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The "Who" of Intelligent Initiatives

Published In: Intelligent Utility Magazine January/February 2009


HOW YOU ORGANIZE TO IMPLEMENT YOUR INELLIGENT UTILITY VISION is more important than the smart grid system you pick. In fact, neither the intelligent utility nor the smart grid are single systems. Rather, intelligent utility is a vision implemented by strategy, business process, and system change. Figure1 depicts options for moving from status quo to an intelligent utility. The left-hand side of the diagram (path#1) is the operational improvement path that was traditionally a transmission and distribution domain. This is what we've done for the past century - faster, cheaper, better. Each utility organization historically improved its results in a silo fashion. The path from left to right along the bottom (path#3) is the path that focuses on changing business processes, planning systems, and adding customer involvement. Intelligent utility is a strategy that coordinates operational improvement paths along with changes to business processes and customer involvement. Without a vision, you risk developing a series of uncoordinated #1 and #3 projects and initiatives.

So how do we get on the path#2 in Figure1? The wrong questions are: Who is in charge of intelligent utility and smart grid? What system do we pick? The right questions are: Who needs to be involved in intelligent utility and smart grid? How do we develop a shared intelligent utility vision and plan?


Involvement in the intelligent utility effort transcends the utility and goes beyond its walls. Utility departments, such as operations, planning, transmission, distribution, customer service and IT, need to work together to develop a common and shared intelligent utility vision. Other support departments, such as regulatory, finance and human resources, are also important players. The plan and vision should start from the top down. The risk of a purely bottom-up approach is that the focus becomes a series of technology projects.

A single smart grid system is unlikely, and a technology debate is the wrong focus. However, based on an intelligent utility vision, the systems (not system) and business processes are highly coordinated and include customer involvement. Putting IT in charge places the focus on the technology; it does not belong there. Certainly, IT will be essential in helping implement smart grid systems that comprise the intelligent utility. If the discussions in your organization start to sound like federalism versus states rights, then something is seriously wrong. Instead, the discussion should be focused on who is involved, how do we create a common vision and plan (not system) and how do we get it done?

A steering team structure with clear governance probably is the best bet. Figure2 is one possible smart grid/intelligent utility planning and execution structure. The effort does not need a specific department. Much of the organization choice depends on the company's culture and history. If there is a highly autonomous business unit structure, for example, a different model may work better. The important thing is that the organization's leadership not let intelligent utility or smart grid end up being a collection of uncoordinated technology projects built in silos.


Before wading into the technology, it is important to step back and establish an overall vision and plan across the utility. The focus belongs on the changes in business process, how the utility models and plans its systems and future interaction with the customer. If you have a strategic planning department and they have not started thinking about this, ask them what they are doing. It is about rethinking everything. Would you build the same distribution system if you could control or substantially influence customer load? Probably not. What is it going to take to integrate 20 to 30 percent renewable resources?

As utilities start to organize to plan and implement intelligent utility and smart grid projects, we need to recognize what is a fundamental weakness in our industry: marketing and the customer relationship. The utility industry has only introduced one product in the last century (that would be electricity) and we generally think of marketing as the department that Dilbert makes fun of in the Scott Adams comic strip. If our industry is going to both engage and rely on customers as part of the intelligent utility, we need to get a lot better at marketing and working with customers.

Once the overall intelligent utility vision and plan are created, then come execution, budgeting, technology selections and systems development. Each utility situation will be different. What is critical though is that all of the technology projects and business process changes are part of an overall plan and vision. The most robust plans will take into account the fact that we cannot anticipate everything today and will provide for adjustments and course corrections.

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