Power of Merging Information Technology and Operational Technology Systems


Is bridging the gap between information technology and operational technology the missing piece for utility companies?

On 17th March 2021, better known as St. Patrick’s Day, Oracle Utilities, in conjunction with Enlit Asia, had the pleasure of hosting a slew of well-informed speakers to discuss the titled topic, ‘Bridging the Gap between IT and OT Systems.’ Due to the increasing grey area between Information Technology and Operational Technology, utility companies will need to address the challenge of blending them both. After all, when IT and OT are successfully connected, there would be substantial paybacks such as it will help create new opportunities to improve operational efficiency, meet customer demands, and to keep pace with digital transformation. In this discussion, utility companies from different regions and in different phases of their digital transformation schedule joined global solutions provider Oracle to share approaches in effectively uniting increasingly automated distribution systems and smart meter infrastructure to achieve the operational benefits laid out above.

By way of introduction, the illustrious speakers for the webinar were: 

Bridging the gap between IT and OT systems
Don’t miss the engaging and insightful discussion by our speakers from Singapore Power, Tenaga Nasional Berhad, Oracle Utilities and Smart Energy International

Our Moderator for the talk was Claire Volkwyn, Editor of Smart Energy International. Volkwyn did a fantastic job of keeping the panel on task and bringing about some interesting observations. The first question Volkwyn asked was why this topic is timely now. Nadzifah Hayati Ariffin of TNB was the first to speak, “From a utility point of view, I believe that the convergence is mainly driven by the transformation of the energy landscape. For this, [we need] decentralization, decarbonisation deregulation, and also digitization. For example, our distribution network is not designed to be a one-way direction, and now we have to accommodate for bi-directional flow. [For] utilities, we’ve got to be prepared and adapt to this megatrend, and this adds to the network complexity, and also the growing customer’s expectation.” When answering the same question, Gary Ang of Singapore Power focused on the data and likened the alterations to a ‘changing paradigm.’ He said, “We have an insatiable appetite for data, good quality data. With IoT, we can actually get more censoring data into the systems. In the past, we are always reacting when something happened, we react…but now with [a] tsunami of data coming in, we can change this to false site operation. We predict what will happen in our operation in our network, and we act accordingly before the predicament setting.”

We need to ingest the data, and there’s so much to ingest, how do we do it in such a way that we’re going to get the right information out there?

Matt Gleeson, Vice President (Global Alliance and Channel), Oracle Utilities

Ang made a clear point about the advantages of effectively having a crystal ball to foresee false site operations but what are the overall benefits of convergence? Utilities can expect to have the ability to optimise data consistency and management, which increases productivity and efficiencies, as well as including network planning and engineering, service assurance, and service fulfilment with IoT convergence. Why then are utilities still attempting to bridge the gap since it is apparent that sharing the information would be beneficial? Gleeson of Oracle was up first to answer and said, “We need to ingest [the data], and there’s so much to ingest, how do we do it in such [a way] that we’re going to get the right information out there and that we’re not going to end up with a tremendous amount of duplicate information, which leads to other problems downstream.” For Ariffin of TNB, she said it was about the incorporation of the data. “You have to check whether or not the data is available, and how you integrate [it] and make sure that the DMS is still doing what it is supposed to be, which is making sure that the system runs. Our control centre will be able to run our network as per what he was intended to do. It’s quite a challenge, but it is coming. It’s quite exciting for us as well, and Gary used to be our consultant for this,” she said. When Ariffin alluded to working with Gary previously, the panel members laughed quietly, to which Volkwyn observed in good humour that because they all knew each other so well that “moderating this panel is a little bit like joining a tea party of old friends,” she said.

Instead of tea and crumpets (maybe for the next Enlit webinar), there were multiple polls during the webinar that were taken to engage the audience. One in particular touched upon which of the following industry trends would influence their work in the immediate future. The results were reasonably balanced. Cybersecurity topped the list garnering 63%, while AMI, digital engagement, distributed generation, and edge grid management were in a 3-way tie with 56%. After the results were revealed, Volkwyn asked Matt Gleason from Oracle about his opinion of the numbers. “We have a lot to deal with as utilities today, and it’s not surprising to me that cloud computing in its category might not read as high as the others; it may indeed be a subcomponent of any of those other four. It’s pretty much in line with what I might have expected,” he said. 

What was as expected were the candid insights our panel shared during this webinar. In closing, Volkwyn asked for the speakers to offer their last thoughts. Ariffin from TNB said for her, it’s about meeting the goals of TNB while still maintaining their customer service standard. “At the end of the day, the goal of this is for us to capitalize the value of data in order to enhance our asset management and achieve our business goal, which would include [to] continue securely operating our network, improve our performance, to drive operational efficiency and to deliver the value to our customer. The key to bridging the gap between the OT and IT is not just the technology [but] I feel like the human aspect is critical. And close collaboration and partnership are essential.” Due to the myriad of confronting challenges regarding merging the Information Technology and Operational Technology, frozen inaction might be an initial side effect for stake holders, however, the panel suggested to forge on and dare to try. As Gleeson from Oracle said, “Don’t fear it and know that you’re not going through it alone. There’s a lot of tools and a lot of people out there that can help you, including all the distinguished panelists on this call today.” Sound advice when considering a roadmap to the convergence of IT and OT because even though it may seem like an enormous undertaking, there is support available in webinars such as these (you’re welcome!) and the tools that Gleeson alluded to above. The information is out there, now it is just a matter of bringing it all together and with that in mind, perhaps it has come time to carpe diem (“seize the day”) as there is no time like the present.

Interested to watch the full session? Catch it on-demand here.

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