Podcast / Audio

Episode #68: 'Planning The Cloud Journey' With Andrew Braeger Of Tacoma Public Utilities [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast]

Posted to Energy Central in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: Energy Central
Energy Central  Podcasts's picture
Voices of The Community Energy Central

The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. At least twice monthly, we connect with an Energy Central Power Industry...

  • Member since 2020
  • 97 items added with 185,769 views
  • Feb 8, 2022
  • 994 views

The utility sector has become just as much about its data as it has the energy, and collecting, tracking, and utilizing the mountains of data utilities are able to collect is no small feat. But as those mountains climb ever higher, they reach the heights for a key solution these days: the Cloud. By harnessing the opportunity for cloud-based solutions, power providers are increasingly streamlining their processes in ways that were never previously possible, with opportunities arising in every corner of the enterprise: from customer information to workforce planning, from tracking costs to ensuring asset health, and so much more.

Today’s guest on the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast is Andrew Braeger, the Data Enginering Manager at Tacoma Public Utilities in Washington State. In this role, Andrew oversaw the cloud journey at the utility and so he has keen insights and a front row perspective on how to best implement and further cloud goals across the industry. In this episode, Andrew shares with podcast host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester some of his lessons learned and his excitement for where the cloud is headed.

Your access to Member Features is limited.

Prefer to Read vs. Listening? Scroll Down to Read Transcript.

Thanks to the sponsor of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West Monroe

Key Links

 

TRANSCRIPT

Jason Price: 

Hello, and welcome to this week's episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast, the show that brings leading minds to discuss the latest challenges and trends, transforming and modernizing the energy system and the utility industry of the future. And a quick thank you to West Monroe, our sponsor for today's show. Now, let's talk energy. 


Jason Price: 
On today's show we're going to speak to a utility leader about leveraging Cloud computing to optimize utility operations. Specifically, we intend to look at the process utilities should embrace as best practice on their path to developing a utility Cloud computing strategy. Matt, are you ready to head up to the Cloud with our guest today?

Matt Chester:
Yeah, Jason. It's a subject area that's increasingly becoming impossible to ignore in the world of utilities. And with the fast-moving pace of technology, it's definitely more critical than ever to stay on top of the latest development. So I'm excited because I have no doubt our guest today will help us do just that.

Jason Price: 
Yes, absolutely. From a solutions architecture, to the technological trends, to the various costs and risks and even the staffing needs, embracing the Cloud is not as simple as just calling up Amazon or Google and jumping aboard the Cloud bandwagon. And our guest today has first-hand experience to share and drive home that fact. So our guest today is Andrew Braeger, Data Engineering Manager at Tacoma Public Utilities in Washington State.

Jason Price: 
Andrew has played a key role in advancing the digital transformation and analytic initiatives at the utility. And he's eager to share his lessons learnt and their process with his peers across the sector. So let's bring him into the podcast booth so we can do just that. Andrew Braeger, welcome to the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.

Andrew Braeger:
Thank you, Jason. So excited to be here today and having the opportunity to share.

Jason Price: 
As are we. So Andrew, let's start by understanding your background a bit better. How did you get involved in bringing utilities up to the Cloud?

Andrew Braeger:
Absolutely. Well, I've been with Tacoma Public Utilities for about five years now, and when I joined the organization, there was no Cloud presence. However, the organization was moving forward in this opportunity of digital transformation and wanting to engage themes around utility grid modernization, utility modernization. And an essential component of that strategy revolved around advanced data analytics.

Andrew Braeger:
And I was charged with the opportunity of introducing an analytical ecosystem to the organization. And based on my background, and what I was seeing both in the industry as well as our peers in the utility space, is that Cloud computing was being an essential building block and enabling technology and an analytic strategy for utility.

Andrew Braeger:
So simply put, it had an opportunity to build out our analytic ecosystem on Amazon Web Services leveraging a Cloud-first approach. And it has made a tremendous difference in our organization and really helping us to be successful in the analytics arena, as well as propelling us in the Cloud computing narrative as well.

Jason Price: 
Great. Well let's dig into some examples. So what are some functions and use cases that are primed for the Cloud and which aren't as critical or useful in utilizing Cloud solutions? Can you share?

Andrew Braeger:
Absolutely. So when I think about use cases that are primed for Cloud computing, and really sitting naturally into the Cloud computing ecosystem, we're thinking about a couple of different criteria. First, we want to look at speed as being an essential business driver, solutions that need to get to market quickly where we have to deliver a customer-facing solution, maybe in a quicker timeframe than we would normally with an on-prem capability.

Andrew Braeger:
Elasticity. Are we developing an application or service where we need to scale up and down? There's some level of volatility with the demand or the computing resources that are associated along this line. Innovation. That's another essential component as well. Are we leveraging, say, machine learning or something really advanced or a managed blockchain or something like that for energy transaction management, that sort of thing? And then the final piece that I'd look to is cost flexibility. Are we looking for a solution that we want to pilot? We want to set up some credit, some compute resources and then move it forward and consider what scaling might look like in that regard there.

Andrew Braeger:
A couple of use cases that come to mind that are particularly relevant I think in the utilities industry right now, analytics. Like I shared at Tacoma Public Utilities, building our analytics ecosystem on Amazon Web Services made a huge difference. And I think that other utilities are experiencing that as well. There's so many advanced features with the Cloud-based platforms that are available today in terms of enabling data-driven decision-making and enhancing the utility data management program.

Andrew Braeger:
The other use case that comes to mind is around customer-facing capabilities. Perhaps it could be new customer engagement portal, whether that's an in-house developed platform as a service solution or an off-the-shelf software as a service solution from a customer engagement portal vendor. Customer registration programs, maybe websites, perhaps mobile applications wanting to leverage Cloud-based capabilities to provide those quick to market solutions, as well as the innovative functionality that utility customers are increasingly expecting these days.

Andrew Braeger:
And then the final item that utilities might want to consider is perhaps something innovative, something new. Thinking about a blockchain application or advanced analytics around machine learning or data science and something in that space. There's so many opportunities to leverage Cloud solutions to really propel those sorts of utility use cases.

Jason Price: 
Well, that's a lot. So you are talking about examples and use cases at Tacoma, but I also understand you've implemented a hybrid approach to the Cloud solutions. What was that all about?

Andrew Braeger:
Absolutely. We've had the recognition that our enterprise architecture was going to take a hybrid approach. We have a lot of traditional proven energy management technologies that for us, for the foreseeable future, will remain on-prem. That's because of compliance reasons, that might be because of cybersecurity reasons. There's a level of stability and predictability with those workloads that we've been doing this for a very long time. And typically an on-premise environment may make sense.

Andrew Braeger:
So for example, our energy management system, our SCADA historian platforms or other operational technologies like advanced distribution management systems or outage management systems and that sort of thing. Wanting to leverage our on-prem infrastructure to successfully deploy those solutions and maintain that level of stability is really required for those systems to run effectively.

Andrew Braeger:
Meanwhile, we do have, like you said, a hybrid enterprise architecture. And we are introducing Cloud-based technologies for those sorts of capabilities that might be more new, more innovative, unproven where we need the ability to pivot quickly and check out some functionality with an associated use case and understand what the value might be.

Andrew Braeger:
So leveraging that two-prong approach where we have both Cloud-based infrastructure as well as traditional, stable on-premise infrastructure has really helped us be successful in navigating our Cloud computing journey.

Jason Price: 
Andrew, we have a lot of utility listeners, so this isn't just a purely technical topic, right? There's also change management and workforce training and development component to all this. So share with us some of the workforce elements that you've gone through. What are the hiring and training considerations? What else can you share outside of the technology story for our audience?

Andrew Braeger:
Well, I think as it relates to staffing and workforce development, there's a lot of considerations that utility organizations need to take into consideration. On the one hand, I think recognizing our existing workforce is a very strategic asset in seeking to develop those folks, partner with them, building out their skill sets for career development opportunities. I think that provides an intrinsic level of satisfaction in their work, as well as providing new opportunities both within the utility company that they might currently work, as well as additional opportunities across the industry and so forth.

Andrew Braeger:
A really helpful metaphor that we have embraced that we've heard propelled by Gartner research is this notion of building staff-based T-shaped capabilities that is expecting our staff increasingly to have a level of horizontal breadth across technical domains. So for example, networking, database administration, applications and software development, compute management, infrastructure management. Whereas, maybe 10 years ago, we would look to a staff member having expertise in any one given vertical domain.

Andrew Braeger:
So for example, they're a traditional software engineer and they develop software exclusively, or they might be a networking engineer and they're working with networking-based technologies. We find it really should be successful in the Cloud arena, from a workforce development perspective, we need to develop that horizontal breadth across those technologies whilst still certainly encouraging a level of vertical depth in one or more areas as well.

Andrew Braeger:
And so that's been a really helpful point of emphasis for us from a Cloud certification perspective. For example, say the Amazon Web Services certified solutions architect examination. That certification requires that level of horizontal breadth as well as technical vertical depth in each of those given domains. And being able to understand that image as well as helping our staff grow in those different domains has really helped us propel our efforts quite effectively as well.

