The Last Great Frontier

We've tackled major hurdles during our 20-year odyssey to reinvent ourselves and streamline our companies. Let's look at what we've been through and review

We've tackled major hurdles during our 20-year odyssey to reinvent ourselves and streamline our companies. Let's look at what we've been through and review what we've accomplished.

Deregulation (or the threat thereof) caused us to take a critical look at our traditional ways of doing business. Remember the cozy life when regional and division managers were treated as demigods? When we had two-to-one reporting structures? When we had local offices and fiefdoms galore? We thought we were working hard, but we weren't really set up to be that productive.

But the realities of the marketplace and global competition have driven our utilities through a mind-boggling number of restructuring and downsizing initiatives designed to extract the fat from our utilities.

All the while, we moved forward with powerful tools to streamline work processes. We now have incredibly powerful applications to help us be more efficient. Applications such as work management systems, automated mapping, computerized dispatching, centralized call centers and automated meter reading.

Consequently, we speak a language that would be quite unintelligible to our forefathers. We might have a new language, but we still speak different dialects, even within our own utilities. One department might maintain processes with idiosyncrasies that others within the same company have difficulty understanding. Task handoffs between departments remain cumbersome. So what is the solution?

We need integrated solutions to help us effectively manage our delivery enterprise. Several utilities have embraced the vision and taken early steps to an integrated future. I've personally visited Allegheny Power, Kansas City Power & Light and the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to meet the individuals who are building out integrated delivery applications.

As we move forward, we will need infrastructure that will enable applications to share data along a common communication bus. Michael Hervey, LIPA's vice president of operations, puts it this way: “We are working hard to connect the major pieces of our enterprise, utilizing a common information model that enables us to take advantage of a single data warehouse. This will enable us to connect key functions including network operations, asset management, planning, maintenance, construction, customer care, supply chain, meter reading, energy management and financials.”

Communication-protocol standards are critical as utilities move forward. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is taking the lead in developing these standards, which utilities, including LIPA, require their software and system integration vendors to use.

Hervey is leveraging EPRI's common information model to provide a platform for data transfer in LIPA's control center. The utility is interconnecting transformer-loading software, engineering and operating simulation software, energy management systems, work management systems and outage management systems. LIPA and service provider personnel, with appropriate clearances, can extract information from the data warehouse for input into their business, engineering and planning models.

As this vision is built out, users have access to information on the condition of the network through dashboards that provide visual access to customized and aggregated data.

Hervey shared several benefits of an integrated distribution management system:

  • Better operational risk assessment using real-time circuit-specific equipment condition gained under actual operating conditions.

  • Access to a “living maintenance plan” designed to evolve without the need for human interaction, taking into account the effect of weather and loading conditions on the condition of network components.

  • Ability to more effectively plan investments, considering construction, maintenance and operational alternatives by continuously using iterative what-if analyses.

Expect to see convergence with the use of common tools using the same data, resulting in better plans, better execution and better performance monitoring. “What we are really working toward is dynamic risk assessment,” states Hervey. “We can leverage probabilistic and quantifiable risk for specific equipment, enabling us to determine whether it is most cost effective to build, replace or refurbish.”

We are now seeing the titans work together. Witness the creation of the Smart Energy Alliance. Major companies including Capgemini, General Electric, Oracle, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Intel are combining forces to revolutionize the creation and deployment of solutions for power-distribution operations.

We are working toward the day when we will no longer need to obsess over our processes; instead we will be able to place our full focus on obsessing over our customers.

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