your data with another entity, and off-siting your applications with separate entities almost guarantees that applications won’t talk with each other, and Big Data will be small.

Interconnectivity—The Key

Our company’s vision is to Be Recognized as the Best Utility [Company] in the Nation. Our IT department is but one cog in the wheel. We are just one business unit of many that can make this happen. Surely, with connectivity that brings Big Data together, from one system to the other, we can truly bring our Smart Grid and our Vision to be one that is leveraged by interconnectivity. When this is realized, our Smart Grid can be more intelligent, and will become a smarter grid.

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