By Anurag Johri, Managing Director and Lead, Utilities, Accenture India
It is well established by now that digital transformation is no longer a choice but an imperative for thriving in the post-pandemic economy. For successful digital transformation, the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) plays a crucial role. It also forms the foundation for innovation and growth, with robust data-driven decision-making and new ways of collaboration. Utilities worldwide are adopting digitally enabled solutions to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving energy landscape.
With the aim of accelerating technology adoption in the power sector, India has witnessed the launch of several programmes such as the Deen dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, the Integrated Power Development Scheme and the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme. These programmes have focused on specific technology upgrades for distribution infrastructure including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, smart meters, enterprise resource planning software and billing systems. To realise the true potential of digital technology adoption, the next step is to integrate disparate IT/OT systems that govern power distribution.
With an increased focus on grid integration for distributed energy resources such as solar rooftops, energy storage systems and electric vehicles, and the deployment of multiple OT resources such as smart meters and sensors, the need for IT-OT integration has increased manyfold. Further, IT-OT integration can help in achieving reliable power supply, better customer experience, more efficient operational capabilities, higher revenues and enhanced system resilience. Therefore, it has become imperative to develop a structured approach to IT-OT integration for Indian power distribution companies.
Based on the learnings from the IT-OT integrations across multiple industries, global best practices of international discoms and insights from ongoing technology programmes of Indian discoms, the following are some of the key imperatives to realise the true potential of IT-OT integration in the Indian power distribution sector…
- Identification of key use cases: Discoms are likely to be inclined towards IT-OT integration if it helps them in fulfilling their business requirements, such as better/faster delivery of services, lower cost of delivery, higher revenues and better demand prediction. It is critical to identify the use cases that could be facilitated through IT-OT integration, and then initiate the process of fulfilling those use cases. This would also build momentum and support for further integration as the benefits are realised.
- Development of Indian standards: Standards related to network, data communication, system integration, testing and security need to be defined from the perspective of Indian discoms to allow the implementation team to design key business processes, technical architectures and integration orchestrations aligned to the need of the Indian power distribution sector.
- Cybersecurity considerations: A careful analysis of security parameters and audits is required while planning and implementing IT-OT integration to ensure a resilient and secure power system. Although IT systems are inherently more secure than OT systems, integrating critical distribution systems such as SCADA with IT systems can expose them to external threats. Thus, discoms should ensure that the security requirement is part of the initial system design and procurement process, to ensure a robust security system post implementation.
- Training and capacity building of utility workforce: The deployment and maintenance of integrated IT-OT systems requires deep collaboration between the IT and operations workforces. Therefore, there is a need to define clear roles and responsibilities for each team and establish an environment of open communication to enable efficient coordination. Cross-training of different teams will facilitate a holistic understanding of the integrated systems.
- Selection of the right IT-OT integration platform: While multiple IT-OT integration solutions from reputed original equipment manufacturers are available in the market, discoms need to select the most appropriate ones, keeping in mind their context and requirements. The platform should:
- Be integrable with the existing IT and OT applications or systems
- Be scalable in case of future use case extensions
- Allow for efficient data CASTing (cleaning, augmentation, shaping and transform) capability
- Ensure secure data flow
- Enable analytical and visualisation capabilities
The above imperatives can help discoms extract value from their investments in multiple IT and OT systems and reap significant benefits. These steps will also enable power transmission and distribution businesses to push boundaries and collaborate on the journey toward a more digital, distributed, reliable and secure grid.