energycioinsights

Modernized Grid Technologies

By Todd Inlander, SVP and CIO, Southern California Edison

Todd Inlander, SVP and CIO, Southern California Edison

 You have been executing the role and responsibility of a CIO in various organizations since the start of the millennium, when the gravitas of a CIO role in the organization actually began growing. How have you seen the evolution of this role over the years, from your perspective as the CIO of a large utility organization?

The CIO role has evolved dramatically from technician to now business partner and strategist. The more successful CIOs are those who focus on being engaged business people and leaders, and then technologists. CIOs today have a unique vantage point to see across lines of business and look at the art of the possible of how process improvement or technology can better enable business imperatives. My peers and I across other utilities also focus our discussions more on next-generation leadership qualities and how to improve the business, drive efficiency, reduce costs, and serve customers better.

“Modernizing our grid technologies will drive the continued convergence of Information Technologies and Operational Technologies”

What are some of the challenges faced by electrical supply utility companies today that technology has proved to be adept at solving?

Utilities and all companies deal with the conflict between consumer technology and business technology where people complain about the technology they had to give up when they came to work. I see much of that gap narrowing with cloud-based technologies that are more ready for the demands of the business. Cloud-based technologies have allowed us to move more quickly from concept to implementation in months or weeks in a few targeted areas. I would expect these solutions will continue to evolve and continue to challenge our assumption of what actually resides in our data centers.

The whole energy sector is at the cusp of a technological revolution with the concept of the “Smart Grid” at the front and center of this upheaval. Kindly share your personal insights on the same.

In the near term, integrating our smart meter network data with outage management applications will improve the quality and timeliness of operational information. This is truly just the beginning. Modernizing our grid technologies will drive the continued convergence of Information Technologies and Operational Technologies. This will in turn blur the line between IT functions and operational functions. The workforce of the future will need to possess both skills to operate a smarter and highly connected grid.

The Smart Grid encompasses a wide range of technological trends that are relevant to the opportunities in the energy sector. What are some of the technological, as well as behavioral trends you see really shaping the Smart Grid landscape today?

A core tenet of modernizing our grid and improving reliability is around having greater foundational technical capabilities where remote intelligence and increased sensor data is leveraged in real time to manage a more dynamic grid. This means that we will need next-generation communications, cyber security and industrial control systems capabilities. All of this will generate mountains of data. The key will be to dynamically translate this data into actionable information leveraging advanced analytics capabilities. The challenge will be the pace of development and innovation to keep up with operational requirements of a modern grid.

The impending and already happening shift from mainframe legacy systems to cloud-based storage and computing is putting a lot of pressure on utility companies today. What would be your approach to this change management challenge? What are the steps to be taken, from a CIO standpoint, in adopting the fast growing technology to build a platform that can power and monitor the “ smart grid”?

We have been thoughtful about describing what we think is suitable to exist in the cloud. Some movement is paced by the maturity of technology and some by our risk appetite. We leverage various stakeholders from legal, finance, IT, supply chain, cybersecurity, and compliance before embracing a particular cloud-based technology. This teaming approach has allowed us to tackle complex decisions in an efficient manner as well as rally the necessary support to drive a change in behavior. This will continue to require that we look at cloud-based solutions with a degree of openness and acknowledge that we may need to challenge our historical assumptions and keep pace with technological advancements.

A quick glance at the Southern California Edison website reveals that you provide a high degree visibility and engagement to your consumers. How important is it, according to you, to involve the consumers within the process of energy management and conservation, in light of the technological revolution in mobility and actionable insights through consumer analytics?

I think it is extremely important to engage our customers to provide them with a simple set of tools to allow them to make the right decisions for their financial and energy needs. Every household is different and may have a different set of expectations, but providing data to make informed decisions is critical. We have numerous tools in our toolbox on SCE.com to allow them to make many of these decisions and we will continue to evolve our capabilities.

In light of the years of experience you have in the energy sector as a business technology decision maker, what would be your advice to upcoming and budding IT leaders in the energy space?

Increase your understanding of critical businesses processes, core technologies and enabling grid technologies. But most importantly, build relationships across lines of business and with your team. Be seen as someone who is approachable and open to new ideas. As in any leadership position, building trust is key to driving change. And as we know, this industry is undergoing an increasing rate of change.