Choosing an OMS Partner for a Fuller Solution Leading to ADMS

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Tom Helmer's picture
Executive Solution Architect UDC

Executive Solution Architect for UDC and SAFe® 4 Certified Agilist (SA), Tom has over 25 years of experience designing and integrating utility solutions around GIS and related technologies,...

  • Member since 2008
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  • Sep 2, 2021

Selecting an OMS integration vendor is a critical step in a utility’s roadmap for automation and modernization. The choice will impact all future operational technology enhancements; it is therefore crucial to choose a system and vendor that are compatible with future upgrades, grid management systems, and high-value advanced applications. For the fullest solution and maximum ROI, the utility should consider a best-in-suite, long-term ADMS partner rather than a best-of-breed, short-term OMS point solution partner.

A successful partnership begins with and requires a successful consultant, as the utility is highly dependent on the consultant’s counsel to navigate through the selection and post-selection processes. A good consultant has an established set of OMS requirements to drive the functional, integration, reporting, and security discussions with the utility. In addition to engaging a good consultant, the utility must also build a diverse evaluation team, create a comprehensive set of ADMS requirements while prioritizing the OMS set of requirements, and construct an effective RFP that lays the groundwork for the most complete solution.

Choosing the Right Consultant for OMS Project Success

The driving force behind the success or failure of your OMS and long-term ADMS project is your consultant, serving as the conduit between the vendor selection process and the utility. The utility is dependent upon its consultant to aid in choosing the best vendor to achieve their project goals. Therefore, a good consultant is necessary to select the best vendor for fulfilling your utility’s requirements, providing the best value OMS system solution with the least amount of risk.

For a successful vendor selection and project, it is imperative that your consultant is independent from all OMS/ADMS vendor products and technologies – ensuring your consultant is offering objective and unbiased guidance, recommendations, and management to help your utility select the best vendor to satisfy your project needs. While your consultant should be autonomous from the vendors, leveraging one with familiarity with the OMS/ADMS technology vendors, an understanding of the OMS requirements that differentiate the vendors, and the knowledge of the business processes involved yields a more productive RFP generation and streamlined selection process.

The Necessary Skillsets

At minimum, utilities should opt for a consultant firm with considerable experience planning, procuring, and implementing utility operation systems and applications. Ideally, the consultant’s skillset also includes proficiency with procuring, configuring, and installing multiple OMS systems and other complex systems, including GIS, and enterprise integration experience with many of the utility energy delivery systems, interface standards, and vendor platforms. Expertise in these areas afford the consultant the most effective integration strategy to support implementing your OMS and leveraging its information to the fullest.

Additionally, well-developed evaluation methodology and tools are essential as your consultant provides scoring tools to your utility’s OMS vendor evaluation team for assessing the vendors, scoring the vendor responses, generating the demonstration short-list, defining the short-list presentation topics and ultimately driving the team to a consensus selection of the vendor via a fully defensible process.

Expertise in knowing the effort and skillset required to configure OMS modules is extremely beneficial to the utility and project as your consultant assists in the negotiation of the contract work statement (SOW), on behalf of your utility, with the selected vendor. This skill requires a working knowledge of the OMS vendor’s modules and their configuration approach.

Vendor Selection Process

Guided by your consultant, the vendor selection process commences with the development of your OMS RFP specifications based on your utility’s outage initiation, locate fault, outage restoration and outage communications business activity workshops and culminates with demonstrations from short-listed vendors. For the most streamlined selection process, utilities should strive to use the RFP to communicate to vendors their planned uses for an OMS, project time constraints, and key factors for a successful project. Consequently, a well-focused RFP identifies to your utility the capabilities of the vendors and their scopes, schedules, and service costs.

To facilitate the fullest solution for your utility, the larger ADMS scope should be examined through including SCADA and DMS requirements in addition to your OMS requirements in one RFP. In so doing, your utility can include a more expansive set of requirements and evaluate vendors based on all three application functions, providing a comprehensive overview of the vendor and their services. In establishing a framework at this stage and choosing a vendor contingent on all three solutions, you will be selecting the best long-term partner that meets your vision and goals regarding electric distribution system management for your utility.

