The Next Generation of Interoperability

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1 Getting In Synch: Here Comes 3D: The Next Generation of Interoperability 1

2 Getting In Synch: Here Comes 3D: The Next Generation of Interoperability Utilities have invested billions in an effort to modernize infrastructure. Over the last several years, utilities have invested billions in an effort to modernize infrastructure and get a better understanding of how their customers consume energy. In the U.S. alone, more than 40 million smart meters have been deployed since the 2008 time frame, and billions worth of infrastructure has been installed. The investments are unprecedented and the billions invested in smart grid and infrastructure will drive unlimited opportunities moving forward. One such opportunity is the concept of interoperability, a topic of growing interest in the utility industry. In November, an Energy Central webcast sponsored by Elster examined the benefits and challenges surrounding interoperability. Titled Getting in Synch: Here Comes 3D: The Next Generation of Interoperability, the event examined where the interoperability movement is headed, the actual applications and how those can really impact and drive positive business change. Speakers included Pat Corrigan, Vice President, Public Utilities for Elster. Richard Gray, Manager of Enterprise Architecture, Kansas City Power and Light, and Doug Lambert, MultiSpeak Program Manager at NRECA. The event was moderated by Mike Smith, Vice President at the Utility Analytics Institute. Interoperability: gaining steam in multiple industries The event s first speaker was Patrick Corrigan, Vice President of Public Utilities for Elster Solutions. Elster delivers complete Smart Grid and Energy Management solutions that drive energy efficiency, operational improvements and cost savings for utilities, commercial and industrial customers and consumers. Corrigan is responsible for Elster Solutions publicly-owned utility and member-owned utility market and sales strategy, including channel management. Corrigan notes that interoperability is a challenge for many industries, not just the utility sector. The medical and financial industries, for example, are in the midst of tackling the challenges of interoperability, as are their peers in the utility sector. The primary challenge is simple, says Corrigan. The increased connectivity and bandwidth in the utility industry, just like other industries, are driving the need for greater interoperability. So how can the industry move forward? Corrigan says that standards making alone isn t enough. Interoperability requires market momentum resulting in investments in the kind of cross-functional bodies that provide for verification, testing, modeling and design, he says. 2

3 If history is an example, market momentum often starts with a concept. Generating Momentum For example, the Grid Wise Architecture Council, the Smart Cities Council, and the ZigBee Alliance all have done tremendous research work regarding interoperability within the utility sector. However, much work remains to do be done. If history is an example, market momentum often starts with a concept, says Corrigan. Just look at some prior success stories, such as the Internet, AMI, smart phones, smart meters, and even the smart grid. For utility purposes, Corrigan suggests looking at AMI as an example of a concept that benefitted from having a tremendous amount of momentum behind it. As a company, Elster launched the first AMI system for commercial use in At the time, we anticipated this as being an incremental improvement over AMR, he says. We thought it would just be a better way to do AMR and some other tasks. But as the concept was proven and gained ground, it built its own market momentum and quickly advanced beyond that. AMI began to take on significant importance with other concepts such as smart meters and even smart grid. Concepts, or mental models, help to seed ideas, which can lead to market momentum which is an important ingredient in sustaining change. The 3D interoperability concept that we are proposing in this webcast adds the application dimension to the more common 2D models that focus on devices and communications with one set of head end software, says Corrigan. The idea is to keep the model simple so it s easy to carry around in your head. It can, perhaps, then be used as a springboard to the kinds of detail needed to make it robust and usable. But the simple model can have a profound cost and convenience associated with it as contrasted with past implementations. For example, in a 2D interoperability model the historical approach that utilities have followed there has always been a heavy focus on devices and communications. Applications were often an afterthought, resulting in one-off or custom integration efforts. This approach led to many customized back-office solutions that are not only expensive to develop and maintain, but usually are not very flexible. This usually leads to an interesting phenomenon called the silo effect. Corrigan uses a typical utility customer service department as an example. Within that customer service department you might have an AMR function, and an AMI function that s confined to Commercial and Industrial (C&I) accounts. You might also have a demand-side management system for load control, as well as an outage management system, all operating under the umbrella of customer service. Because of the way technology has been deployed through the years, each of these departments function independently and in isolation within the same customer service function within the utility. As the technologies form silos, the business processes that were built around them also form silos. So you end up with natural barriers between things, even within the same operating function of a business, says Corrigan. 3

