DistribuTECH Digest:  Get Your Mobile (Data) Download Now

Admittedly, it’s hard to visit San Diego in the winter time and not want to just decompress a bit on the beautiful sandy beaches. But I must say that the folks at DistribuTECH impressively resisted the urge last week. Thousands of attendees from around the globe worked diligently around the clock to debate, ideate and generate numerous digital technology solutions that will (ideally) keep aging Utility infrastructure – and the aging Utility workforce – at peak performance for years to come.

And though DistribuTECH has always been about optimizing power generation, transmission and distribution, this year was all about optimizing the industry’s utilization of “information.” Utilities are becoming masters of data collection thanks to their years-long effort to implement “smart” technologies. But the resulting prevalence of data is posing new challenges. For example: Data is everywhere, but its value hasn’t been seen everywhere yet within Utilities’ operations, at least not in the capacity expected. That’s because the modernization of data system architectures isn’t quite complete yet. And no one can expect anything to happen overnight (except perhaps the influx of massive volumes of data)...

Big Big Data in the Cloud

According to a new report from the World Economic Forum this week: “An estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are now produced every day [ worldwide in all industries], and estimates say 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years. But much of this data lies dormant: only 0.5% of it has ever been analyzed, which means that big data analytics retain huge potential to deliver benefits.”

That’s a lot of information to distribute everywhere, to everyone, in a meaningful way. But Utilities were focused on how they are going to enlist the help of technology solutions providers to give it a go. Not only do they want to more strategically mine and apply this data to elevate the performance and reliability of their operations, they have to.

Here’s a quick download of “how” they plan to accomplish such a feat according to the fundamental “themes” that we heard during this great meeting of the minds:

Operational Technology is at the Forefront of Significant Investment and Sophisticated Innovation

  • Operational Technology remains at the heart of Utilities’ IT investments. They need the right solutions within their control rooms, for example, to effectively monitor power generation rates, balance loads and resolve issues, etc. They also need the right technologies (and data) in place to dispatch service technicians and expedite repairs when needed in order to mitigate customer service issues and minimize revenue losses from downtime. Utilities have to be more “active”.

  • In fact, Operational Technology has not just become computerized in the past few years, it has become sophistically so. Several companies were demonstrating software that monitors utilities’ expansive networks to analyze what is happening and anticipate issues to enable a more proactive service model. And attendees were very accepting of SCADA and openADR standards, which ensure that network components – regardless of manufacturer – are able to talk to each other. Open communication is imperative to deriving greater value from data systems, which means technology “openness” and compatibility is now becoming essential.

IoT Seems to Be “Everything”

  • IoT is literally everywhere right now, and DistribuTECH 2017 was no different. Xplore’s director of product marketing even noted that it could have been renamed the IoT Conference this year. Smart Meters (the original IoT device) are providing unprecedented levels of insight and control over customers’ usage patterns. IoT usage is becoming rampant in the power generation plants and grids via IoT gateways that attach to other shorter range technologies like Bluetooth, Wifi, RFID, ZigBee and wired connections. And we’ve already talked about the interoperability of Operational Technology with the entirety of utilities’ data systems, whether fixed or mobile, handheld or wearable.

Utilities Mobility is a Must

Mobility is a Must...

  • Perhaps for the first time ever, there was complete industry acceptance that mobile computers are a must. Though there’s not yet a consensus on which device form factor is best ( more to come on that in a separate post ), nearly every attendee recognized that mobile computers are the new “universal” tool that Utilities must invest in if they want to disseminate that IoT-collected knowledge to all workers and systems. Plus, Utilities know they still have to automate processes. Not to replace their highly skilled workforce, but to support it. Thus the need for reliable mobile devices, such as rugged tablets, that can extend workflow systems and disseminate data in real-time no matter where the field service technician, sales associate, or supervisor may be.

Because Knowledge is “Power”

  • “Everyone is a knowledge worker.” That theme was pervasive on some level in every conversation I had and every presentation I attended. One speaker said it succinctly: “Now that we have all of this data, we have to turn it into knowledge, and then into positive actions.” In other words, the data collected by IoT is only valuable if Utilities can find a way to translate it into positive action, which encompasses everything from the recruitment and retention of skilled workers to the upsell of additional revenue-generating services.

  • One speaker even noted that universities’ Power Engineering curriculum changes every year because there is so much innovation happening, they want to ensure that the knowledge workers they’re training are equipped not just with the skills to properly leverage tech devices, but the skills to effectively apply the data on those devices to real-world operational scenarios spanning from sales to support. However, workers’ success is somewhat dependent on utilities’ implementation of Big Data and predictive analysis tools. Utilities have to remove the complexity of such overwhelming data volumes and then provide concise, directed guidance to workers on how they can apply that data effectively. Just remember, these knowledge workers will primarily be accessing the data via mobile computers while in the field, under performance and deadline pressures no less. Raw data doesn’t help. Make it digestible.

  • Fortunately, Operational Technology, IoT, and mobile devices can collectively facilitate “positive actions.” In fact, it was clear from those who visited Xplore’s booth that Utilities are placing greater value than ever before on mobile computers that are not only capable of interfacing with the operational technology systems and IoT devices I mentioned, but that have proven capable of delivering service-critical data ANYWHERE. Not all mobile devices (not even all rugged mobile computers) can meet Utilities’ data-era criteria. But Xplore’s wide breadth of rugged tablet solutions can, especially the new XSLATE R12 “detachable evolved” tablet PC and the first in-class CLS-delivered Thorium X satellite radio Android tablet Xplore was demonstrating.

If you want to develop a framework for smart mobility solutions that will provide the proper foundation for effective data utilization and future systems growth, take a few minutes to check this out:

The Key to Smarter Mobility in Utilities

Blog Author: Bob Ashenbrenner
President of Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC.