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Digital transformation in utilities – Powering the future of the energy industry

01

5 min read

Build energy resilience in a world of disruption

The way for E&U organizations to navigate a world of constant disruption is to embrace digital transformation.

Renewables, smart grids, IoT and other emerging technologies are driving exciting new business models in the E&U space. But in order to take full advantage of these innovations, the industry must rethink the way it manages data. The ongoing pandemic laid bare how unprepared we are for major disruptions, sparking an urgency toward digital transformation in virtually every industry. E&U has perhaps more to gain than any other by using this opportunity to reimagine their business with a modern approach to data-driven decision-making and enable themselves with the tools to take on the new challenges facing their industry:

E&U organizations must manage a hodgepodge of hardware and software technologies, many of which were implemented over the past several decades. Today these systems must gather more data than ever, from smart meters, sensors and other devices. This data must be stored and processed in the cloud in order to facilitate new business models and to accommodate new regulatory frameworks.
The world is demanding green alternatives, and governments are responding to this demand with strict and fast-changing regulation. The E&U industry must be able to respond quickly and effectively. In addition to these changes, extreme weather events and pandemic-related supply chain disruptions make it ever more difficult for E&U organizations to reliably provide customers with the service they expect.
The global workforce is in a period of transition, and organizations need to develop ways to transfer institutional knowledge using new technologies such as augmented reality, virtual assistants, and smart devices. But are E&U organizations equipped to enable them?

IDC predicts the need for E&U organizations to digitally transform so that they can take advantage of the convergence of big data, IoT, AI, and cloud. It’s imperative that E&U firms invest in these technologies in order to predict disruptions and respond accordingly before they impact the bottom line.1

It’s time for E&U to get smarter.

Digital transformation isn’t only about distributing faster, cheaper, more reliable energy. By integrating IT and operations technology (OT) systems with intelligent, automated workflows, E&U organizations have an opportunity to transcend their status as energy providers and distributors, to become everyday partners with their customers. They will be able to empower customers to save energy and work toward a greener world.

Disruptive forces — such as digitization and decarbonization — are only accelerating, and the end of the pandemic is not going to bring a respite for P&U companies. Strategic priorities must be identified, addressed and funded concurrently, and the path forward involves not only the right investments in technology but also in employee skillsets and mindsets.”2
Ernst and Young, “If Tech Powers the Future, Who Powers the Tech?”

For energy and utilities, there is potential at every level for more efficient and resilient operations along with exciting new business models. Actualizing this potential is a daunting prospect, but the opportunities are well worth the investment.

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02

4 min read

Sustainability and resilience through asset management

Cleaner energy is coming. It’s good for the planet – and your bottom line.

Resilience represents the capacity of a system to successfully mitigate disruptions. Sustainability represents a system’s capacity to meet today’s needs without compromising the ability to continue meeting those needs in the future. Resilience and sustainability are inextricably linked. Consumers are demanding them, and governments are mandating them. These twin values represent an imperative for E&U organizations that operate on long time scales and trade in finite resources.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to the complex process of distributing energy. Unpredictable extreme weather events exacerbated this issue, challenging the grid’s ability to sustain disruptions. In 2022, these challenges aren’t going away. The move to more sustainable and resilient energy solutions will take decades, but there are quick wins available to innovators in the space which will prove that the push for more earth-friendly operations isn’t altruistic – it's good business sense.

A more sustainable organization starts with asset management. All of your assets have a finite lifecycle. But instead of having to replace aging equipment, you can use enterprise asset management (EAM) to extend their in-service longevity. The best EAM platforms deliver greater sustainability not only through intelligent asset management, but also predictive maintenance, computer vision, safety and reliability.

Utilities are trying to thread the decarbonization needle while maintaining reliability and affordability, a difficult task as they boost variable renewables. To do it, they’re building a more flexible and modern grid.”3
Deloitte
Engineer checking equipment with device

By using IoT data, AI and analytics, it’s possible to make incremental changes to reduce downtime, costs, C02 and waste, as well as resources consumed.4 Some examples:

  • Electrification and decarbonization: The former is essential to achieving the latter. Energy efficiency is a key benefit of electrification, and electrical devices are often multiple times more efficient than internal combustion engines.
  • Digitalization: Aging grids with large, centralized power stations powered by fossil fuels are increasingly subject to regulation. Digitalization can be used to build and optimize smarter grids that address the challenges of environmental sustainability, reliability and integration of renewables.
  • Decentralization: Utility customers are now both consumers and producers of energy, but grids weren’t designed to accommodate two-way transmission of energy. The centralized, top-down power grid is outdated, but decentralizing the grid will require the adoption of smarter technologies and IT systems that can handle data collection from smart assets throughout the grid, sending data in every direction.

