Public utilities asset management is a changing field thanks to evolving technologies and analytics capabilities. Whereas information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) were once separate, the acceleration of digital tools has created an IT/OT convergence, merging these two fields into one and setting a new standard for asset management.

Understanding IT/OT convergence

Gartner defines IT/OT convergence or alignment as “the end state…where instead of a separation of IT and OT as technology areas with different areas of authority and responsibility, there is integrated process and information flow.”

To productively streamline processes and information across departments, asset-intensive organizations are adapting in a few ways:

  • Bringing siloed assets online through the Internet of Things
  • Implementing centralized analytics tools to extract insights from high-volume data
  • Adapting teams using change management

Bringing the grid online

The Internet of Things, according to IBM, “is the concept of connecting any device (so long as it has an on/off switch) to the Internet and to other connected devices. The IoT is a giant network of connected things and people – all of which collect and share data about the way they are used and about the environment around them.” It came to prominence in 2008 and has continued to expand since, connecting information about goods, services, and the people that use them. According to research by MarketsandMarkets, the utilities IoT market reached $28.6 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach almost $54 billion by 2024.

Regardless of whether utilities handle electricity, water, or gas, IoT is improving how energy usage data is collected and used, automating procedures and improving efficiencies across the board. Many cities are beginning to replace traditional energy meters with smart meters that automatically send energy usage data to a utility company’s data center in the cloud. They eliminate the need for meter readers to walk from meter to meter manually collecting and recording usage data. Instead, this staff can be used for more strategic initiatives and problem-solving tasks.

Making the most of utilities data

Regardless of how utilities get their information (automatically from IoT devices or manually from in-person monitoring), data from physical assets is extraordinarily valuable. Regardless of utilities size—whether small, municipal institutions or regional behemoths—data from the convergence of IT/OT can be gathered in a single analytics hub. With the information visualized, simplified decision-making leads to improvements in resource allocation, planning, and customer service, specifically via:

  • Monitoring. Real-time energy usage can be tracked by both the utility district and the consumer. Utility companies can also combine real-time data with legacy data to create powerful visualizations of consumption trends over time.
  • Diagnostics. Analytics tools can use energy usage trends to detect system irregularities. The system can also immediately detect outages, leakages, meter defects, tampering, or theft. The ability to discover and fix problems immediately improves energy conservation and reduces lost revenue.
  • Predicting. Analytics can use data combined with artificial intelligence to forecast everything from spikes in energy usage to future outages. Armed with this information, utilities can take preemptive actions to reduce inefficiencies and keep customers happy.

Teams operating at full power

Combining IT and OT is more than just technology; it involves people and processes, too. As technologies are upgraded, the people that use them must learn—and be taught. Better connectivity simplifies processes, but these must also be rolled out with intention. Change management is helping utilities smoothly adjust to digital transformation, resulting in reduced downtime, increased productivity, and improved visibility across departments.

IT/OT convergence and wildfire risk management

The 2020 wildfire season has wrought horrific damage across the West Coast. For utilities, the ability to conduct predictive maintenance has become both vital and urgent. Digital transformation—particularly the implementation of machine learning models—enables asset managers to analyze and predict maintenance, refine operations and reporting, and prevent damage before it occurs.

While it’s possible to modernize infrastructure and analytics tools piecemeal, the best IT/OT convergence ROI comes from implementing these new tools as a package. With the right experts in place, public utility districts can optimize workflows and complete preventative maintenance, reducing their risk in the face of changing conditions. We have diverse experience helping utilities across the West Coast, and we’re ready to help your team.

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Paul Lee

Amanda Lundy is a customer solutions director with over 11 years of experience helping clients achieve their goals.

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