energycioinsights

Cyber Security and Integration of Information Technology

By Benjamin Beberness, CIO, Snohomish PUD

Benjamin Beberness, CIO, Snohomish PUD

The Current Pain Points in the Industry

Cyber security and integration of information technology and operational technology (IT/OT) are two challenges for the utility industry.

• I don’t think there will ever be a silver bullet for ensuring our systems and information are not compromised. So we have to keep adapting. New technology is being developed with adaptive security technology, but I believe those are still five to ten years out.
• You traditionally hear how there is a convergence between IT and OT. Most people talk about how OT is now running on traditional IT platforms. I also believe that IT is converging toward OT. Take a look at what we have just spent the last 15 months implementing: SAP HANA for our ERP, EAM, and customer service. These systems are now real-time. Now we can make financial, operational and customer decisions in real-time. As we continue to move forward, we will have more and more integration between IT/OT, and it will not be from yesterday’s data. Technology is allowing companies like SAP and OT companies like Alstom understand this convergence. We are working with them to bring the two suites of technology together. We know that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Well the sum of the sum of the parts is even greater.
• Mobile technology is going to be critical for our success. Not only communications with our customers, but in our mobile workforce. As our crews are working in the field, they will be using mobile devices to know what their next job is, where it is located and as they complete work and use equipment, the EAM processes will kick in and determine if we need to order more of the widgets. We also know what work is complete and how long it took. There are all kinds of opportunities.

"All of these connected devices will add to the data the utilities collect, to the communications they support and what they need to secure"

360 Degree View of Customers

We recently went live with the SAP Customer Service System on HANA. This allows us to have a real-time perspective of our customers. In addition, we have  started implementing SAP Multichannel Foundation (MCF). This will allow us to have a complete view of our interactions with our customers. In the next 10 months, we will be fully integrating our outage information with the customer service system. This should help us complete the 360-degree view of the customer.

Creating Competitive Edge

We do not compete directly against each other for customers, but we compete against each other to serve our customers better. This typically is about keeping the lights on and providing value, such as conservation programs, which allow and encourage our customers to save money and reduce environmental impacts.

To accomplish this, we need the technology that allows our customers to interact with us when and where they want. When customers are without power, they turn to their mobile devices to communicate with us. More importantly, we need the technology to communicate back to them via the omni-channel that they have chosen.

Technology Challenges that Keep CIOs Awake at Night

The first is cybersecurity. Knowing that no matter how good of a job we do or how many technologies we have, we can still experience a cyber incident. How can you sleep knowing there is no answer?

The second is integration between cloud and on-premise solutions. We have implemented several cloud solutions, but integrating them with on-premise solutions is very complex, even if you are buying from the same vendor.

Technological Trends

The utility industry currently has a significant focus on big data. Numerous use cases are being developed and shared across the industry. These use cases are assisting the industry in transforming all the data we are collecting into meaningful information that we can use to better serve our customers.

I am not sure I would say IoT, but utilities are deploying connected devices across their territories. Whether it be in the substation, the distribution network, the meter on the house or even the Home Area Network—if the utility and customer agree to that. All of these connected devices will add to the data utilities collect, the communications they support and what they need to secure.

It is an amazing time in the utility industry. We have so many changes going on within the utility such as distributed generation, battery storage and the transformation from an analog world to a digital world. The customers want to know how they can conserve energy, track their usage, and reduce their bills..

Revolutionary Technologies

Historically, you would not have been able to find a full suite of tools that could meet a utility’s needs. That has changed. Snohomish County PUD (SnoPUD) went live on September 8, 2015, with Industry Solution for Utilities (IS-U), SAP CRM application and SAP ERP using the SAP Business Suite powered by the SAP HANA platform on premise. SnoPUD is one of the first utilities to adopt the full suite on HANA.

The other technology that is critical to utilities is battery storage. The battery technology is exponentially developing with companies like Tesla. Utilities are developing use cases for how battery technology can assist with distributed generation, conservation, integration of renewables, demand response and even transmission congestion.

Changing Role of IT and CIO

As a CIO of a utility, you cannot just keep the data center lights on. I think this is true for many industries and in general, the CIO role as a whole. CIOs today have to understand the business and be part of delivering on the company’s strategy.

When I started at SnoPUD I was asked to look at my job description and update it. I broke my job description into three parts. The CIO, CTO and CISO. The CIO is focused on the computing systems and delivery on the company’s strategy. The CTO is focused the new technologies and how they can drive innovation and new strategies. The CISO is focused on how we can keep everything secure.

Even if you aren’t responsible for all three roles, I believe a CIO needs to be thinking about them as we help our organizations deliver on the company’s strategy.

New Role of IT

In my four years here at SnoPUD, we have been focused on nothing but transformation. It started out with our SmartGrid strategy which focused on substation automation, distribution automation, communications throughout the service area, outage management and much more. This has transformed how we manage our system.

We then focused on the rest of the utility. We upgraded our customer service systemand implemented new ERP, EAM, procurement and HR systems. This has transformed how we do business across the utility. Our next phase will focus on workforce management and mobile workforce as well as completing omni-channel capabilities for our customers to engage with us.

Advice to New CIOs

They need to build relationships across the entire organization. This will assist in what I believe is the second most important thing to do, which is to learn the business. Learn the business, but do not let that knowledge limit your thinking. Use that business knowledge, to think outside the norms and help drive the organization to the next level. Use the relationships you have developed to bounce your ideas off people and refine them.

The final thing I would say is be ready for change and be ready to lead change management. As I mention above, there is a huge amount of change going on right now in the utility industry. You need to be comfortable with change, be willing to take calculated risks and have the relationships to lead the change for the organization.

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