Read more on the topic of sustainability and the role of technology in helping companies reduce their impact on the planet. Reports include Capturing Renewable Energy and Asset Reliability and The rise of the sustainable enterprise.

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03

5 min read

A holistic view of your assets and operations

You need the best information, all in one place, to make the smartest decisions.

Your business’s assets, operations, resources and objectives are aligned to your current position and trajectory. Leaders throughout your organization need to have access to a birds-eye view of the business’s real-time state of operations at any moment. You need to know how capital is deployed, how resources are allocated, and how all assets are performing, so you can make better, data-driven decisions.

This state of awareness is possible with a comprehensive asset management solution, enabling you to better manage your organization’s assets from one vantage point and apply AI, analytics and automation to optimize asset performance. EAM systems bring together operating procedures, work plans, resource availability, inventories, health safety and environment data, logs, and much more, giving you a better sense of the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations. EAM systems integrate with other management tools that you’re already using, like enterprise resource planning, human capital management, production, and field service management systems, allowing you to tear down silos and develop a broad perspective on operational status.

What’s more, EAM platforms provide the foundation for more intelligent asset management, like asset performance management (APM). APM enables monitoring, predictive maintenance, computer vision, safety, and mobility tools so you can shift your asset maintenance strategies from a reactive break/fix approach to one that is preventive, predictive, and prescriptive. Included as part of the suite, Maximo Health & Predict – Utilites, is an out-of-the-box application that applies AI to assess the behavior, health, criticality, risk, effective age, and end-of-life probability; as well as asset degradation and the root cause of impending failure to drive more prescriptive actions. By understanding the risks, utilities can turn data into insights and move from routine scheduled and reactive asset maintenance to a proactive condition-based planning asset management strategy.

E&U-focused solution platforms, like IBM® Maximo® Application Suite for Energy & Utilities, help you automate existing processes, and bring decades of best practices to your organization. IBM Maximo Application Suite for Energy & Utilities is purpose-built to be a complete solution for work and asset management across business units, including gas and electrical transmission, distribution, power generation, water treatment, and wastewater treatment in a single platform and database.

Utility companies have realized the true nature of resiliency which, for them, means access and understanding of the status of utility networks, of employees, of equipment — and to be able to do it from anywhere, anytime, and any place. That’s caused a new understanding of efficiency in the ways of work.”
Terry Saunders, Worldwide Utilities Industry Leader at IBM

 

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04

4 min read

Ready for the “Great Crew Change” across the energy industry?

Your workforce needs new tools to succeed.

A large demographic of experienced workers is in the process of retiring, and organizations are scrambling to find ways to preserve their institutional knowledge before it walks out the door. Dubbed the “great crew change,” this event will have major repercussions for the E&U industry.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc with human resources departments’ attempts to cover all positions. Layoffs abounded in 2021, and every new technician or operator who joins an E&U organization is a critical hire. In an industry where downtime is unacceptable, E&U organizations need to find ways to distribute institutional knowledge and withstand workforce disruptions.

Today’s workers need to have the relevant information at their fingertips. Fortunately, assets are becoming smarter and more connected. AI and IoT once again come together to provide smart, data-driven insights in real time, accessible to technicians, operators and managers from smart devices.

Mobility platforms are the foundational requirement for both field and in-plant operations because they offer:

  • Location monitoring to protect workers
  • Mobile EAM with immediate access to core asset management, APM data and critical how-to information for inspectors and maintenance workers
  • Offline functionality for disconnected environments with automatic data syncs when back online
  • Automated activities and scheduling
  • Features like GIS and GPS to easily locate assets
The connection to knowledge and support is more than just a mobile device with an app. It’s connecting people at the point of activity back to the enterprise. It’s a whole new way of working for both the technician and the operation.”5
IDC
Safety technician checking valves using a laptop

Take mobility even further.

Technicians know how critical mobile EAM can be, but are you taking full advantage of the EAM’s capabilities? With cameras, accelerometers, Bluetooth, web and WiFi, field technicians can become powerhouses of productivity anywhere in the world.

  • Use AI to connect senior technicians with junior employees for real-time guidance
  • Connect to edge devices for real-time remote monitoring data to perform diagnostics
  • Use virtual assistants and voice commands for hands-free inspections
  • Use digital twins to plan and test approaches to extending asset life
  • Create step-by-step visual documentation and training content

Those multimillion-dollar pieces of equipment are only useful when their uptime is reliable. The technicians responsible for uptime are only as valuable as the institutional knowledge they can access. The next generation of workers will need mobile solutions on their phones and tablets rather than static workstations. The best asset management platforms will enable you to get the most out of your workers’ edge devices.