4 Typically, 3D interoperability models aspire to a full three dimensions of freedom, meaning that technology can move along any axis without disrupting existing technology along the other axis. So a technology change to the billing department would not impact technology supporting customer service. This approach promises lower system maintenance costs since it eliminates the rippling upgrade costs commonly associated with past 2D implementation. When considering interoperability, standards and alliances are crucial, but no more so than design flexibility. Standards are key but design is crucial When considering interoperability, standards and alliances are crucial, but no more so than design flexibility, says Corrigan. Take a smart meter, for example, that is built for 3D interoperability model. As an industry, a large part of our footprint across North America, and other parts of the globe for that matter, are using a 900 mhz RF mesh network for the neighborhood area networks. Utilities have made major investments in this area. So, in this case, we are saying why don t we build our hardware so that it has a software programmable radio protocol so that this set of hardware can adapt to a new network protocol several years down the road, says Corrigan. So interoperability is much more than standards. Design is crucial especially a collaborative, flexible design. More than anything, however, 3D interoperability is needed to help address all of the stakeholders, be it within the utility, a community, or a consumer standpoint. Since we are asking our communities to make huge investments, we need to pay attention to all stakeholders. Introducing a 3D interoperability model will allow our communities to adopt new technology easier as needs and preferences develop. Previous system approaches using 2D models were localized. The benefits to stakeholders were constrained due to the limited architecture. For example, AMR systems and even some of the AMI systems have been deployed with little regard for outage management systems or the benefits to the consumers or the utilities in the community. By interfacing the meters and the communications directly to the OMS, real time power status of each homeowner can be conveyed using the same infrastructure. 4

5 It s our goal to provide reliable delivery capabilities and services back to the business. Interoperability and data management The next speaker on the webcast, Richard Gray, the Manager of Enterprise Architecture at Kansas City Power and Light, says that interoperability and integration represent the next step in the utility s journey to using data effectively. Our goal is the promise of reliability, he says, noting that KCPL needs to be reliable for its customers, employees and shareholders. Within IT, it s our goal to provide reliable delivery capabilities and services back to the business. The fact is, we have been working towards interoperability for a long time. We ve made great strides. We still have a long way to go. It is a journey. We want to provide opportunities and capabilities for the stakeholders at the end of the day. So why do utilities need interoperability? At Kansas City Power & Light, we ve got lots of complex systems. We ve got back office systems, we ve got utility metering systems and systems for outage management. We ve got analytic systems. And we have to be able to interoperate and integrate with all of them. In the past, that has been accomplished in a very point-to-point, offhand fashion. We ve got complex environments, says Gray. We ve got lots of vendors, and we ve got different standards. We have different APIs. We ve got a lot of custom applications. We may be in a model where we have cloud applications. You are starting to get the picture; there is a lot of complexity. So with the right degree of interoperability, we can bring together applications and systems across the enterprise, irrespective of vendors, to provide benefit for the business and our stakeholders. Gray states that interoperability can also simplify information sharing. We need to be effective in the way we use data and share it, he says. One of the big goals is to minimize user intervention and minimize time of implementation by making things simpler. Ideally, interoperability ultimately helps to drive down costs by providing a more simple, reusable information sharing platform. It gives utilities the ability to provide enhanced security at the right points, and enables a more reliable and monitoring and management solution when it comes to the use of data and interactions. Gray says that Kansas City Power & Light has lots of applications, lots of point-to-point integrations and bolt-ons so that the business can achieve what it needs to do with the systems it currently uses. In some cases duplicate systems exist from mergers. It s difficult to maintain these point-to-point integrations, says Gray. If we have to make a change to one application, it has a huge ripple effect to others. It s very, very expensive to maintain. So the goal is how do we think about this from a holistic approach to bring interoperability to the forefront of putting applications together so we don t have that spaghetti mess. 5