Andrew Braeger:
As it relates to hiring, it's really been helpful for us just to consider the opportunity to be patient, that it's going to take time and that we're looking for folks that are curious and eager to learn and wanting to explore. Often, this can look like new college graduates or folks that are younger in their careers. Especially, those with a traditional, maybe, computer science or information technology background. We're finding the overwhelming university curriculums these days as leveraging approaches to Cloud computing on Microsoft Azure, the Google Cloud platform or Amazon Web Services. So being able to consider talent that might be younger in their career as well, that is a very helpful workforce development item to consider.

Matt Chester:
So Andrew, as I listen to you talk through the breadth of this process and everything it entailed, as you helped implement it at Tacoma, I'm curious looking back what the hardest part of it all was for you? Is there anything that you might've done differently with the benefit of hindsight?

Andrew Braeger:
As it relates to workforce development, I think that encouraging folks to think across technologies is very difficult to do. Oftentimes, we've been trained in silos as it relates to our technical disciplines within the information technology space in the utilities industry. So again, I'm a software engineer, I've been trained in this space. And my responsibility exclusively revolves around applications development, encouraging staff within the organization to take a more holistic or systemic approach to how we can think about technology delivery and how that ultimately impacts the customer, I think it can make a real difference.

Andrew Braeger:
So for us, one of the items that we're still continuing to explore across our organization is not just the staffing component, but also the process component. What are the workforce processes that we engage as it relates to delivery of solutions that may or may not be customer-facing? So for example, dev ops is a particularly helpful model for thinking about customer-centric software applications, data pipeline, networking, delivery. Takes that holistic approach or that systemic approach to delivering value to our customers and working in a more collaborative fashion.

Andrew Braeger:
So focusing not just on the staffing element and the skills per se, but how we work together as one unified system thinking about our processes and our workforce engagement processes, change management, technology delivery. All of those items really come into play.

Jason Price: 
That's great. So like I said earlier, our audience are primarily people from the utilities. So listening in right now and many of them haven't really considered... or their organizations haven't considered Cloud solutions as perhaps they should, especially in 2022. So what do you say to them about how and why to get started? And what are some of those first steps?

Andrew Braeger:
I think that's a great question. What I would encourage utility organizations interested engaging in Cloud computing is to start with a single use case, and really explore what that prototype or pilot solution might look like. What are the learnings associated with that effort? What were the pros and cons associated with that effort? For us at Tacoma Public Utilities, it revolved around analytics. We wanted to take a couple of analytics use cases related to fish survival and related to water quality, two very tangible use cases that have pretty clearly defined problem areas. And see if using a Cloud-based ecosystem would make sense to solve for those analytic use cases.

Andrew Braeger:
And as it turned out, it made a lot of sense and it added a lot of value. So we continued to scale our approach, continued to explore and build out our Cloud ecosystem. So I think a single use case, whatever that's related to, say, transactional energy, or blockchain, or machine learning, or analytics, or data visualization, or some customer-facing application development effort or something like that. Considering a single use case and building it out.

Andrew Braeger:
The other thing that I would encourage utilities to think about is beginning to craft an actionable roadmap into the future that outlines what their Cloud computing journey may look like. There's a couple of models from IDC research and Gartner research that are particularly helpful. And one four-stage model that we've really adopted is this notion of experimentation, evaluation and then automation and expansion. So first, experimenting with use cases, exploring, continuing to learn, building out the opportunity. Second, evaluation. How can we add some metrics here? How can we consider what our spending looks like? What does it look like to formalize some best practices, classify workload, scale workloads?

Andrew Braeger:
Third, moving into the automation space, establishing standard automated operation. So that's talking about that dev ops conversation and how we think about our processes and workforce engagement. All those sorts of things there. And then the final piece is expansion. Does it make sense to consider migrating maybe on-prem workloads, legacy on-prem workloads to the Cloud where it might be appropriate and might make sense from a cost standpoint or from a customer-facing engagement standpoint or risk management standpoint, or whatever the case might be?

Andrew Braeger:
A couple of other considerations that I would recommend is working with consulting experts or trusted advisors in this space. There's a lot of experts in this arena that are partnering with utilities as well as other industries and helping them to understand how Cloud adoption can really drive digital transformation or grid modernization in the utilities industry.

Andrew Braeger:
So working with a consulting expert or a trusted advisor who has a solid track record in this space, I think, can absolutely make a really solid difference. And then the final piece of encouragement would be just to learn from other utilities in this arena. Thankfully, the utilities industry is a very collaborative industry. There's a great opportunity to partner with investor-owned utilities, municipal utilities or public utility districts and just have ongoing conversation and dialogue about Cloud computing best practices, considerations related to risk management, fiber security, cost management, so forth. I think you can really make a big difference in that area.

