Smart Grid and EA – Making Smart Grid Smarter

Many electric utility companies are in the process of fundamentally changing both their individual operations, as well as the electric industry as a whole.  Many of you have probably heard the term “Smart Grid,” but those in the electric industry are either embracing, waiting on or fearing (or maybe even a little bit of all three) the change that this transformation is bringing.  Essentially, Smart Grid refers to making the utility grid system of electric generation, transmission, distribution and consumption “more intelligent” with digital technology.

The intelligence is to be supplied by two-way digital communications, digital sensors, and a host of intelligent devices such as smart meters, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, improved substation machinery, and even consumer appliances.  So at first glance, Smart Grid may appear to be a vast upgrade of the utility grid infrastructure and devices.  While some companies may have viewed it that way to begin with, as they begin to look at the specific changes necessary to their assets, they are finding that there are many more fundamental changes needed in their business processes, organization, human resources, and overall business operations.  And many of them are finding their enterprise architecture program to be extremely useful in this endeavor.

Our advice to EA groups at electric companies has been to actively seek involvement in the Smart Grid initiative as early as possible.  While some have gotten involved early in the process and proven their value in the planning of the overall strategy and implementation trade-offs; others have gotten involved strictly as an IT advisor and planner, still showing the value of EA as they demonstrate the linkage between significant business decisions and IT investment options.  In any case, the participation of the EA group in the Smart Grid initiative seems to be increasing, and a variety of outcomes are being achieved.

EA groups are leveraging Smart Grid as the business justification for long-overdue communications network upgrades, common integration approaches and data standardization.  EA groups are pointing to business architecture methods and artifacts to help executives consider the impact of Smart Grid on their internal business processes, information flows, application portfolio and decision trade-offs.  In general, EA Groups are leveraging Smart Grid as an opportunity to do something they have always strived for — engage with business leaders on a topic in which the business has a strong interest and the EA group has a strong competency.  Many a utility company is finding this to be a win-win.

One last observation to pass along regarding the involvement of EA in such an apparent technology-oriented initiative.  As with many so-called transformations through technology, companies are finding out that much more than both the Operational Technology (OT) and supporting Information Technology (IT) need to change.  And in many cases, it is the involvement of the EA team that has demonstrated the future required changes to business processes, shared information, training, skills and competencies, and even the overall operating model of the company.