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Author's profile photo Rory Shaffer

Thoughts from DistribuTECH 2014 – The Emergence of Software in the Hardware World.

Once again DistribuTECH 2014 in San Antonio renewed its place as the show to attend if you are part of the millions of people that are concerned with keeping the utility industry moving!  The overwhelming size of the show floor combined with the sheer number of attendees and renewed focus on Smart Grid track sessions revealed one thing for sure – That the utility industry is more than just hardware, SOFTWARE makes it all work – and SAP remains a presence in the delivery of innovation !

OTIT convergence – Extending Business Processes

New software that is being deployed beyond traditional engineering functions or hardware embedded operational solutions is driving exponential growth in data.  The richness and new perspectives this movement brings is in large part driving the notion of Operational Technologies and Informational Technologies Converging – that is OT and IT working together.  Beyond the marriage of the data are the new opportunities for extending this insight to employees beyond the degreed electrical engineers.

Some utilities spoke about unlocking data insights and while these new datasets allow more transparent insights– the real story is the enablement of extended business process.  Historically the utilities had to deal with the hard differentiation between operational systems that existed inside bunkers shrouded by proprietary protocols and hardwired connectivity – contrasted with more accessible information systems open to a much wider community.  Now the convergence of OTIT is allowing more opportunities for data to span across these “no man lands” and to be served up to mobile users for visualization that extends business users effectiveness and insight into their situation.

Two cases in point –

First- If I can serve up real time data regarding the OT side OMS predicted outage point to an IT driven mobile user while they are on site reporting their findings, I can effectively reduce recalls, radio traffic and provide instantaneous bi-directional feedback loaded with imagery, spatial coordinates, exacting condition reports and safety hazards to all users as the incident report is completed.   This in turn is that allows the utility to be more responsive to the customer and more accurately provide achievable and acceptable restoration times ( ERT ).

Second – The emergence of in memory data bases such as SAP HANA offer the possibility to have a unified view of the multiple perspectives found in most utility landscapes.  ADMS takes a network view, CAD a dispatch/crew view, GIS a spatial context, Historians a retrospective view and SAP a business view.  Traditionally used separately and given changing sources or update frequencies this can challenge the overall appreciation of the present situation.  However when brought together into a singular HANA in memory dataset and continuously analyzed by algorithms that weight each separate domains perspective against the defined strategies of the utility – the outcome becomes a holistic perspective that blends the best data from each into the solution into a complete picture.

No doubt the OTIT movement has reached a super critical mass and will continue to drive sweeping changes in the industry as additional use cases and innovation are driven out of the convergence of OTIT.  I’m looking forward to next year to see how far our customers and peers in the industry have come in addressing the pressing issues of protecting this new larger interoperational system landscape.

Machine to Machine Communications for Insight

Ongoing are the discussions on how to most effectively manage the growing distributed assets of renewable generation.  Characteristically these sites employ highly capable computerized control and monitoring capabilities to derive business process insight and predict needed priority maintenance activities.  The industry has been working on how to deliver this in a consumable and beneficial way.  One of the most compelling demonstrations showed how streaming real-time data could be utilized to support the remote technician during their day to day work in a distributed wind park environment.  As the user started their tour, a spatial overview was presented with important wind assets and allowed them to zero in on the trouble points that had been determined through the analysis of machine to machine communication (M2M).  Once onsite at their fingertips where real-time M2M sensor feeds, supplemented by historical maintenance records, predicted trend data and 3D virtual representations of the machine internals !

In no time before have we had so much computing power and information remotely available at our disposal and this in no small part is being driven by the concept of OTIT convergence which is further fueled by M2M conversations taking place between our computerized generation assets and our mobile business applications.

Final Thoughts –

DistribuTECH 2014 showed that SOFTWARE is here to stay and stands as a strong ally to HARDWARE.  As you are planning your agenda for next year – I would offer to the experienced maintenance practitioner or the information technologist to stretch your mind to appreciate the vast amount of opportunity that is available by crossing over the preconceived system landscape boundaries and take a look into the workings of the “Dark Side” – whatever side or discipline that is to you.  The possibilities are only beginning to be explored.

Hope to see you in San Diego at DistribuTECH 2015 !

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