6 Kansas City Power & Light is addressing this situation in a number of different ways. To begin with, the utility has endorsed a standard infrastructure model, so that not every application runs on its own set of infrastructure. KCPL has a common set of standards, and all applications must run within it. The utility has also adopted a standard networking design, and a standard integration or interoperation patterns and approaches, including standards for data sharing, data governance and information sharing. At the same time, KCPL is putting in processes to assess its business needs and to have an understanding of where the business needs to go, and to be able to grow new technologies while retiring old technologies that no longer meet business goals. We happen to have a road map at Kansas City Power & Light where we are replacing a lot of these systems at one time, says Gray. That makes it easier to make those choices. But as you replace systems in the future, or you modify systems in the future, you might want to keep that in mind. That the best of individual solutions, while they fit that individual need, may make it more difficult from a holistic approach across the enterprise. With the right interoperability architecture, business can bring together data and information from application systems across an enterprise, irrespective of vendors, to serve analytic and business needs. MultiSpeak: a piece of the interoperability puzzle Doug Lambert, the MultiSpeak Program Manager for NRECA, offered an interesting definition of interoperability, which he actually borrowed from the healthcare industry. Basically, Lambert s definition of interoperability is the ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data and use that information that s been exchanged, regardless of the application or application vendor. You should be able to pick which vendor and unplug a vendor and plug another vendor in and still have that interoperability happen, says Lambert. So it s systems working together across boundaries. MultiSpeak is a major piece of the interoperability puzzle, being recognized as one of the leading standards for enterprise application interoperability. The group has 725 utilities members, a combination of electric coops, investor-owned utilities, munis and public power districts, from at least 19 different countries. AMI pushed a lot of this interoperability we see today. MultiSpeak is clearly playing a role in enabling Smart Grid technologies to communicate with one another, with some solid results gained from utilities that have used the solution to enable interoperability. AMI pushed a lot of this interoperability we see today, says Lambert. If you are going to invest as an utility in an AMR system, you want to leverage all of the data you can out of that meter. If all you are doing is getting a reading from it, then you are missing the abilities of the system. You are also doing a disservice to your customer in the investment by not utilizing all the data. How do you utilize that data? You ve got to be able to pull it out and do something with it. And you can achieve that through interoperability and through standards. 6

7 It s about taking that data, analyzing that data and doing even more with it. So it s about taking that data, analyzing that data and doing even more with it, such as improving upon our indices for outages. The benefits of interoperability can be enormous. Many utilities see a dramatic uptick in customer service, which is the top priority. Streamlining and automating processes relieves some of the stress and some of the training that is required for staff. For example, a dispatcher who is used to operating in the outage software shouldn t have to bring up a head-in software for an AMI to query that system for information needed by the outage system. Obviously, that can slow down the process, and customer service suffers. But it also makes you appear less professional, and requires you to train personnel in more software, which can take your staff out of their comfort level. Interoperability can result in real cost savings for the utility and the vendors, who no longer have to write custom integrations for every new technology that s brought in. And contrary to popular belief, pursuing interoperability isn t just a project for the largest utilities. Because of their ability to be agile, smaller utilities are often more capable of deploying new technology to enhance interoperability. I actually came from a smaller utility, says Lambert. We had 26,000 meters and a very tight budget. We had a staff of four for the IT staff to manage everything. We had implemented MultiSpeak and an interoperability standard throughout our enterprise and had it working in about 80 percent of our systems. Smaller utilities don t always follow the larger utilities because it does take the larger utilities longer to implement technology plans. For instance, when we implemented our AMI system, we had it 100 percent deployed in less than one year. Because we were smaller, we could move faster on technologies. At present, 3D interoperability is a concept that eventually can help to remove silos in our technology and within our business process. The timing is right; we have affordable technology, we have a deployed technology and we have capable networks. The market participants are ready. Already, new hardware and software tools are being designed to be more flexible, taking interoperability more into account upfront rather than trying to build it in after the fact. 7

8 About Elster Solutions Elster Solutions is the North American electricity business unit of Elster, a multi-national, person company providing electricity, gas and water meters and related communications, network and software solutions to customers in more than 130 countries. Headquartered in Raleigh, NC, Elster Solutions is focused on delivering the vital connections utilities need to achieve the greatest possible value from their meter data. From smart meters and other grid sensors, to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), meter data management (MDM), network communications, data analytics, and pre-integrated, partner-based solutions for sophisticated grid power management, Elster s solutions unlock the data stored in electric, gas, and water meters. By transforming meter data into meaningful grid performance information, Elster helps utilities and their customers improve system reliability, enhance operational efficiency, enhance customer service, and reduce their carbon footprint. elstersolutions.com This report is Copyright 2013, Energy Central. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the express permission of Energy Central. Factual material contained herein is obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but the publishers are not responsible for any errors or omissions contained herein. 8

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