As smart meter installations begin to ramp down in North America, utilities are increasingly turning their attention to the next phase of smart grid deployments, including a wide range of infrastructure and application-oriented initiatives in areas as diverse as distribution automation, energy management, and electric vehicle integration. The challenge of integrating all of these smart grid systems will place enormous demands on the supporting IT infrastructure of the utility. According to a recent report from Pike Research, many utilities are turning to the discipline of enterprise architecture (EA) for a solution.
EA is a methodology for aligning business strategy, processes, and information assets with the goal of enabling the enterprise to effectively and flexibly transition the business to a desired future state. It involves tools, methodologies, and processes for describing business entities and their interdependencies. While EA has traditionally been an IT-centric methodology, this is beginning to change, particularly in the utility environment where IT infrastructure is increasingly converging with operations technology (OT) systems.
“Many utilities understand the importance of enterprise architecture and have implemented it as a function of the IT department – often reporting directly to the CIO and focusing on the IT infrastructure,” says vice president Bob Gohn. “In the long run, however, the importance of EA to the smart grid requires that it reside in or interface more closely with business strategy and operations groups.”
Pike Research’s analysis finds that utilities have integrated the EA function into the smart grid in a variety of ways. To begin with, EA must focus on the long-term horizon, meaning that it will have second order impacts on business operations in the near term. This may not be where the obvious smart grid action is today, so it is critical that the CIO and CEO have the vision to support EA activities to achieve their business objectives.
The key, says Gohn, is for enterprise architects to have skin in the smart grid game. Organizationally, the EA function may reside in IT or within a smart grid project team. At one end of the spectrum, the enterprise architect may be an accountable member of a smart grid project team. Another approach is to have an EA team in the IT organization that focuses on developing and maintaining the EA, providing guidance and direction on specific smart grid projects on an ad hoc basis. In other cases, the focus of activity might be on data standards development and adherence.