IT/OT convergence

Jan. 1, 2014
TIM TAYLOR – Historically, information technology and operational technology have developed along separate paths, with separate goals, operating in separate arenas, living separate lives, so to speak. Now there is much to be gained by marrying, aligning and integrating the work that goes on in both. IT/OT integration is happening across numerous sectors and industries. With the increasing sophistication and application of smart grid technologies in the electrical distribution industry, IT applications can now work in tandem with OT applications to increase distribution system performance. Over the last several years ABB has established a leadership position in integrated IT/OT for distribution management. Distribution organizations are now applying integrated ABB solutions to increase organizational performance, enhance system efficiency and reliability, and improve customer satisfaction.

With practical examples at many distribution organizations, IT/OT convergence is not entirely new. But now there are strong technology and business reasons driving increased distribution IT/OT convergence.

1 IT and OT software applications

Defining IT and OT

While there are no industry-standard definitions of IT and OT in the electric power industry, it is possible to delineate the two ➔ 1 – 2. OT is typically associated with field-based devices connected to the distribution system, and the infrastructure for monitoring and controlling those devices. This includes control center based systems such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Distribution Management Systems (DMS). Most communications are performed device-to-device, or device-to-computer, with relatively little human interaction. IT is traditionally associated with back-office information systems used for conducting business-type transactions, such as cost and tax accounting, billing and revenue collection, asset tracking and depreciation, human resource records and time-keeping, and customer records. Manual data entry is often involved, and the computing resources have tended to be centered in offices, server rooms and corporate data centers.

2 Differentiating information technology and operational technology

Technical development

Electric distribution systems have been set up with some degree of OT intelligence for a long time, in that local equipment controls have long been applied to voltage regulators, LTCs (load tap changers), capacitor bank switches, reclosers, sectionalizers, load-break switches and even electromechanical relays as local intelligence. Yet IT and OT systems are becoming increasingly more sophisticated, and the level of OT data for electrical distribution organizations continues to increase as more intelligent devices and communications are added to the grid ➔ 3.

3 Technological developments enhancing IT/OT convergence

For example, the amount of OT equipment with sensing, data processing, control, and communications on feeders is increasing. The installation of separate SCADA systems for distribution, or the extension of transmission system SCADA to distribution, has become common. Advanced DMS network applications, which are often implemented in conjunction with new outage management systems (OMSs), are being performed. More organizations are using advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) data in their outage management and for providing loading information to operations. The evolution of IT for electric distribution includes IP based LAN and WAN networks, integrated enterprise resource systems, continued adoption of geospatial technologies, server virtualization, some implementations of cloud-based systems, and mobile technologies. The complexity of these developments demands, and also allows for, the convergence of the two technologies.

This recent implementation of all these IT and OT systems in distribution organizations presents a large organizational improvement opportunity which is to date largely untapped. By eliminating silos which exist between IT and OT organizations can enable data sharing that will improve system performance, reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction.

Total distribution management

Ventyx, a company recently acquired by ABB, has developed the total distribution management concept that is based on the recent developments in IT/OT convergence ➔ 4. Total distribution management combines real-time and near-real-time data, system modeling, visualization, simulation, and integration to all major systems used in distribution operations, to provide a new platform for managing and operating electric distribution systems.

4 How typical distribution processes cross over different IT and OT systems

The operational technologies include intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), remote terminal units (RTUs), meters, and other field equipment that communicates back to the control center. While revenue meters typically use AMI communications infrastructure, the other devices use the SCADA communications infrastructure. A single network model of the system, which explicitly represents the system connectivity and electrical characteristics, is shared across both the outage management system (OMS) and the advanced DMS applications. The integrated SCADA, OMS, and DMS are interfaced to the other IT systems. An advanced business intelligence system, developed specifically for electric distribution organizations, connects to all the systems and provides meaningful analytics and information, tailored for the different individuals internal and external to the organization ➔ 5.

5 IT and OT systems used in an electric distribution system - The applications indicated in the bubbles are made possible by IT/OT integration.

