Seattle City Light -Technology Vision 2020

Dirk Mahling, CIO, Seattle City Light
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Dirk Mahling, CIO, Seattle City Light

Dirk Mahling, CIO, Seattle City Light

Guided by the goals of its six year strategic plan, Seattle City Light recently published Technology Vision 2020 –a blueprint for the electric power utility’s technology. It covers deploying and managing information systems, communication networks and controls. Historically, City Light adopted new technology solutions in a piecemeal “best-of-breed” fashion, resulting in a mix of platforms, protocols and standards that didn’t always work well together. These approaches were often incompatible, expensive to maintain, and difficult to keep secure. Most important: they were not guided by a master blueprint. Technology Vision 2020 helps ensure that the utility’s critical technologies are integrated, interoperable, well-protected, and cost-effective. It articulates a systems vision, guiding principles, and a structure of enterprise architecture governance that stewards effective investments in technology into the next decade, as outlined below.

Technology Vision 2020 centers on an enterprise architecture blue- print to ensure that all the pieces of technology projects and pro-cesses fit together

City Light’s core utility infrastructure is aging: approximately 80 percent of its business software systems must be replaced within the next six years. The utility can no longer afford to view a list of projects and attendant technologies in isolation. It demands cogent reference architecture to properly fit into place the entire portfolio of City Light’s information and operations technology solutions, supported by a more holistic approach to enterprise governance. Vision 2020 defines an Enterprise Architecture (EA) blueprint for each of City Light’s business units: Customer Services and Energy Delivery, Power Supply and Environmental Affairs, Internal Compliance/Security/Emergency Management, Financial Services and Human Resources. The EA blueprints consist of three core layers that relate to City Light’s business, information and system solutions, outlined as follows:

The blueprints provide a cohesive foundation for new solutions already envisioned, while keeping the door open for innovative technologies yet to come. Central to this methodology is the view of data and information that flows conceptually between process (top layer) but is realized via system (bottom layer). This dual view (business/technology) allows City Light to straddle the most crucial interface in the business–the alignment between technology and business function–with ease. This allows business process owners to concentrate on their business goals and the information needed to move the process forward, while giving technologists the top level requirements for implementing ubiquitous data access across the enterprise.

Technology Vision 2020 promotes a project management offi ce (PMO) approach that engages business units with their IT liaison early in the process

This “5D” PMO process, outlined and illustrated below, assists customers in a much more consultative and proactive fashion than ever before:

Discover: Every director at City Light has a designated technology liaison to help assess business needs and explore technologies in an explorative dialog (both current and emerging) to best address them

• Define: Working in partnership with the liaison, a project’s scope, goals and technology requirements are clearly delineated – before it enters the PMO

• Design: Once defined well enough, the PMO helps develop the requisite project plan, budget, and architectures necessary to support and optimize business processes; detailed requirements, specifications and design only happen after the basics have been checked at the two gates (intake, review)

• Develop: During this phase, the solution is built, configured, and tested

• Deploy: The solution is rolled out, incorporating change management practices that foster stakeholder adoption and yield the intended value of the investment

Technology Vision 2020 addresses cyber security demands – from the inside out

City Light must tackle cyber security from a business viewpoint – rather than a technology-centric, one-size-fits-all orientation. Cyber security also cannot and should not be addressed in an after-the-fact manner. It must be architected and managed from the very core of City Light’s enterprise architecture. Like a swimming pool that targets specific temperatures and pH levels to safeguard the water, business security risk profiles must be infused within every line of the EA blueprints to effectively protect utility operations.

Technology Vision 2020 provides a framework for energy technology

A viable path toward supporting the utility of the future must not paint City Light into a technological corner. During the preceding decade, the operational technologies (OT) landscape has witnessed a seismic shift that includes conversion from analog to digital solutions as well as an ongoing evolution from proprietary to more open solutions. Rather than continue to seek and employ disparate, business unit-specific solutions, City Light embraces the convergence of IT and OT holistically. Enterprise architecture lays the foundation for addressing this convergence – and yielding real benefits, including: fewer outages, reduced costs, optimized business processes, and enhanced information for making better decisions.

On a similar note, City Light’s communications networks have evolved organically since the 1970s. An incompatible collection of technologies (e.g., fiber, copper, microwave, leased line) and related protocols exist at the utility today that can no longer be viewed from a siloed perspective. Technology Vision 2020’s enterprise architecture calls for a unified, simplified, secure and recoverable new approach.

Just as IT is merging with OT, customer technology (CT)–which includes home area networks (HANs) and smart thermostats, is now also converging with energy technology (ET)– which includes photo-voltaics, Microgrids, and distributed energy storage. Within this context, City Light demands a viable platform that customers can simply and easily “plug into” for both information and energy.

Technology Vision 2020 is just the beginning-

As Seattle City Light continues to update its strategic business plan, Technology Vision 2020 will address emerging needs via a parallel ever-greening process that actively partners with the business units. Building upon the Vision 2020 document that City Light developed in partnership with Dan Borgen Consulting, these efforts will be expanded upward into a comprehensive technology strategic plan for the utility. Vision 2020 also will be extended downward into a core set of specific standards, policies, and data models to frame future technology deployment.

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