Welcome Ken Thomson, New Expert in the Grid Professionals Community- [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]
- Jun 24, 2021 11:39 am GMT
The power grid is one of the most valuable assets we have, and it is no doubt one of the most complex. Both of those characteristics are only becoming more entrenched as the modernization of the grid is well under way and the importance of reliable, affordable, and clean power being consistently delivered across the grid has become non-negotiable.
To help us navigate the future of the grid and how it’s continually being revamped, reinvented, and reinvigorated, Energy Central is constantly on the mission to bring you insights from industry leaders who are creating that grid of tomorrow, and they’re doing it today. Once of those experts that we recently were fortunate to join our Network of Experts, with specific specialties and experiences that will enhance the Grid Professionals Group, is Ken Thomson, Director of Utilities Solutions at Aquitas Solutions.
I wanted to sit down for a one-on-one interview with Ken to get to know his background and his expertise, understanding where his passion comes from, and really digging into the topics that will make him an invaluable Energy Central Expert moving forward. He agreed to participate as a part of the Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’
Matt Chester: Welcome to our expert network, Ken. I know our community is eager to learn from your expertise, and this interview is the first way you’ll get to share with them who you are and what makes you an expert. So let’s start broad: what’s your background in the utility sector and what is the work you’re focused on these days?
Ken Thomson: Thanks Matt, very excited to be a part of the Energy Central network.
As an Asset Management and Supply Chain practitioner for over 20 years, I have had the privilege of working a large part, close to half, in the utilities sector. During this time, I have participated in both sides of the electric utility business, generation and transmission/distribution.
In power generation, I have guided organizations in the foundational layout of their asset management and work management systems to allow for the optimal, efficient, and safe operation of the facilities, assisted through acquisitions, and have integrated plants and systems into an existing ecosystem. Plus, advising on maintenance programs, redesigning supply chain processes introducing Electronic Logging for control room operations.
On the T&D side, my experience lends to several aspects of the operation, all from a EAM perspective of course. Field operations, inspections, asset health, spatial, and compatible units have all been areas I have advised on. Most recently, I have been focused on improving the overall construction and work management processes at a large municipal utility. This job included a taking a holistic view of how compatible units and compatible unit estimating was being leveraged and how that influenced the supply chain and ultimately the work-execution phase.
MC: Should utility leaders be more focused on enterprise asset management than they are today? And if so, why do you think that gap exists?
KT: I will answer this two-fold, first part is of course they should. EAM contributes directly to the bottom line of any organization and helps that organization do this in a safe and efficient manner. That said, I do believe that today there is more focus now than ever before on enterprise asset management with IoT, as connected devices now readily available and no longer cost prohibitive. AI advances can apply learning models to provide insight into how assets are operating and predict optimal maintenance windows. Utility leaders are embracing the newer technology with changes occurring, which often leads not only to a more cost-effective but more environmentally efficient and safer operation.
If there is one reason that stands out as to why a gap may exist, it inevitably comes-down to budgets and an organization’s priority.
MC: When you start working with a new utility client, what’s the typical process you use to assess their needs and plan out the best approach for them?
KT: Thanks for asking this Matt. There are several approaches out there and as always it depends on the client. However, understanding a business’s current processes and operational model is typically where I start. Once I understand their environment – their operational processes, IT application environment and culture-- I can provide better direction on where to start and develop a strategy for improvement and adoption of enhanced processes and technology. I leverage our firm’s PADEO methodology with “Prepare” and “Appraise” as the initial steps. The appraise step is critical to understanding the elements I note above. Matt, I have always endeavored to identify more efficient processes and prepare a client by developing a roadmap of success for adoption.
MC: In this area you’re working in, what are some of the most exciting new possibilities you see coming anew in the next few years? How is new emerging technology changing your work?
KT: The connected world is here to stay and will reach many of our assets over the next decade. IoT, and by extension IIoT, will be the norm and not an exception. Integrating this new technology enabling deep insights into assets’ operating life is exciting and will lead to new approaches for implementing EAM systems as traditional maintenance practices become dated.
For example, a time-based PM that in some cases may still hold value will be replaced with ‘smart’ maintenance practices like PdM (predictive) as more of these devices become connected. They will ‘share’ their status with an AI-infused EAM system that learns and predicts imminent failures are and suggesting maintenance actions such as generating required work orders. This inevitably changes the way we approach software implementations, staff and budget maintenance operations, evaluate asset health and risk. I am truly excited about the opportunities this will provide utilities.
A couple of other technologies that are now catching my attention are Microsoft’s HoloLens and the opportunity to ‘see’ geospatial information such as buried power, gas and/or water lines and related valves, manholes tubs etc. Imagine a technician arriving and your street pops-up on his HoloLens and instantly he can see all the interconnected equipment and the related specifications for each. Amazing!
Finally, mobility, this is not new since we have been mobilizing the workforce for as long as I have been in this business; however, now the opportunity is there for some truly wonderful and seamless applications that are ‘talking’ to multiple disparate systems but presented to the user as one solution!
MC: On the other side, are there any particular challenges in this space that are quickly approaching that have you nervous or you think the sector isn’t attacking head on as quickly as it should?
KT: Challenges are definitely prevalent, particularly with recent cyber-attacks such as the one that disabled Colonial Pipeline. Ensuring that CIP Standards are met and monitored will be paramount given the expected proliferation of IIoT devices and their related control systems.
MC: As a newfound expert for Energy Central, we’re definitely looking forward to the insights you’re going to be able to bring—so what value are you hoping to impart to your fellow community members?
KT: I’m hoping I can share some of the 20+ years of experience and provide insight into challenges encountered by network members. I look forward to contributing. I encourage my fellow Energy Central Community Members to contact me. I welcome the chance to meet new industry colleagues to discuss their challenges and compare ideas on how to advance our industry.
Thanks to Ken Thomson for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights an expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Ken will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see him across the platform.
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.