Part II: Smart grid IT and OT

Toronto Hydro's Rob Wong discusses the relationship

Phil Carson | Jan 04, 2011

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Yesterday we ran the first half of this enlightening interview with Rob Wong, vice president for IT at Toronto Hydro-Electric System Ltd. It was titled "Smart grid IT and OT: Can We All Get Along?" Please read the first installment from yesterday, then turn to the second part, below.

On a related note, you can access an Intelligent Utility Reality webcast, "IT and OT: The Line Between Corporate and Operational IT," which touched on some IT/OT issues or read my colleague Kate Rowland's writeup on that webcast, "The IT/OT Equation for Intelligent Utilities."

In the first part of the interview with Rob Wong, we noted that Wong has spent the bulk of his career as an engineer in operations. He took over Toronto Hydro's IT department in May 2010 and since then he has emphasized a cultural shift in IT.

"From most people's perspective—for those not in IT—IT is a bit of a black box, it's kind of hocus-pocus," Wong told me. "It's a bit of a mystery. What I'd like to do is to demystify our role and build better working relations between IT and OT. It's not just IT understanding OT's goals and objectives, challenges and requirements, but vice versa. IT still has governance requirements to ensure that there's consistency and standards to drive efficiencies.

"From my perspective, IT governance means that when we introduce new technologies, they need to fit into IT's architecture or they end up as one-offs. That's unmanageable. Nobody can afford to have staff competencies to address all the technologies in the market. So, 'governance' is compliance and adherence to a corporate standard around application architecture as well as the hardware. And we need that to align with business practices, develop business cases for projects. It's a management discipline.

"Governance is shared," he added. "IT shouldn't be doing projects if there isn't a business unit sponsor."

So how does Toronto Hydro achieve its reputation for being a well-aligned organization with its vision matched by execution?

"I've been telling a lot of people what makes Toronto Hydro successful," Wong said. "To start off, we have a strong executive team that works well together. If you have good people—the right people—you don't need a lot of controls, governance. People will know to do the right things. That's an advantage here. I'm proud to say I work with some great people. We're all progressive and largely on the same page with our vision of where we want to go. We're not afraid to tackle the tough issues or to take calculated risks."

That's good news, I said, but what's the nuts-and-bolts process for keeping departments aligned at Toronto Hydro?

"The other half is ... well, take my title," Wong said. "This year it's going to change to 'information technologies and strategic management.' I still have some of my former responsibilities in that regard. So, I don't have any excuse if IT strategy doesn't align with corporate strategy.

"In looking after strategic management for the organization, we have a large subset of the executive team that meets monthly to discuss strategy and where we are with our plans and our risks. On top of that, my area looks after 'corporate project governance.' So, most big corporate projects have a technology component. We provide the PMO (project management office) for them. Not just in marshalling the resources, but in managing the performance of the projects.

"We also have standard corporate KPIs (key performance indicators). We do the measurement and reporting on those metrics. Also, we hold monthly IT steering committee meetings with another subset of the executive team, many of them from operations. This is where we kick around new projects, technologies and tools.

"To sum it all up, there's a lot of communications and engagement amongst the executive team. When we implemented business transformation years ago, when we implemented our ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, one of the key initiatives was a management system called MCRS, or management control and reporting system. When regulators ask, 'how do you define productivity or demonstrate it?' we can point back to the MCRS, a key driver for our success."

What's the future of the relationship between IT and OT?

"It's going to get very blurry between IT and OT pretty soon," Wong acknowledged.

That's driven by the smart grid era, he said. For instance, electric vehicle impacts on the distribution system will require IT to collect and present data in a useful form so that OT can determine where to upgrade the grid's transformers.

"IT needs a better understanding of OT and OT needs a better understanding of IT—mutual education," Wong concluded.

Readers, please share your sense of the IT/OT relationship and if you have success stories, we'd like to hear them. 

Phil Carson
Editor-in-chief
Intelligent Utility Daily
pcarson@energycentral.com
303-228-4757

 

 

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