Technology first evident within electric operations was brought in via the back door by fairly sophisticated computer savvy individuals as tools to assist in a specific job. There was no real need to be concerned about compatibility issues or the ability to exchange or integrate information because these technology acquisitions were deemed “personal property belonging to the job or individual.” In truth, these first operational technology products were usually acquired and licensed by the individual at home and then brought into work.
With the advent of network connectivity throughout the enterprise, these products became more visible to the rest of the organization. Unrecognized and unsupported applications surfaced as a frequent cause of connectivity or compatibility issues both at the local workstation level and across the network. The end result is frequently a hard and fast ruling restricting all unauthorized software and/or hardware. It isn’t just a question of keeping it off the network; it can reside on a local workstation or laptop and still have a detrimental effect. If it’s thought that the tool is absolutely necessary to a job, the workstation or laptop is usually restricted from the enterprise network (including local area networks).
Staff resident in information technology accepts the processes and disciplines of change control, quality assurance testing, etc. as part of the normal job duties. Not necessarily so for technology on the operational side. Take a real life case of an electric utility upgrading to a new SCADA system: hardware, software, and network and security technology. No quality assurance program existed outside of the IT department. No DEV, QA, or PROD systems were in place to ensure adequate testing of any changes. Changes were made literally in real time to any one or all of the components. It was only when the CIO refused to sign off on the security of the SCADA system to ISO, that the need for a disciplined approach to changes was put in place. SCADA has always been the responsibility of the operational side of the house. The real issue is not where SCADA resides politically, but rather that the quality disciplines and standards must be in place to ensure the same level of integrity as the rest of technology within the company.
Challenges Now Company-wide
With the rapid industry escalation and dependency on technology designed for operations, the issue is no longer restricted to a single workstation and keeping the information off the network is no longer a valid solution. The more automated and dependent upon computerized technology the T&D systems become, the greater the need for integration at all levels. If left unaddressed, the lack of standards and compatibility issues will only worsen not to mention the inability to maintain and support incompatible systems.
The use of technology to improve productivity in the operations area and to improve the quality of information for the electric system overall is relatively new to the electric T&D industry. Focusing on a single area for the gains from the new technology is a common mistake. As an example, when unable to agree on a common scheduling system to be used for two different types of work order scheduling and dispatch, the end result was the implementation of two incompatible scheduling systems within one year. The same issue surfaced two years later when the same two operational divisions could not agree on using the AVL (automatic vehicle locater) already in use by one division. This time the CIO refused to approve the use of two systems. Through escalation procedures of a newly formed IT governance committee, the decision came down to go with one and only one AVL system at the enterprise level.
The focus of the IT Governance Committee at the enterprise level further ensures the integration of technology and, therefore, information no matter where it resides. The enterprise view supersedes an operational view, or even a T and/or D point of view. Enterprise integration has become the key to addressing and resolving these issues. The NERC - FERC CIP-002 – CIP-009 Standards further support the standardization and disciplines that were overlooked in the past. With potential fines looming in the near future of up to $1 million per day, the focus seems to have shifted to a more consolidated view at the enterprise level.
Standardization, disciplines of change management, production control and quality assurance along with a focus on compatibility and supportability at the enterprise level will bring about a change in how technical disciplines co-exist. The process seems draconian in nature to those who in the past adopted the use of operational technology without regard to any standardization, compatibility or integration. To have a joint discipline committee review and recommend approval or escalation to the governance committee for selection, acquisitions and implementation of all technology is relatively new in the utility industry.
Integration of energy/information technology is also forcing development of new roles, responsibilities and accountabilities. In the example of SCADA earlier, the CIO had no authority over the SCADA system; however, when it came time to sign off on the security of the system, it was quite apparent that the accountability was the CIO’s. This same CIO, after being called to task for allowing the acquisition and implementation of two different scheduling systems, established new processes and guidelines as well as redefined responsibilities.
The two disparate worlds of technology within the utility industry are coming closer together. There are still issues and personalities to be addressed; however, the recognition of the necessity is dawning on more than just the CIO’s of these companies. With the aging work force attrition rate, operational technology will be used more and more to supplement the knowledge and expertise where possible. It will be even more important to ensure the integration, standardization and rigorous disciplines of the technology industry be in place and enforced.
The “enterprise direction” should be the only one supported. Everything begins and ends with this view. The IT governance committee, and therefore the CIO, is charged with enforcing that viewpoint across all technologies. This will go a long way to ensuring the integration of all technologies and ultimately information which will finally provide a complete picture of the enterprise.