Distribution system impacts

A model-based volt/var optimization (VVO) application has recently been introduced as an application in Ventyx's Network Manager DMS. The VVO application continuously monitors the distribution network and computes the optimal distribution control settings to minimize an objective function of MW demand, MW energy loss, or both MW demand and MW energy loss, subject to voltage/current violations in three-phase, unbalanced and meshed distribution systems. VVO computes the optimal control settings for switchable capacitors and tap changers of voltage regulating transformers. (ABB's activities in voltage/ var are more fully described on page 44.) The optimized system condition is based on the current load flow solution that is performed on the system model. The VVO application then transmits the required control actions to the OT devices, such as capacitor switch status or voltage regulator tap position. For the distribution organization, the benefits can include a reduction in the amount of generation capacity that must be built or bought on the market, and a reduction in the real energy losses on the system.

Another example of how DMS OT applications are utilizing the GIS (geographic information system) network models, adapted for as-operated network conditions, is the FLISR (fault location, isolation, and service restoration) application. The FLISR application uses inputs such as fault current, faulted circuit indicator status, and breaker/ switch status, along with the electrical network model, to determine the optimal switching plan to isolate a fault and restore service quickly to as many customers as possible. Unbalanced load flow calculations using the network model are performed to determine if any thermal or voltage violations will be produced for the possible switching plans. Once the optimal switching plan has been chosen, the appropriate control actions can be transmitted to the field devices through SCADA communications. Benefits for the distribution organization include improved reliability performance and higher customer satisfaction.

Impacting workforce

There is an increasing trend to use data from OT systems, like automation and SCADA systems, in combination with IT systems for workforce process efficiency improvements and better decision-making. One example is the process of using a DMS to locate faults that have caused protective devices, such as circuit breakers, to trip. Fault data, including magnitude, affected phases, and type of fault, is extracted from the relay or RTU and sent to the DMS. The DMS uses this data to estimate the location of the fault on the system, and provides this information to the control room operator or dispatcher within minutes. The dispatcher then informs the crew of the approximate fault location. The result is quicker restoration times and improved system reliability metrics. In this case, the data fed to the DMS system is then processed, enabling the operator and crew to perform their jobs more efficiently.

Data from various OT systems can also be sent to the back office IT systems, such as a business intelligence tool or enterprise asset management (EAM) system, to make better decisions related to longer-term asset management processes. Increasingly, OT data is being analyzed with data mining, pattern recognition, and statistical analysis. Data from sensors and online monitoring equipment, which can include temperature, pressure, historic equipment loading, duration and frequency of short-circuits and through faults, number of operations, and other OT quantities, can all be used in the IT environment by asset managers to make better decisions about maintenance programs and asset replacement. Potential benefits include the conversion of unplanned outages into planned outages (if economically practical to do so), reduction in the number of catastrophic outages and better allocation of capital and maintenance budgets.

An increasing trend is also the application of business intelligence software (ie, IT) that can extract data from OMS, WMS, SCADA, and other OT systems to provide information dashboards and querying capabilities for the entire workforce. The dashboards, which are now available as cost-effective out-of-the-box solutions, can be customized to the specific job function in the organizations; ie, different dashboards can be created for operations, for customer service representatives, for senior management, etc. Users can drill down and drill across data to get more details. Improved situational awareness results, providing the workforce with the right information at the right time, in order to make the right decision.

Smarter stakeholders

IT/OT convergence is enabling distribution organizations to keep their external stakeholders better informed about their electric service. External stakeholders include customers, government officials, regulators, and others with an interest in the electric distribution system performance. Such information can be related to service outages, power pricing as a function of time or usage, special offers and programs, as well as other information about its electric power service that a distribution organization wishes or needs to share.

A common example is outage maps placed on the utility website that show number of outages, number of customers out, and the general locations of outages. Based on forecasted network loading (of which past and present loads, collected from OT systems, are a key determinant), distribution organizations or power retailers can let customers know if a demand response event, in which power suppliers request customers to reduce demand, either directly through messaging or control signals, or indirectly through pricing, will be held that day. Information portals between utilities and other external stakeholders, such as public safety, regulators and local government officials, are becoming more common.


Tim Taylor
Ventyx, an ABB company
Raleigh-Durham, NC, United States
[email protected]

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