Jason Price: 
There's a lot there. That's great. And I know it rings true for many of our listeners, so thank you for sharing your expertise on this topic. But Andrew, now we want to learn more about you via our lighting round. This is the portion of the podcast where we dig into who our guests are personally. We're going to fire these questions at you and you'll answer with one word or phrase. So are you ready?

Andrew Braeger:
Yes. I am ready. Sounds good.

Jason Price: 
A show or movie that never fails to make you laugh?

Andrew Braeger:
I would point to The Office I think.

Jason Price: 
Favorite time of year?

Andrew Braeger:
Spring.

Jason Price: 
Is there something that's on your bucket list?

Andrew Braeger:
I would like to go mountain biking in Sedona, Arizona.

Jason Price: 
Who are your role models?

Andrew Braeger:
I really value the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

Jason Price: 
What are you most passionate about?

Andrew Braeger:
Oh, it's mountain biking, for sure.

Jason Price: 
Fantastic, Andrew. A flawless performance. And for being a great sport with our lightning round, we're going to give you the final word of today's episode. If nothing else, what's the one takeaway of today's conversation that you hope your peers listening in today will take away?

Andrew Braeger:
That's a great question. I would just encourage utilities and others that are engaging in the Cloud computing journey just to be patient and to recognize that building Cloud capabilities is really a long-term strategic engagement. It's going to impact your organization's culture, your staffing engagement models, your processes, systems, technologies, people. All of the above.

Andrew Braeger:
There's a lot of items that are going to be implicated in the Cloud computing journey. But nevertheless, it is absolutely essential for realizing digital transformation, and really moving toward that utility modernization strategic narrative. So be patient but recognize that it is absolutely worth it in the long run.

Jason Price: 
Well said, Andrew. I think that this discussion has been quite enlightening, especially for me. So I'm sure that a lot of people are going to take away a lot of meaningful information here and sharing your insight and making yourself present on Energy platform is always something we value. But for now, thank you for your time in joining us today.

Andrew Braeger: 
Absolutely. Thank you so much for the conversation. It's really valuable.

Jason Price: 
You can always reach Andrew through the Energy Central platform where he welcomes your questions and comments. We also want to give a shout-out of thanks to the podcast sponsor that made today's episode possible. Thanks to West Monroe. West Monroe works for the nation's largest electric, gas, water utilities and their telecommunication grid modernization and digital and workforce transformations.

Jason Price: 
West Monroe brings a multi-disciplinary team that blends utility, operations and technology expertise to address modernizing aging infrastructure, advisory on transportation electrification, ADMS deployments, data and analytics and cybersecurity.

Jason Price: 
Once again, I'm your host, Jason Price. Plug in and stay fully charged in the discussion by hopping into the community at energycentral.com. See you next time at the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.

 


About Energy Central Podcasts

The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. At least twice monthly, we connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network community member to discuss compelling topics that impact professionals who work in the power industry. Some podcasts may be a continuation of thought-provoking posts or discussions started in the community or with an industry leader that is interested in sharing their expertise and doing a deeper dive into hot topics or issues relevant to the industry.

The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ is the premiere podcast series from Energy Central, a Power Industry Network of Communities built specifically for professionals in the electric power industry and a place where professionals can share, learn, and connect in a collaborative environment. Supported by leading industry organizations, our mission is to help global power industry professionals work better. Since 1995, we’ve been a trusted news and information source for professionals working in the power industry, and today our managed communities are a place for lively discussions, debates, and analysis to take place. If you’re not yet a member, visit www.EnergyCentral.com to register for free and join over 200,000 of your peers working in the power industry.

The Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a Business Development Executive at West Monroe, working in the East Coast Energy and Utilities Group. Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.  

If you want to be a guest on a future episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, let us know! We’ll be pulling guests from our community members who submit engaging content that gets our community talking, and perhaps that next guest will be you! Likewise, if you see an article submitted by a fellow Energy Central community member that you’d like to see broken down in more detail in a conversation, feel free to send us a note to nominate them.  For more information, contact us at community@energycentral.com. Podcast interviews are free for Expert Members and professionals who work for a utility.  We have package offers available for solution providers and vendors. 

Happy listening, and stay tuned for our next episode! Like what you hear, have a suggestion for future episodes, or a question for our guest? Leave a note in the comments below.

All new episodes of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast will be posted to the relevant Energy Central community group, but you can also subscribe to the podcast at all the major podcast outlets, including:


Thanks once again to the sponsor of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West Monroe

Discussions
Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.

No discussions yet. Start a discussion below.

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »