Growing Convergence: Role of IT and OT in power utilities

Role of IT and OT in power utilities

Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the use of information technology (IT) and new oper­ational technologies (OT) in the Indian power sector. Previously, IT and OT networks were independent of one another. Power utilities relied on IT to automate business functions such as bill­ing, customer service and accounting, while OT primarily focused on controlling power grid operations such as distribution, and energy in­fra­structure management.

Today, however, in the world of connectivity and real-time data, bridging the gap between IT and OT systems creates new opportunities for im­proving operational efficiency, meeting custo­m­er demands and keeping pace with digital transformation. With enterprise applications (IT) and grid operations (OT) working together, utilities can benefit from disaster recovery and business continuity efforts. The integration of these syste­ms enables an organisation to optimise data consistency and management. This increa­ses pro­ductivity and other efficiencies, including net­work planning and engineering, service as­s­urance, and service fulfilment.

Tata Power-Ddl’s IT-OT landscape

In 2003, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (Tata Power-DDL) laid out its first 10-year technology road map. In July 2002, it started its journey with almost no digital footprint. Over the following ye­ars, it implemented various technologies, in­cluding the deployment of optical fibre to conn­ect all its establishments in its licensed area, SAP ERP for business process alignment, automated meter reading, geographic information sy­stems (GIS), substation auto­mation, distribution automation, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), outage management systems (OMS) and distribution management systems (DMS). This technology drive was completed in 2012, when the company integrated the newly deployed SAP IS-U and  customer re­lationship management software, as well as OT systems such as SCADA-OMS, along with its consumer information systems.

After 2012, Tata Power-Ddl began deploying a number of smart grid technologies by building on previously deployed technologies such as ad­vanced me­tering infrastructure, meter data mana­gement systems, data science and business intelligence systems running SAP HANA and big data applicati­o­ns, mobility solutions such as field force auto­mation to increase the efficiency of field crews and real-time transactions, GIS upgra­des, and advanced distribution management so­l­u­tion applications with automated, integrated OMS.

The protection and resilience of its IT-OT systems has also been of utmost importance to Tata Power-Ddl. It has an integrated security system ca­pa­ble of perimeter intrusion detection through sensors, surveillance cameras and access control, all integrated with each other and with the security control room. Tata Power-Ddl has also deployed an integrated network management system and a security information and event ma­nagement system to enhance cybersecurity. In addition, to sustain security threats, the company has deployed a security information and event management (SIEM) dashboard. SIEM is a tool used for real-time analysis of security alerts generated by applications and network hardware. Fur­ther, measures such as content filtering, gateway firewalls, distributed denial-of-service protection, business continuity management systems, penetration testing and risk assessment have also been deployed.

In August 2021, Tata Power-Ddl was empanelled by the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team to provide information security auditing services. With this empanelment, it became the first pow­er di­stribution utility company in the country to have received this status. The company is now able to conduct information security audits for various go­vernment and public sector enterprises, in ad­d­i­­tion to corporate entities. The company now also offers professional services such as penetration testing, vulnerability assessment, network se­curity audits, web application secur­ity audits, wi­re­less security audits, compliance audits (ISO 27001), ICS/OT audits, IT security po­li­cy formula­tion and documentation, tackling phishing camp­ai­gns, architecture review, and so­urce code review.

Tata Power-Ddl has further deployed several customer-facing applications through its SMS/WhatsApp/ mobile app portals to improve the digital presence of its customers. Almost all customers are served billing and payment information through interactive bill platforms every month. Ever since the use of smart meter services and real-time communicators began increasing at an exponential rate, digital payments have risen significantly, in a sustainable way. Additionally, Tata Power-Ddl has launched a virtual assistant called “Roshni”. Customers can start a conversation with Roshni by simply clicking on a pop-up on the company’s website and choosing their preferred language, thereby reducing their dependency on call centres.

Tata Power-Ddl also has a significant number of mobil­ity application users, who are integral to the business. They use the application to read meters, se­r­ve bills and collect revenue, among other th­ings. The revenue collection me­chanism is completely automated, and sm­art meter outage de­tection is integrated into the outage management architecture. The data from a smart meter is ar­chived and analysed to optimise the entire bouquet of services, and en­hance its efficiency.

These initiatives have generated a lot of data, which has helped in identifying the transactions that impact key performance indicators and, in turn, in making predictions. Tata Power-Ddl has data wa­rehousing architecture and customised dashboards, which are equipped with machine learning-enabled predictive capabilities, advising users on what they should do. This has helped in forecasting demand, identifying defaulting customers and predicting load growth for the distribution transformer.

Challenges and the way forward

Tata Power-Ddl has been recognised for its smart grid initiatives at the international level. In the last three years, Tata Power-Ddl has been placed among the top 20 utilities in terms of digital adoption on the in­ternational Smart Grid Index.

However, these initiatives have elevated skill re­quirements to a different level. Tata Power-Ddl has taken up a massive reskilling programme for both IT executives and business users. It has acquired CMMi Level 5 certification and has adopted an agile development framework. Tata Power-Ddl has also deployed an omnichannel contact centre solution, empowered with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to give customers a next-level experience and automate multiple customer services.

While the efforts had already been under way to move towards IT-OT convergence, the Covid-19 pandemic has compelled utilities to accelerate this shift. Tata Power-Ddl has enhanced its digital offerings even further during the pandemic. Going ahead, it plans to undertake digitalisation across its work areas and consumer experience points in order to enhance visibility, predictability and controllability.

Tata Power-Ddl is working on the deployment of internet of things for reliability and asset management. It is also undertaking research and development on new technologies such as natural language processing, AI and predictive integration in business processes to improve customer services. Further, the company is working on Kafka, image analytics, robotic process automation, block­ch­a­in and AutoML. Moreover, Tata Power-Ddl is scaling up its omnichannel LV automation, and digital input/output for smart metering, which it has already deployed.

In sum, integration of the information and operational systems of utilities is the key to improving agility and performance. It enables utilities to meet growing consumer expectations, provides them with actionable insights and reorients them towards the digital economy of the near future. n

Based on a presentation by Santadyuti Samanta, Head, IT, Tata Power-DDL, at a recent Power Line conference