Digital Utility Professionals Group

The mission of this group is to bring together utility professionals in the power industry who are in the thick of the digital utility transformation. 

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Changing from CIO to CDO

By Benjamin Beberness


When I started at Snohomish County PUD (SnoPUD), our CEO at the time handed me my job description and asked me to update it according to what I thought the role should be. I came back a couple of days later with a new job description that was broken into three roles:  

* Chief information officer (CIO), which was all about keeping the data center lights on and driving the corporate IT strategy;

* Chief technology officer (CTO), which was all about driving the technology for the utility; 

* Chief information security officer (CISO), which was all about securing our assets. 

His response to my new description? He said, “This is great. I get three for one.” 

If he asked me that same question today, I would even add a fourth role:  chief digital officer (CDO), which is a role all about digital business transformation.

Here at SnoPUD, we are hard at work transforming our traditional utility into a digital one, but we didn’t start yesterday. 

The first part of our journey began in 2010 when we applied for a smart grid grant. That proposal laid out several key projects that updated our communications across the service area, implemented a distribution management system and provided distribution and substation automation. This moved our electrical network from analog to digital.  As part of this effort, we decided to leverage a platform from Alstom (now GE), to provide our platform for our operational technology (OT).

In 2012, we introduced our strategy for our corporate platform (IT).  We choose SAP/HANA as the platform with the target of getting rid of approximately 80 legacy big and small systems.  SAP is providing enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise asset management (EAM), procurement, human resource management, workforce planning, mobile workforce, mobile device management, application lifecycle management (ALM) and pretty much everything we need that is not control center operations. 

Ultimately, the plan is to make sure our customers and employees have the information they need anywhere, anytime and on any device. (This is where the first glimmer of the CDO role comes in, during these first baby steps of the transformation.)

With a solid platform of OT and IT in place, we have been able flip to a digital first approach and have made digital integral to our strategy.  Our focus now: How do we go from two platforms to a single platform---meaning fully integrating IT and OT?  

This recent focus is allowing us to extend our network by leveraging our partnership with SAP and Alstom to get more out of their systems. We believe the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.  If we have a single platform that brings a fully integrated IT/OT together, the opportunities are endless and the platform for the future is in place.

Our focus on data has initiated the need to create a data information governance (DIG) office. The DIG office is establishing core principles the organization will follow for managing our data and facilitating the development, recruiting and training of a formal network of data stewards to define our data governance plan. The office will also be responsible for overseeing the implementation and evaluation of our data governance plan. 

This year, we will be fully mobilizing resources and well into implementation, and we expect to realize significant benefits for individual business groups and the enterprise at large. 

As we have gone through significant changes, we are developing not only the change management processes required for agility, but a business  process focus that helps with a holistic view and helps us  break down organizational barriers.  IT has also re-organized to align with supporting the business processes and has worked to establish the governance to make sure that we maximize our resources and investments to provide value.


Benjamin Beberness is CIO, IT services with SnoPUD. 


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