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Redefining roles

Power Transmission Line

A SMARTER GRID OFTEN CONJURES UP VISIONS OF METERS, ELECTRIC vehicles and home energy displays - essentially, the tangible elements. But what really makes these technologies - and many others - feasible are the systems that are running behind the scenes. So, this brought up a question for me: How do smart grid projects impact enterprise architecture? To find out, I spoke with Brian Abrahamson, chief architect and senior director, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), and Charlie Ward, enterprise architect, Duke Energy.


Enterprise architects seem ready to handle a smarter grid, but will still have to make adjustments. ''Smart grid will have a significant impact, but we have been preparing for a while,'' said Ward. ''Even without the smart grid, we have seen a lot of churn in our business over the last 10 to 12 years, so we are used to making changes to our enterprise architecture pretty regularly.'' One of the biggest changes for enterprise architecture is breaking down silos - whether between operational groups or technologies. ''Business processes have gone from silos to being enterprise business processes that go across all parts of the enterprise,'' Ward said. ''It is a pretty big change.'' Abrahamson agreed. ''Smart grid drives horizontal integration across business units,'' he said. ''Soon I'll be in a position where real-time pricing signals and demand response events will impact our generation portfolio. Historically, those business units - and their systems - have not been linked.'' On top of linking business units, Abrahamson argued that ''smart grid is really about interoperability. If you look at the different technologies utilities have today, we already have ways to monitor and control generation, monitor and control the distribution grid, and even understand customer usage in real-time with our smart meters. None of these technologies are new, but it's the integration across these technologies that is new - and that's what is key.'' (see sidebar: IT versus OT)


People often sprinkle in the terms enterprise service bus (ESB) and service oriented architecture (SOA) when talking about enabling a smarter grid, but what do they really mean? Both Abrahamson and Ward believe that there are many different definitions for these things, but utilities need to think more about the underlying philosophy than the acronyms. ''Whether you call it SOA or ESB, it is all about promoting modular design, reusability and standards-based architectures,'' Abrahamson said. ''That's really what SOA and ESB are about. Moving forward with those principles, we can drive the flexibility and interoperability that are critical for smart grid.'' ''I have seen ESB and SOA become marketing terms,'' Ward commented. ''Before SOA was productized, it was just a way to enable multiple services or a collection of concepts to deliver services that companies want. Vendors now say 'I can solve your SOA problem.' Companies should figure out what they want to do first, and then layer on products to help them accomplish those desired changes.''


For enterprise architects, cybersecurity for a smarter grid may not differ much from traditional network security, but it still has unique challenges. ''Our intent is to move forward with cybersecurity for smart grid with the same core principles we leverage for network security,'' Abrahamson said. ''Assess for weaknesses, harden the system and then continue to repeat that cycle. Addressing cybersecurity weaknesses in smart grid will be an ongoing process, but we need to be aggressive early on. '' ''None of these technologies are new, but it's the integration across these technologies that is new - and that's what is key.'' Still, cybersecurity will be difficult to maintain with emerging technologies and a system that is still maturing. ''Cybersecurity will stay pretty fluid until we get standards in place, if not a standard that is at least dominant,'' Ward said. ''Otherwise, it is really hard to come up with best practices.'' Although more mature systems may be a strong cybersecurity weapon, in the meantime, utilities have to provide vendors with feedback. Abrahamson emphasized that ''utilities have to be aggressively involved pointing out weaknesses to vendors.'' Ward concurred. ''We are providing feedback to vendors on what we are seeing and looking at whether people can penetrate the device and what can they do to the meter,'' he said.


Given the challenges that a smarter grid can present enterprise architecture, Ward and Abrahamson had a few ideas on how to succeed.

IT has a new role. ''Strategically, enterprise architecture has to step more to the forefront,'' Ward said. ''Enterprise architecture has typically been more behind the scenes, but with smart grid, if we don't step up, we're going to have chaos.'' Abrahamson thought that a smarter grid ''redefines the scope of enterprise architecture because a traditional IT organization needs to play a much stronger role in driving interoperability across all of the technologies that support the electric network - including things like SCADA that historically haven't been architected within IT. We need to start architecting all of our monitor, control and information systems on a common set of standards and principles.''

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. ''With smart grid and other utility needs, the pace is so much faster than most enterprise architects are used to,'' Ward said.

Start early. ''Since there is enough complexity, we need to drive interoperability and evaluate technologies,'' Abrahamson said. ''You need to start fairly early to make sure enterprise architecture has a set of use cases that you're making decisions against.''

It is more than just technology. ''Many times, people focus just on the technology and interoperability aspects of smart grid,'' Abrahamson said. ''But fundamentally, we need to understand and design against business-driven use cases. That's a hard thing to do because smart grid fundamentally changes the business model of a utility.''

IT VERSUS OT Abrahamson also discussed the importance of converging engineering-based operational technology (OT) with the IT efforts. ''most utilities deployed SCADA [supervisory control and data acquisition] technologies decades ago. before IT emerged, you had SCADA technologies managed and architected by a group outside IT. Then IT groups emerged to maintain and architect primarily back office applications. Now, smart grid will drive a much tighter integration between IT and OT. you have to architect on common platforms and common standards - different than how oT has evolved in most utilities. we are redefining the scope of enterprise architecture and it will need to grow to cover OT.''

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