Utilities might have up to 400 discrete systems that automate some portion of their processes for operating the grid, serving their customers and complying with thousands of regulatory requirements. These systems have names such as Customer Information System, SCADA, Meter Data Management System, Outage Management System and Work Order Management System.
In addition, for decades utilities have used sensors on critical power equipment in the grid and power plants to generate operational data. These systems are islands of sensors and electromechanical actuators for a narrowly defined mission and typically not connected to the Internet for security reasons. Still, their use of sensors across the grid qualifies utilities as pioneers in the connected economy of the Internet of Things.
As the Internet of Things continues to grow, the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Apple are setting a high bar for data-driven customer insight and service. This forces utilities to think beyond their discrete functional systems to improve their overall level of performance and service.
To unify their discrete systems, utilities need new tools and capabilities to manage, analyze and visualize the nearly instantaneous transfer and access of data. The real and unintended consequences of managing and utilizing real-time data from the utility’s sensors, discrete systems and from third party sources challenges the stability and security of utility business and the ability to reliably serve changing customer needs.
Situational Intelligence is one of the critical capabilities that enable utilities to unify their data and derive value from their Internet of Things.
The supply chain of data that feeds utility processes and the underlying analytics has not, and most likely will not, progress uniformly and will have discontinuities for the foreseeable future. So, situational intelligence solutions need the ability to function and learn as a mesh network, to connect sources of data and information in many forms and speeds from the utility’s sensors, manual processes and from third party sources to feed analytics.
Analytics, in turn, support the visualization of information in a form that promotes an intuitive look and feel of how the utility grid is preforming and helps focus the operations staff on the priorities of the hour.
By unifying their discrete systems to better understand the grid overall and better focus on the priorities of the hour, utilities can securely position themselves for more favorable comparison with Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple.
Mr. Marshall is the President of Coastal Partners Inc. He served as Executive Vice President of Utility Operations at Kansas City Power & Light Company (KCP&L), a subsidiary of Great Plains Energy Inc. (GPE), and Executive Vice President of Utility Operations at GPE.