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How utilities are defining ADMS today

Eric Charette's picture
Senior Vice President & Executive Consultant GridBright

Mr. Eric J. Charette currently serves as a Senior Vice President and Executive Consultant for GridBright.  Previously, Eric was part of the Hexagon leadership team in the role of...

  • Member since 2012
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  • Nov 28, 2018

Just over a decade ago, the introduction of advanced distribution management systems (ADMS) marked the beginning of a transition in the utility market. Disparate systems from multiple vendors to operate the electric grid were no longer in vogue. Funding from the ARRA fueled numerous ADMS projects and vendors chased the money. This movement was further perpetuated by the research firm Gartner, who in 2012 predicted the demise of standalone outage management systems (OMS) and its subsequent inclusion to just a component of a larger ADMS system.

During that same time, the phrase “smart grid” was introduced. And while the U.S. Department of Energy defined smart grid as the “modernization of the electrical grid with technologies to increase intelligence through controlled integrated communications and decision support to benefit customers and utilities,” every utility interpreted the term differently. Smart grid meant the integration of smart meters into OMS at one utility, and closed loop automation at the next.

But while interpretations of smart grid were being debated, the definition of ADMS was very rigid; it was a solution that included OMS, SCADA and DMS/Advanced Applications from a single vendor.

The effects of this rigidity were felt by the entire industry. Only a handful vendors qualified as offering true ADMS. It meant that SCADA-centric providers had to develop and offer inferior outage management systems. Utilities that selected early ADMS systems set their outage management back a decade.  It also meant that OMS providers dropped off the radar as they didn’t offer SCADA functionality in their solutions.

Changing Times

Just as the definition of smart grid developed fluidly, same now holds true for ADMS. I’d like to argue that since its advent ten years ago, the definition of ADMS is now blurred and it no longer refers to specific solution components, but rather an approach to modernize the operational grid. In other words, ADMS now takes an à la carte approach; the components may be any combination of OMS, SCADA, DERMS, Mobile, and Advanced Applications from single or multiple vendors.

To prove this theory, let’s look at these three supporting points.

  • The most common approach for utilities selecting ADMS systems is to implement it as an OMS/DMS and not replace their SCADA system. SCADA systems are very complex, and the ROI to replace SCADA is not very strong. Does this mean that the ADMS is not an ADMS because it does not include SCADA, but merely integrates with SCADA?
  • There are many cases in which a utility selected an ADMS vendor but chose to implement the software in a staged approach. Utilities have implemented the OMS first and then deferred the DMS implementation as they work on the data required for the advanced applications (such as power flow and fault location). The second phase of these ADMS projects have been known to take as long as five or more years. Does this mean that for the first few years of being in production with the ADMS that it is not an ADMS because it is only being used for the OMS capabilities?
  • In still other cases, utilities select an ADMS but keep their existing OMS. This is because there is very little ROI to replace a robust legacy OMS with an inferior offering from an ADMS vendor, especially if the OMS has dispatch and mobile capabilities. Several vendors, including Hexagon, have standard COTS products that synchronize telemetered and non-telemetered actions between OMS and ADMS. In the case of a large mostly urban utility in the northeast, they have decided to select an ADMS provider for specific functions but retain the existing OMS. The two data models are then synchronized in real time via enterprise service bus. Does this mean that the ADMS is not an ADMS because it does not include OMS, but merely integrated with OMS?

It is difficult to argue in any of these cases that the resulting system branded as ADMS is anything but an ADMS. Adopting individual components of an ADMS is like buying a new car; a buyer who opts for the base model has as much of a car as the buyer who chose every option. It is up to the buyer to define which features are most important to them as they decide which options to acquire.

A Modern Market Definition

Is there a formal, modern day market definition of ADMS? If we look once again to Gartner, they would suggest that ADMS is  “the software platform that supports the full suite of distribution management and optimization. An ADMS includes functions that automate outage restoration and optimize the performance of the distribution grid.”

Missing from this definition is what specific software components are included or excluded. This stance can be confirmed by examining a recent Gartner Magic quadrant report on ADMS. Most vendors on the report follow the classic definition of ADMS and include a real time SCADA platform with an OMS and advanced applications built on top. But this is not true for all vendors in the report.  This then leaves the door open for interpretation on the definition of ADMS and the vendors who may provide it.  

How Utilities are Defining ADMS

At Oncor Electric, a Hexagon outage management system is used as a platform for ADMS. InService OMS does not include a SCADA platform, but offers two-way SCADA control to the Oncor SCADA system. This means that operators can use a single system to control the grid from OMS and do not need to interact with SCADA directly. With their Hexagon system fully integrated with 3.4 million smart meters and the vendor soon to provide advanced application functionality for fault location, Oncor has defined their approach as ADMS.  It is not based on a real time SCADA platform, but following with the Garter definition, it is a software platform that supports the full suite of distribution management and optimization.  And most importantly, it meets the definition of ADMS as defined by the utility.

Oncor is not alone. Many other utilities are defining what ADMS means to them as part of their future vision. They are not allowing the industry or consultants to define it for them.

So what does this mean for the market?

Utilities’ role in defining ADMS benefits both utilities and vendors. For utilities, they are no longer bound to rigid systems that provide a specified set of functions but have the freedom of choice—freedom to define what ADMS means to them and to pick and choose which systems and functions should be included.

On the other side, vendors can develop functions that align with their area of expertise and not worry about offering every component of an archaic definition of ADMS in order to brand their solution as ADMS.

It may seem counterintuitive that a trend moving away from well-defined systems benefits all parties involved, but that is the exact case. The movement toward enablement where utilities are defining what ADMS means to them is upon us.


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Eric Charette's picture
Thank Eric for the Post!
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