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CIO perspectives: consequences of the data deluge

Last week's EnergyBiz Leadership Forum produced many thoughtful panel discussions and today I bring you a sliver of one. The EBLF website soon will feature media coverage of the event and its content, but I listened in on one panel that was previewed last week in "Data Analytics: Look Before You Leap."

The opening comments in that panel, titled, "CIO Perspectives: Enabling the Enterprise," were prompted by the set-up question (I paraphrase) "What are you doing to manage the demands of new technology while you manage the expectations of your stakeholders?"

The session was moderated by Mark Griffin, North American practice leader for energy, natural resources and utilities at Tata Consultancy Services. Griffin prefaced his question to panelists by noting that at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago the Electricity Pavilion featured a "dynamo," which was said to produce more energy than it consumed and was fleetingly regarded as "the end of all energy concerns." In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same. New technologies are unlikely to make challenges simply disappear; rather, they're going to require hands-on management.

"With all the technology impacting the utility industry today, we can quickly lose sight of the reality," Griffin said. "The reality is, these technologies need to be managed. And managing them is no easy business, in terms of extracting value expected by [internal] customers and by the people who pay the bills."

So Griffin popped his question on managing technology and stakeholder expectations.

"Proper organization," answered Manoj Chouthai, vice president, IT and CIO for PSEG. "Having focus. Teams and talented people dedicated to the concept of assessing technology and developing appropriate business cases. And then having a mechanism through an organizational protocol and capital budgeting process to bring those business cases up for evaluation and discussion.

"That allows us to pay attention to new technologies coming up, making sure we can cost-justify them and their associated business cases," Chouthai added.

Joel Austin, vice president and CIO at Oncor, pointed to the broader effect of disruptive technologies: teamwork and crumbling silos.

"In the utility industry, you've had IT in a kind of 'back office' role," Austin said. "You've had operational technology totally separate. What I'm seeing with the advent of disruptive technologies is really business transformation. And that means the walls of silos are starting to crumble.

"Those walls are crumbling because as a business we want to get to all the data in order to make the best decisions about the issue at hand, not just the IT-brokered piece, not just the OT (operations technology)-brokered piece," Austin continued. "With the advent of smart meters, particularly in our service territory, we have [new] mountains of data. So while we refresh our outage management system, that helps us restore power, either through automated switching or the [efficient] dispatch of troublemen.

"The business imperative is how to collect information and turn it into something that makes us more efficient while keeping the lights on," Austin said. "In Texas we have fast-moving weather that leads to outages. So our imperative is to restore power. And for our customers, to give them an estimated time to restoration that they can have confidence in. So we need to build source systems that make that data available 100 percent of the time. And put an effective enterprise information management structure in place."

Kenneth Coleman, senior vice president and CIO at Southern Company, seemed to emphasize the role of business units in making intelligent queries to the new data streams to improve efficiencies and wring value from the deluge.

"We're beyond the 'gee, that's a lot of data' stage," Coleman said. "But we still see that stage in our rear view mirror. We think it's IT's function to set both the structure for the data, put the infrastructure in place and help develop the governance models. But we're still in the midst of building our long-term data management strategy.

"We see the innovation coming from the business units," Coleman continued.

As the organization integrates multiple streams of data, including meter data, weather data, billing data, etc., the result should be one version of the truth, Coleman told the EBLF audience.

"One idea we've toyed with is the concept of 'data stores' or 'data marts,' where business units can collect the data they need by running various queries to glean insights that drive their goals and objectives," Coleman added. "So want that [one single] enterprise view, but the business units all play a vital role [in deriving value]."

A few upshots here. Disruptive technologies forcing the elimination of silos and cooperation among traditionally separate functions such as IT and OT. Business units being in charge of the business intelligence questions that extract value from data. And much of this remains in motion, a work in progress. A snapshot only, to be sure. But it's good to know how leading utilities think about the challenge.

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily


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