Page 2: Lessons learned >>
By Jesse Berst
As a result, utilities with smart meters have to pay 24 x 7 attention to the communication system, just as they do now to the electric power network. Yet it's not always easy. Suppose a smart meter produces a last-gasp, power out alert. Is the
A better answer is to implement a fully integrated network operating center (NOC). One that manages all devices running over all communications pathways. And one that has full procedures in place for all incidents and eventualities.
Easy to understand in principle. But challenging in practice, as I learned when I interviewed Pepco Holding's Karen Lefkowitz, Vice President of Business Transformation in preparation for an upcoming May 30 webinar on how to set up an integrated network operating center. (Click the link if you want to reserve a spot. Karen will be joining us. The webcast is free to SGN readers.)
Pepco Holdings provides utility service to more than 1.9 million customers. It is the parent of Potomac Electric Power Company (serving Washington DC and suburban Maryland); Delmarva Power (electric and gas serving Delaware and the Delmarva Peninsula); and Atlantic City Electric (serving Southern New Jersey).
Last year Pepco set out to create an integrated NOC. The goal was to monitor the advanced metering infrastructure and the distribution management system. The NOC manages multiple communications pathways and multiple devices and the data they produce. It provides Pepco with a wide range of capabilities, including fault location and analysis, performance data, capacity planning, network access control, systems authentication and more.
Three potential problem areas
Pepco selected Accenture to help strategize, plan, analyze, design, test and implement the NOC. I spoke with Vaibhav Parmar, who leads the wireless network practice at Accenture. Based on Accenture's experience at Pepco and at other NOC projects, he highlighted three potential problem areas:
1. Significant technology challenges may arise, especially when hooking up legacy and "one-off" equipment to the communication system.
2. Significant people challenges. Part of the communications system may exist in the corporate information technology (IT) department. Other aspects may exist within the operational technology (OT) department. Both IT and OT will need to collaborate and both will need to change.
3. Significant process challenges. IT and OT traditionally have different supply chains and different procedures. Now they are suddenly asked to collaborate on a mission-critical job.
The path to success
What does it take to accomplish IT-OT collaboration? "Lots of listening and lots of meetings," admits Pepco's Lefkowitz, who says the people challenges -- the change management function -- were the biggest hurdle.
To help them with the "listening" task, Pepco used an Accenture change management tool for interviewing participants and surfacing their true concerns. The tool uncovered that many Pepco employees were afraid they would lose their jobs. Management was able to reassure staff that no layoffs were intended.
And then came the meetings. Early on, Pepco formed a group combining executives and technical staff, so the entire team understood that upper management was fully committed. That group met twice per month for most of the duration. There were many other groups and many other meetings, Lefkowitz told me.
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