Thoughts about destiny at UTC

September 16, 2015

By Mark Weismantel, PE

“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” – William Jennings Bryan

After attending the UTC Region 1 & 2 meeting in Atlantic City, N.J., I noted a common thread in discussions I had with the Operational Technology (OT) managers and engineers from the Northeast utilities in attendance. The same thread ran through the technical presentations. It’s apparent some utilities have been very proactive in effectively integrating communications technology, while others have viewed the communications systems as a “back office” function—a necessary nuisance to have to deal with.

The hot topic with utilities in the Northeast is how to deal with the carrier termination notices for leased Frame Relay and Digital Signal (DSx) services. Many of these utilities have relied on these services to support SCADA and protective relaying for decades. This is followed closely with discussions of the future of SONET and how best to migrate from Time Division Multiplex (TDM) technology to the rapidly emerging packet technologies (especially MPLS vs. Carrier Ethernet); and how the technology changes may complicate dealing with related cybersecurity issues and NERC mandates.

Proactive utilities have been anticipating the carrier migration to digital technologies and the industry trends that drive technology migration. They’ve been implementing Information Technology/Operations Technology integration plans and TDM to Packet migration plans with an eye to not only evolving technologies but the market and regulatory trends that will drive which technologies will be successful and which are doomed to early obsolescence. The reactive utilities are scrambling to keep their SCADA and relaying operational when the carriers are terminating service with only a few months notice.

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” – Theodore Roosevelt

The proactive utilities have also implemented internal cybersecurity standards as part of prudent business practices for years. These utilities have undertaken initiatives to integrate IT and OT resources and skill sets to respond to the technology convergence. Reactive utilities struggle with “turf wars” and often have tried to avoid having to comply with NERC CIP standards, stifling their ability to utilize technologically advanced, cost-effective technologies.

The need for utilities to be proactive has never been greater. Many of the changes utilities have reluctantly implemented, due to necessity and pressure, actually present opportunities to establish road-maps to the future, with a clearer vision gained by reviewing the past rapid advance of technology and the forces that drove it. Emerging network technologies will enable proactive utilities to implement much more flexible and adaptive networks which will serve as migration paths well into the future, while improving efficiency, reliability and security.

Proactive utilities are already designing software defined networks (SDNs) to enable them to efficiently migrate to packet networks, while improving reliability, and exceeding latency standards required for protective relaying and sequence of events technologies. These utilities are already implementing smart grid technologies and effectively integrating alternative energy sources.

Ulteig has successfully assisted utilities in building the critical infrastructure that has and will continue to serve this nation’s energy systems well. The key is in establishing a position to assist clients with becoming much more proactive in developing a vision for the future, along with technology roadmaps to meet the changing demands of the industry. Each of us must establish our destiny, and in the process strive to assist clients to become more proactive. Our destiny is tied to our clients’ proactive approach to their future.

“If you own this story you get to write the ending.” – Brené Brown

While Brown’s quote may not necessarily true, at least you can be the hero in the story.

  • Technology