Why a DMS is in your future (whether you want it or not)
By Jesse Berst
Sometimes, software shapes itself to an organization. Other times, it forces the organization to reshape itself... and that can be a good thing.
Consider enterprise resource planning (ERP) when it came on strong in the 1990s. ERP integrates management information from every department in a company. As ERP was installed, it became a forcing function that caused many corporations to integrate their operations, often to great advantage.
A new approach to DMS
In the past, many DMS systems were built out piecemeal, as a series of custom projects. Today, the trend is to start with an off-the-shelf package, then customize it and integrate with legacy apps.
Alstom and Telvent are the current mind share leaders. But more and more companies are stepping into the space. ABB, GE and Siemens have been there for a long while. Oracle, Open Systems International and several others seem headed in that direction.
Where will this new-found attention and effort take us? To an integrated DMS, I predict, that uses a single technical platform to manage virtually all distribution operations.
DMS lessons learned
The Structure Group's clients include Centerpoint, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, PECO, SMUD and others. Based on this experience, Shepheard recommends several steps for utilities headed down the DMS path.
Visioning and planning the business case should come first, he cautions. Without this step, you may become one of the many "pilots to nowhere that are not scalable."
The next step is to study and learn from those who've gone before. It is smart to learn from your mistakes, but it is even smarter to learn from the mistakes of others. (Not to mention from their successes as well.)
And then get ready for a massive integration project that will require serious project management. Part of the process, says Shepheard, is "fattening sacred cows for slaughter." Utilities have to be prepared to sacrifice some of the old ways. For instance, some utilities have two or more GIS systems because different departments claim they have "specialized needs."
Likewise, top management may have to insist that departments break down the walls that separate them to integrate into a common platform. The biggest challenge of all? Dissolving the barriers between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT).
Big challenges, to be sure, but worth the effort. Within 10 years, I predict, most medium to large utilities will be well on the way to an integrated DMS. Did I get it right? Cast your vote in our online survey and use the comment form to express your opinion.
Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com. He consults to smart grid companies seeking market entry advice and M&A advisory. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the US and abroad, he also serves on the Advisory Council of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Energy & Environment directorate.
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