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Removing limitations - Utilities working smarter, saving money, extending asset life by integrating asset and workforce management with analytics and automation

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Utilities working smarter, saving money, extending asset life by integrating asset and workforce management with analytics and automation  

You have three priorities:

  • Reduce costs
  • Maintain business continuity
  • Innovate

Realistically, most utilities can only focus on two. Choose your favorite two, as the saying goes. But now, through digital business transformation, more utilities can choose their favorite three. They’re leveraging IoT technology, analytics, machine learning and cloud computing to better manage assets and improve workforce productivity.

The traditional volumetric utility business model is much like sand underfoot in the ocean waves. It’s being eroded by market dynamics such as flat retail electricity sales and increased competition from distributed generation.

Those dynamics force utilities to confront an unprecedented set of business challenges:

  • Retooling business for the new economy
  • Keeping the lights on
  • Improving shareholder satisfaction

Drops and dribbles of value

In this environment, utilities must get every drop of value they can from the assets they’ve invested in. They’re looking for more productivity, more efficiency, more reliability and longer life.

Investor-owned utilities in the U.S. manage an asset base valued at more than $1.5 trillion, according to 2016 figures from the Edison Electric Institute. And that doesn’t include the thousands of municipal utilities and co-ops dotting the countryside. These assets extend from the power plant to the edge of the distribution network. They’re geographically dispersed and typically supported by siloed legacy systems that not only inhibit performance but also increase costs.

One small step for IT

This is a fundamental step on the road to digital business transformation. It presents the most opportunity to achieve higher returns with streamlined workflows and maximum productivity. But how do you get there?

At this step, operational technology (OT) and information technology can truly come together. We pull in machine learning, both edge and cloud computing, analytics, even augmented reality tools. Then, a utility can begin to stitch together data from disparate devices and systems.

What began as a fundamental step quickly changes to a giant leap for the utility. The accompanying insight and context will fuel situational awareness and business intelligence. The new intel enables utilities to move from nascent preventive maintenance based on limited data and operator experience to data-driven prescriptive asset management. Managed prescriptively, assets can operate closer to their ratings to increase utilization. And failures are anticipated based on a rich history of asset behavior.

Powered by IoT

Well beyond just sensor data, IoT advancements enable analysis of increasingly rich streams of metadata (data about other data, if you will) to extend awareness and understanding. Take, for example, a sensor on a valve at a powerplant or a distribution transformer. It collects and delivers the data it was designed to provide (temperature, moisture, motion etc.). But the metadata – how the device behaves – tells a story of its own that can be as insightful as the specific metric it was designed to measure.

Add to the sensor data and metadata the ability to leverage asset data from upstream legacy systems (ERP, DMS, CIS, GIS etc.) and the picture is nearly complete. Think basic data such as procurement info and age, technical specifications and ratings, maintenance history, failure history, location etc. Being able to capture and analyze basic asset data rounds out a comprehensive 360-degree view of the asset base. And it creates a contextualized business intelligence capability never available before.

Leaps and bounds for your humankind

Interesting things happen when you put this data-driven awareness of asset health in the hands of a modern workforce. The investment in new technologies drives productivity and attracts top-tier talent. And it alleviates the acute need to capture knowledge from workers nearing retirement.

This human side of digital business transformation is every bit as critical as the tech side. Digitally enabled workers are more satisfied and productive. The field workforce of tomorrow will think nothing of using augmented reality for training and maintenance procedures. Peak efficiency will be the norm with automated workflows reducing time on tasks and between tasks. By using these tools and approaches, one of our utility clients has already achieved a 20 percent reduction in work-order execution time.  

Boundless potential

How much efficiency could you achieve? To find out, engage a partner with utility-specific expertise in data science as well as IT/OT system integration capabilities. Avoid vendor-specific technology platforms, as they’ll limit your ability to marshal and manage data from multiple sources (including legacy systems). And make sure your partner can develop solid, SME-driven algorithms for your analytics.

You don’t have to limit yourself to 3 priorities. Technology is already helping utilities to reduce costs, maintain business continuity and innovate. Use it to break past traditional limitations and achieve your business potential.

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Mazi Fayazfar's picture

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