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Energy&Utilities: go beyond SCADA!

From the Systems Engineering perspective, the Energy&Utility industry has been always characterized by two domains: the Information Technology Domain (IT), that includes the business support systems as Billing, Customer Relationship Management, etc., and the Process Control Domain (SCADA), that includes the operational support systems as Outage Management, Load Balancing, etc.

Process Control Systems (commonly named SCADA – Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition), serves to monitor and control geographically dispersed assets/devices (involved into the generation, production, transmission, storage and distribution of power, water, gas, oil and heat) using centralized data acquisition and supervisory controls.

SCADA provide a remote operator with sufficient information to determine the status of particular device or a process spread over a wide geographic area and cause actions to take place regarding that device or process without being physically present (e.g. monitor the water flow in a pipe, monitor the reactive power in a power transmission line, close a water valve, disconnect a power transformer, monitor the pressure of gas, etc.).

Those two domains have been always characterized by employing different types of technologies in terms of hardware, communication channels, communication protocols, programming languages, etc. This differentiation has been reflected not only on the technology providers but also on the Energy&Utilities’ organizational structures where, in most of the cases, the IT Department and the Network Department(s) are completely separated, at the same level in the organizational hierarchy and both reporting directly to the CEO.

The new available and reliable technologies (commonly grouped into the big-box of Internet Of Thighs (IoT)) today represents a more open, standard, secure and cost-effective alternatives to SCADA systems. Those new technologies are more close to the IT technologies since sensor/actuators on the field transmit/receive data through standard, more secure, TCP/IP based communication channels and protocol (GPRS, NB-IoT, LoRa, etc.).

Base on that, the Energy&Utility industries should start quickly and effectively on:

  1. Transform their internal organizational structure because the separation between IT Domain and SCADA Domain is not any more sustained by technology differentiation.
  2. Transform their procurement processes launching “process control centric” instead “SCADA centric” RFPs in order to access to cheaper and more open, innovative, maintainable and integrable solutions. The procurement process should also be structured in the way to acquire separately the sensors/actuators from the logic (software), exactly as happening now for the AMI: meters (the sensor) is the object of an RFP and Meter Data Management System (the software) is the object of a different RFP.
  3. Enable the above-mentioned transformations establishing a Business Division that drives the Technological Divisions (IT, Network, etc.) and not the opposite, as often happen. The weakness or (worse) the total absence of well-structured Business Divisions positioned between the top management and the Technological Divisions, make difficult (and sometime impossible) implement effective business support systems (as Billing, Customer Relationship Management, etc.) and implement the necessary process and systems to measure and improve the company performances (e.g. Losses Detection System). We already saw this transformation into the Telecommunication Industry where, the clear separations between the IT Department and Network Department are quickly disappearing due to the introduction of the new technologies, in particular, the Next Generation Networks (NGN) where, all the typical functionalities of Telco Network, are now implemented with standard IT technologies.

Author

Andrea Desantis, 30+ years of experience in Systems Engineering and Information Security management and consulting, especially in the Energy&Utility and Telecommunications industries. Expert in AI (Machine Learning and Deep Learning) algorithms and systems applied to the Energy&Utility industry ( e.g. Predictive Maintenance), Information Security Governance, and Application Security.

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