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05

6 min read

Help assure safety and security for E&U workers

Assuring the safety of your workers and the security of your assets is not a straightforward process. You need a holistic approach to both practices.

New climate-related hazards and cyber threats abound, potentially leaving your organization vulnerable. But danger in this industry is nothing new. Energy, in all its forms, is inherently volatile. E&U workers often operate at high elevations, in confined spaces, near high voltage environments, and in areas with potentially flammable gas presence. It’s always been this way, but smarter operations can help to reduce risks to both people and assets. AI and data from IoT devices are playing an increasingly key role in ensuring safety.

The need to secure the information network alongside energy distribution workflows is critical too. All communication between edge devices and cloud platforms needs to be secure and comply with regulatory requirements without slowing down the flow of data, especially now that multidirectional smart grids increase the complexity of the flow of data.

I. Hazardous situation: Transportation

Most workers have to travel in order to service the assets under their management. But access can be hazardous. Some workers must traverse busy roadways while others must drive on secondary and unpaved roads—all of which could lead to accidents.

Technologies to improve workplace safety:

  • Keep fleets in peak condition by developing preventative and predictive maintenance schedules.
  • Stay connected to team members with mobile tools, while also giving them access to critical GIS/GPS information to plot the optimal route.
  • Tap into third-party solutions like the IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite to monitor for disruptive environmental conditions like severe weather, wildfires and floods and adjust travel plans as needed.

II. Hazardous situation: Electrocution

One of the most common dangers to a utility worker's safety is electrocution. Workers can be put in harm's way when operating heavy machinery or handling sensitive electrical work.

Technologies to improve workplace safety:

  • Implement Maximo Health and Predict Utilities, which applies AI and machine learning to spot trends, identify high-risk areas and take action like adding physical barriers and new signage.
  • Employ sensors, wearables and edge computing to monitor employees and send immediate alerts when someone gets too close to a hazard, like no-go zones or high-voltage lines.
  • Use drones, robotics like Spot and other remote monitoring options to perform higher-risk tasks.

III. Hazardous situation: Workplace hazards

Utility workers do most of their work outdoors and weather can be a major factor in the safety of a work site.

Technologies to improve workplace safety:

  • Keep on top of changing weather conditions with solution like the IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite to monitor for disruptive environmental conditions such as severe weather, wildfires, flooding and carbon emissions.
  • Use sensors, data and AI to monitor and detect problems and automatically send alerts before a problem occurs.

IV. Hazardous situation: Falls from elevation

The CDC looked at falls among derrickmen and found that in 56% of fatal falls between 2005 and 2014, accident victims either weren't using appropriate fall protection or it was undetermined whether they were using the correct equipment.6

Technologies to improve workplace safety

  • Keep employees safer and on the ground with an AI-based visual inspection solution.
  • Drones and robotics can perform higher-risk tasks and reduce the chance of accidents.
  • Sensors embedded in wearables, like watches, hard hats and vests can alert both employees and supervisors to potential problems so that corrective action can be taken.
Technician working outside inspecting solar panels

When it comes to safety, automation and data should drive every workflow. The same goes for health and environmental aspects of the industry. Then if a problem does occur, this same HSE/EHS data and analytics would also drive the organizational response—automating incident reports using historical and real-time data to feed the investigative and remediation processes. It’s also the hallmark of organizations delivering a safer and more productive environment.

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06

2 min read

Why choose IBM Maximo for E&U asset management?

With over three decades of industry leadership, IBM® Maximo® is the industry-wide solution of choice.

When it comes to powering the businesses that power the world, IBM Maximo is already being used across more than 100 countries on all seven continents. IBM has spent the last 30 years making continual improvements to the Maximo platform, guided by passionate Maximo users, to ensure that Maximo meets your requirements now and in the future.

If you’re searching for APM or EAM solutions, IBM offers several IoT and AI-powered options for the E&U industry.

Field technician on-site at oil pump using device

Maximo Application Suite provides customized solutions to meet your business requirements, along with multiple applications and add-ons. Discover how you can:

  • Improve your equipment operations and prevent downtime of critical assets
  • Use native HSE functionality to protect your workers and maintain compliance with regulations
  • Find and address problems in real time
  • Predict disruptions before they happen
  • Optimize field operations
  • Provide mobile solutions to field technicians

Explore our solution, IBM Maximo Health and Predict – Utilities, to learn how you can use your data to predict and stop asset failure before it happens.

Create safer, more efficient and reliable operations with Maximo Application Suite for Energy & Utilities

IBM Maximo Application Suite for Energy & Utilities improves safety, reliability and performance, while minimizing risk and maximizing your return on assets. Manage all your assets from one place while leveraging industry best practices.

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