Digital Imperative: Role of IT-OT in the changing power landscape

Role of IT-OT in the changing power landscape

The power sector has made significant stri­des towards performance efficiency and improvement. In the past two deca­des, the Ministry of Power has undertaken various ambitious drives and reforms for discoms, focusing on digital penetration to improve the operational and financial efficiencies of the sector. A recent entry in the series of reforms is the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme.

Information technology (IT)-operational technology (OT) convergence is one of the key solutions for solving the problems of the Indian power sector. Tradi­tionally, OT systems have been physically separated from IT infrastructure. With digital transformation and the drive towards data-driven remote operations, a convergence of these two systems is now being witnessed. IT-OT convergence is a key transformation initiative to reform India’s power sector. It is, therefore, paramount to initially build a strong understanding of the exis­ting issues and business inefficiencies before laying out an IT-OT road map.

Key business drivers

The key business drivers for IT/OT enablement are operational excellence, customer engagement, financial stability and employee focus. Op­erational excellence includes enhancing cross-functional activities across various units of discoms, minimising bottlenecks across the value chain, and monitoring and enhancing the asset life cycle. Customer engagement in­cludes a unified billing system, user-friendly mobile applications and web portals, and customer outreach. Financial stability refers to cost optimisation, AT&C loss reduction and efficient resource allocation. Meanwhile, employee focus comprises standardisation of work processes, manpower utilisation and effective safety strategies.

In the recently released Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme guidelines, discoms have been encouraged to invest in IT and OT solutions for loss reduction; and augmentation and modernisation of the metering and distribution infrastructure. The evaluation matrix for discoms focuses on digital enablement for disbursement of funds to encourage new technology.

IT and OT application architecture

IT: It is associated with back-end support systems for the alignment of commercial functionalities in the power sector ecosystem. It enables better decision-making processes and resource allocation; improves quality, productivity, efficiency and cost-effectiveness; allows digital optimisation; drives­ profitability; ensures process standardisation; facilitates interactions through a multichannel platform; reduces manual intervention; etc.

The IT application architecture consists of three key elements – discom data, ERP and security. The discom data element includes real-time data management, data analytics and business intelligence, dashboards and MIS, a unified billing sys­tem, workforce management services (WFMS), customer relationship management, the national feeder monitoring system, and energy accounting. Under ERP,  finance and marketing, HRMS and payrolls, material management, consumer mobile apps and web portals, and consumer call centres are covered. Security is also a key element. It includes identity and access management, IT security and analytics, auditing, data security, and cybersecurity. The IT application architecture also includes data exchange and infrastructure and network (DC, DR infrastructure).

REC Power Development and Consultancy Limi­ted (RECPDCL) is supporting discoms in IT initiatives like data analytics, business intelligence, da­shboards and MIS, unified billing system, NFMS, and energy accounting. RECPDCL is also part of an active discussion with key market players and utilities for the readiness of these initiatives.

OT: It includes software applications related to the field-based infrastructure for monitoring, controlling and protection on a near-real-time basis. It offers advantages like near-real-time monitoring of status, effective control from remote locations, better outage analysis and complaint handling, workforce management, reliable infrastructure, and reduction in the total cost of ownership.

The OT application architecture consists of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), mobile data system and cybersecurity. The sub-domains include real-time data from field devices (meter data, FRTUs, etc.), distribution management systems (DMS), consisting of load balancing, forecasting, and feeder configuration), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), outage management systems (OMS), distributed energy re­sources management systems (DERMS), geo­gra­phic information systems (GIS) and integrated com­mand and control centre. Cyberse­curity fo­cuses on identity and access management, IT security and analytics, auditing, data se­cu­rity and overall cybersecurity. Other compone­nts of the OT application architecture are data ex­change and enterprise systems (IT system convergence).

RECPDCL is supporting discoms in OT initiatives like AMI, DMS, SCADA, OMS and cybersecurity. In smart metering and AMI, RECPDCL is playing the role of a project management and implementation agency, and is in partnership with potential stakeholders like meter manufacturers and solution providers. Further, it has supported SCADA in the Union Territories of Ladakh and Chandigarh by leveraging its project management and consultancy skills for SCADA solutions in discoms, and collaboration with strategic partners and solution providers.

Evolution of cybersecurity

Cybersecurity covers technology, processes and people. It includes areas like legacy software and systems, default and weak configuration and cre­dentials, lack of encryption or poor encryption, lack of patch management, insecure and old protocols, poor cyber resilience planning, in­adequate malware protection, and weak chan­ge management. RECPDCL is conducting an assessment of utilities’ cybersecurity readiness along with an orientation session with EY to create awareness. RECPDCL is also running a na­tional-level cybersecurity support mandate.

It is gaining importance because it is now an integral part of our critical assets. Apart from this, IT-OT convergence will create additional attack vectors. Further, the number of IoT devi­c­es is rapidly growing. There has also been an increase in the number of OT-targeted cybera­ttacks in recent times. Hence, there is a need to adopt cybersecurity practices.

IT-OT opportunities and impact

IT solutions such as mobile applications and web portals help increase customer engagement, which is a prerequisite for the effective implementation of any scheme. Initially, when smart metering projects were implemented across the field, a lot of resistance was witnessed at the customer level. In this situation, a mobile app will help in cus­tomer engagement; WFMS can improve the em­ployee focus by monitoring productivity; the revenue management system can ensure efficient revenue collection; and a centralised billing system can improve cross-functional operational effectiveness.

Among OT applications, GIS will ensure asset optimisation, OMS will help in increasing customer satisfaction as customers will receive prior notification of power outages. The AMI system will help in bringing down losses, increasing operational efficiency, and ensuring network optimisation. Moreover, DERMS/ DMS can improve operational efficiency by aligning demand and supply. Cybersecurity can help secure data and build customer trust.

The way forward

RECPDCL has come up with an indicative road map for power utilities. It is a must for the effective deployment of IT and OT in the power sector. As per insights drawn from the indicative road map for power utilities and their digital journey, it is imperative to understand that IT-OT app­li­cations cannot be rushed into any system, and it will take time to achieve certain goals and get the desired results. The proposed road map highlights that different strategies will need to be adopted in a phased manner over a period of five years. RECPDCL is willing to lend support to discoms in their journey, especially for laying down the IT/OT road map. It can also provide support in terms of DPR preparation, programme management consultancy, programme implementation, and third-party verification work.

IT-OT engagement typically requires a huge investment, which has been a key challenge for the cash-strapped discoms. That said, the utilities need to adopt the mantra of the four Rs – reach, reinforce, renew and reform. Reforms would be incomplete without sufficient and robust IT-OT implementation. n

Based on a presentation by Shambhu Shanker Gupta, Additional CEO, RECPDCL, at a recent Smart Utilities conference