Digital Transformation – Strategy or Buzzword?
Updated: Feb 23
By Claire McCartney, Principal Consultant
If a utility is to not only survive but thrive through all the potential disruptors of the power industry, their investment into a digital landscape must be accompanied by a key philosophy – reimagine the business process first, and then determine how to apply their technology. This strategy is what separates companies that simply purchase technology from those that develop a plan and holistic approach that emphasizes a balance between the staff, the deployment of new applications and business processes. At Bent Ear Solutions (BES), we have the privilege of working closely with a leading investor-owned utility (IOU) as they apply this strategy throughout multiple lines of business. To understand how this process leads to a digital transformation; here are three examples of how strategy and technology come together within this utility.
Emergency Response and Storm Restoration
Situational awareness is at the heart of utilities, and nowhere else is it more crucial than storm response. Modern geographic information systems (GIS) technology has vastly expanded the types of data that utilities can integrate, collect, analyze and visualize prior to and during an event. However, data gaps still exist, and communication breakdowns routinely happen during restorations. To address this, the utility made it a priority to become less siloed and share situational awareness tools to better support storm response. They now use damage assessment data supported by aerial imagery and leverage technology from their unmanned air systems group to improve upon speed and accuracy. Integrating this data, along with other dynamic data (weather, outage reports, mobile field application reports) within the company’s situational awareness platform enables decisionmakers to make more timely and accurate decisions to rapidly restore services. This digital transformation began by changing business processes to include new groups, new data, and mobile GIS-based field applications that provide comprehensive situational awareness. These new processes are being introduced, refined and codified through frequent training and exercise scenarios.
Asset Monitoring and Critical Threats
Outside of emergency response, utilities have a responsibility to know where assets are at all times and how day-to-day events might threaten facilities, employees, or critical infrastructure. Our IOU partner has invested in a multi-year program that centralizes asset locations, internal and external threats, hazard data feeds, and incident analysis and management. This program overhaul will transform the security branch into an advanced incident operations center, fundamentally changing the way they operate by streamlining business processes with Esri-based mapping and spatial analytics.
Core Work Management
Utilities, like all critical service providers, must be prepared for any emergent incident or event, in addition to the work that drives their regular business. Grid transformation, maintenance, and new lines of business keep thousands of employees and contract personnel in the field every day. Even as smart meters and broadband fibers are placed, the methods for tracking work often falls out of the realm of ‘digital’ all together, with productivity, safety, and awareness at risk. The utility is tackling this issue on two fronts. First, they are implementing a new application that allows regional offices to manage and view real-time work. Second, they are extending the same process to contracting resources. To avoid purchasing new technology, BES helped by configuring applications from technology the utility already owns to accomplish these important requirements. It is not always understood how technology, like Esri’s ArcGIS platform can be configured and expanded to meet unique requirements. This approach allows for flexibility and growth and ensures that as processes change, the technology can be extended and adapted to support growing or changing program needs.
Regardless of the opportunities that digital technology provides, the transformation will only occur when utilities engage their workforce to understand and “embrace” the need to become safer, more efficient, and reliable by leveraging their data assets and how they use technology to support their mission. When effectively deployed and supported, all lines of business from distribution to asset management, and emergency restoration, benefit by having the access to the data they need, when they need it to support their mission. BES specializes in helping organizations establish business processes and optimize the technology they already own to enable comprehensive situational awareness and access to the data they need for accurate and timely decision support.
Claire McCartney is a Principal Consultant at Bent Ear Solutions, responsible for managing digital transformation efforts for multiple electric utility clients, ranging from generation to transmission and distribution, as well as Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP). Claire earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Environmental Sustainability and Certificate in Geographic Information Systems from University of Mary Washington.