Integrated Approach

IT-OT convergence a key imperative for power discoms

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.

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