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It’s never too early to make a master plan

Draughn-01262015-master-planningWe’ve done the energy industry end-of-year reviews, reflecting on the changes from 2014 and earlier. Now that we’re into 2015, it’s not too early to turn our eyes towards 2016. Even with the additional communications tools we have at our disposal, we still seem to struggle with adequate time to communicate our goals and objectives. Text messages, email, video conferencing, and other programs help improve our productivity, but too often we miss the opportunity to have purposeful conversations to address upcoming challenges, corporate goals and objectives. In other words, we end up treating the symptoms, not the disease.

If we look at planning for 2016 (and beyond), we do our organizations and ourselves an injustice when we cut back on the master planning process. It needs to include purposeful reflection and discussions on the progress made so far. During the initial phase (analysis and review), goals and objectives should be reviewed multiple times to insure that they reflect the technology advancements and changes in systems we use. Also, all prior assumptions should be reevaluated to update or eliminate outdated processes and systems.

01262015-plan-01In the second phase (planning and design), we need to develop the draft plan, where the development of stakeholders should be a major focus. While face-to-face meetings are preferred, we need to realize organizations are managing national partnerships as well as multiple teams in multiple geographic areas. Fortunately, when used effectively, unified communications tools enhance our ability to collaborate with our internal and external teams. The effectiveness of these tools is directly related to the ease of access and reliability, combined with the ability to communicate with any device anywhere at any time.

To address the cost-effectiveness of the third phase (implementation and integration), critical infrastructure engineering and consultant firms need to work closely with the industry to identify and address additional cyber and physical concerns. Addressing these concerns can be more difficult than answering the age-old questions related to internal (private), external (public) or shared systems.

Recently the industry has been focused on hosted or cloud services, but the sheer volume and security of the systems along with data collected requires additional solutions. For example, internal systems hosted in private data centers could potentially be backed up in a public or private cloud. Expansion of private data centers that directly support daily and emergency operations is required to address not only security concerns but to provide access to critical data real-time.

The fourth phase (operations) has historically been less complicated when all system operations were managed and controlled internally. Systems operated 100 percent independently, with only a very limited number of individuals having access at any given time to monitor and control systems to address maintenance and outages. Today’s critical infrastructures must address broader threats to system reliability and operations. These threats are increasing and are man-made. So how do we address these threats in a cost-effective manner? By working together with a broad range of stakeholders.

Proper master planning with key stakeholders
Organizations have a natural tendency to approach all system enhancements and implementation the same way: like they have been done in the past. The challenge is to move beyond these limitations and address challenges based on a detailed analysis of the budget, risk assessment, training and requirements. Otherwise we shouldn’t be surprised when we have to address the same problems over and over again.

I was recently in a discussion reflecting on a strategy we used to implement networking. It was a layering of individual systems managed and controlled by a broad range of independent organizations (i.e. a system of systems). One major success element was the creation of a layered governance process. But when it came to the planning of the system design, we used the old method of developing detailed spreadsheets. Now we have access to virtual reality systems that can build layered systems with anywhere from thousands to millions of individual elements.

01262015-iStock_000015102266-PMThe critical infrastructure industry is now embracing technology convergence with private, public and shared infrastructure. Some primary drivers are increased reliability requirements, carriers eliminating support of traditional telephony services, and advanced control and management tools. New systems offer new features and functionality that increase reliability, monitoring and control capabilities. One of the main challenges moving forward is the need to support legacy systems.

Training and changes in operational practices are critical to insure the full benefits of new systems. Too often, organizations try and force new technology solutions to act and feel like the legacy systems employees are familiar with. Organizations implementing solutions don’t plan for training during the planning phase because they don’t realize the value of training during the implementation phase. Thus transition and migration training is becoming an increasingly important step in the installation and implementation process.

As systems become more complex and interactive, employees should develop into stakeholders to ensure the suite of options provides the most value to employees. If the stakeholder process isn’t developed, then it is very likely the new systems will be implemented ineffectively and the desired objectives will not be reached.

Benefits of detailed master planning
Organizations that spend the time and resources to build a stakeholder environment while developing their business case are more likely to realize the full value of the solution being implemented, but they are also laying a foundation that will do a better job of developing effective leaders and systems for future projects.

About the author

Dan is our account executive in the Critical Infrastructure market and has more than 35 years of providing customer-driven technology and energy solutions to critical infrastructure operators in the United States and Canada. He focuses on critical intelligent infrastructure, from smart grids to communications connections, and how they are used as consumers become energy portfolio managers.