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Planning the utility cloud journey

image credit: Andrew Braeger
Andrew Braeger's picture
Data Services Manager Tacoma Public Utilities

Andrew Braeger is responsible for leading Tacoma Public Utilities data management practice. He has been with the utility since 2017 and has played a key role in advancing strategic initiatives...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Dec 2, 2021
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Electric utilities across North America are embracing cloud computing as an effective tool for achieving their grid modernization ambitions. Cloud solutions are increasingly serving as the technical backbone for emerging utility capabilities such as advanced meters, customer-facing digital solutions, advanced data analytics, mobile workforce management, cybersecurity platforms, and geospatial systems. In order to securely leverage and adopt cloud platforms, however, it is imperative that utilities develop and execute a cloud strategy, defining appropriate guardrails for infrastructure, platform, and software as a service. At Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU), a municipal provider of power, water, and rail services in the south Puget Sound of Washington state, the utility has defined a comprehensive cloud computing strategy covering a variety of considerations, including solutions architecture, risk management, cost optimization, and staffing.

The first foundational component of TPU’s cloud strategy revolves around the business drivers for cloud adoption, namely, speed to market, elasticity, cost efficiency, and innovation. While many organizations are adopting cloud solutions driven by many different factors, TPU’s guiding driver centers on the innovation directive; the opportunity to flexibly connect a variety of utility datasets and services to rapidly deliver value, optimizing operations and enhancing the customer experience.

As it relates to risk management, TPU has identified and categorized numerous cloud risks beyond cybersecurity factors. These risks are scored based upon their risk profile and include more impactful considerations such as insider threats, data leakage, as well as less impactful factors around data transfer costs, staff capabilities, and availability risks. Importantly, the risk of not adopting cloud solutions has also been identified. Utilities refusing cloud solutions based on fear or misinformation will not benefit from numerous innovative cloud-based capabilities.

TPU has also taken into account a variety of cloud compute cost factors, including proven practices around annual compute commitments, scheduling pas as you go compute, using spot markets, right sizing services, and leveraging serverless architectures.

Without the necessary staffing and skills, executing a cloud strategy is impossible. As such, TPU is working to define what emerging cloud roles may look like in a utility staffing context. Diverse new opportunities may emerge around solutions and security architecture, cloud systems administration, and cloud cost management.

Finally, the utility has defined a cloud strategy roadmap charting an actionable cloud workplan over the next five years. The roadmap defines milestones across cloud use cases, risk management, cost management, and staffing and skills. Overall, the opportunities and benefits for electric utilities seeking to embrace cloud solutions are abundant. Electric utilities taking on the journey of implementing cloud solutions, however, must exercise intention in ensuring that technical risk is minimized and value is optimized.

 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 2, 2021

Without the necessary staffing and skills, executing a cloud strategy is impossible. As such, TPU is working to define what emerging cloud roles may look like in a utility staffing context. Diverse new opportunities may emerge around solutions and security architecture, cloud systems administration, and cloud cost management.

This is a great point. Do you see the best approach to this being training up existing staff, bringing in new team members who have experience in this world, or a hybrid of the two? 

Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on Dec 22, 2021

Good points. The technology is mature and spending on cloud solutions is up going to pass the $300 billion mark next year. These modern solutions enable companies to update software faster and more effectively. The big challenge revolves around having staff get used to and embrace the changes because the way systems are managed is much different than it was before. Only then can a company reap the many potential benefits. 

 

https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2021-04-21-gartner-fo...

 

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