- Karonn Blue, P.E., PMP
A Path Towards Digitalization
The electricity sector is ripe for realizing value from digital transformation. Through the convergence of advances in computing, explosions in R&D in advanced analytics, and embedded information built into smart devices, there has been no better time for electric utilities to begin a digital transformation. Companies have the opportunity to increase their infrastructure asset life cycles, optimize electricity network flows, and create new revenues to counteract staggering growth. Building Digital Muscle:
While digitalization involves some risk, a strategically executed digital transformation offers far greater reward for asset-intensive industries. The primary issues that drive digitalization for top-tier electric utilities are:
The increasing costs of maintaining LEGACY SYSTEMS.
A need for NEW BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES.
Shifts in company CULTURE.
In this article, we’re going to discuss Legacy Systems and how your company can overcome the issues that come with them. For the last two to three decades, IT systems typically were revised or replaced every five to seven years, usually at a great cost and with tremendous disruptions to daily operations. The lifecycle inside industrial facilities is even longer as systems generally stay in place 15+ years. Thus, making ongoing improvements and effective changes to IT systems is particularly well-suited to digital and data-oriented changes. Legacy System Issues:
Lack of Adaptability
Older, legacy hardware and/or software cannot be easily integrated with newer technology. They are not adaptable to change and lead to a “start and stop” approach to system upgrades.
VS. the “Agile IT” option which lets organizations make smaller, ongoing changes to eliminate the drag of legacy systems.
Inflexible and unable to withstand cybersecurity threats, older systems can cripple a company’s revenues and brand, ongoing changes are essential to meet the latest threats.
Costly to Manage
Changing older systems becomes more costly with fewer personnel to maintain compatibility with newer apps.
Just as manufacturing organizations have implemented “just-in-time” approaches to inventory management to reduce inventory costs while maximizing their ability to ship expeditiously, it behooves the electricity sector to take a twenty-first century approach to their infrastructure to achieve maximum flexibility and customer responsiveness.
There is no one size fits all formula for upgrading legacy systems. Each system (software and hardware) must be assessed carefully to understand the goals for your facility. Along with that, the upgrade options are vast. Every vendor promises to solve all of your problems and do it on time and within budget. The reality is that successful upgrades only happen when there is a knowledgeable team driven by a clear plan, comprehensive specifications and requirements,
along with adequate support from management.
Here are a few tips for preparing for your legacy system migration:
Rethink the Current Application - Is the current application performing optimally? Will it enable your business to reduce costs as technology advances? Imagining how your organization will operate after the integration, gives team members a vision for the future as they begin their planning. Is a mobile version needed? What issues must be solved during this upgrade to unlock future profits? How can data analytics improve your business’ insight to drive higher revenue? What security architecture and policies need to be put in place with this upgrade?
Flexibility is the Key - Dismiss vendors who try and sell you on proprietary platforms. That is a thing of the past. Partner with companies who recognized that your use-cases may change in two to three years as your team becomes more familiar with the new software and other backend systems get updated. In my opinion, this is one of the primary reasons company IT costs have skyrocketed, yet the return on investment in productivity that software creates stagnates after a few years.
Investment of Time:
There is no free lunch or learning curve shortcut! Whatever approach your organization takes, all levels of management need to recognize and accept that there are no shortcuts to making changes and improvements. A collective willingness to forge ahead with change, especially one as significant as digitalization, requires buy-in from everyone throughout the organization. Communicating on a regular basis and managing expectations are incumbent upon management in order to get strong employee commitment and head off resistance. Dispersing information through video, staff meeting notes, live round table discussion, open Q&A sessions, and the like, will go a long way toward forging united support and acceptance of the endeavor.
Stayed tuned these next few weeks as we continue our series into "Digitalization for Your Company". Next week we will be discussing cultural challenges within your company.
Karonn Blue P.E., PMP is an Industrial Control System (ICS) Engineer specializing in helping organizations successfully design, secure and integrate robust ICS solutions. After spending over 15 years in engineering, leadership, and consulting for industrial control systems, I know the challenges faced by owners of critical infrastructure and what it takes to ensure these systems remain safe, reliable and compliant. Our team continually seek ways that technology, global best practices, and strategic partnerships can help protect your assets as your business and threats continually evolve. If you have questions or to set up an appointment to discuss your organization's SCADA/ICS situation and needs, contact me at: kblue@LLBLUEeng.com