Generating the RFP for a Fuller Solution

To determine your ‘Fuller Solution’ specifications, your utility’s long-term ADMS goals are first identified via the 25 – 30 ADMS business activity processes that either use ADMS functionality or make use of the data generated by the ADMS. Following these, your utility should review scope and objectives, project resources, roles and responsibilities, project schedule, and your system requirements. To determine your solution requisites, relevant executive department heads (e.g., Operations, Customer Service, Asset Management, Reliability Engineering, Automation Protection and Control Engineering, Field Supervision, Corporate Communications, C&I Account Executives and IT departments) should also be interviewed. Executive input is significant as executives provide a perspective unique from the stakeholders participating in the ADMS business activity workshops, involving the directions, strategies, and visions of higher-level management.

Outage communication requirements are an important consideration for your utility.  We believe the OMS and longer term the ADMS does generate very important information, but that the OMS/ADMS should not be leveraged to communicate this information to all internal and external stakeholders. Information dissemination will vary based on the targeted audience. For example, the customer view, field view, and management view will differ based on user needs, and these ‘views’ can all be achieved through a single GIS-based solution. Modern enterprise GIS technology is a better fit for this functionality, by taking the gathered information and spatially displaying it in Web dashboards or mobile devices for users to view.

Sample Outage Communication Dashboard

GIS-based dashboards have become increasingly popular as a platform to communicate information to broader audiences. Dashboards built on ArcGIS Enterprise can display multiple sets of data, such as OMS, ADMS, SCADA, AMI, crew tracking systems, etc., in a single, real-time view. Using interactive widgets and customizations, different user groups can tweak their views to what is relevant to them. Grid operators, for instance, have the potential to view outage metrics, e.g., counts, durations, highest loaded feeders, power quality issues, etc., or asset performance results by location.

The final OMS requirements include the OMS functional requirements captured from the business activity workshops, the OMS data flow requirements, and the OMS integration/interface requirements. The integration/interface requirements are especially critical as vendors require this information to develop an accurate SOW and services’ cost for the implementation. The technical body of the RFP is composed using the definitive requirements, including the OMS functional, OMS integration, OMS security, OMS performance, OMS software and services quality assurance (QA), and OMS acceptance testing (UAT) requirements.

In addition to OMS requirements, your RFP should also incorporate a comprehensive set of additional ADMS requirements addressing your company’s SCADA and DMS requirements.

Perform Vendor Due Diligence for Risk Assessments

Investigating vendors prior to dispatching RFP requests optimizes the selection process. For a successful partnership, vendor audits should include general company information, historical financial information, current financial stability, projected company growth, possibility of equity event/ownership stability, debt, cybersecurity incidents, reputation, and operational performance. The compiled business information assists in assessing the risk potential of each vendor. Vendor risk should continuously be monitored even after the audit process is complete by following up with current customers of the short-listed ADMS vendors.

Score Vendor Proposals using RTP Configuration

The selection criteria, scoring matrices, and detail requirements that serve as differentiators between the vendors are developed by your consultant with your input. The three recommended areas for assessment are risk, technical requirements, and price (RTP). The weight of significance granted to each criterion is based on your utility’s drivers – what is most important to you, e.g., 40% risk, 35% technical requirements, and 25% price. Establishing specific criteria weighting at time of RFP creation supports a defensible vendor selection process.

Factors that contribute to the risk percentage include vendor characteristics, product characteristics, vendor-industry relations, and vendor support. Technical requirements to consider are navigation, facility information, tracing, outage analysis, outage management, crew management, switch order management, outage reporting, crew reporting, system abnormal condition reporting, system administration, system architecture’s scalability and ability to support the utility’s storm scenarios and integration. Pricing factors involve software costs, implementation services, upgrade costs and maintenance costs.

Facilitate Vendor Demonstrations

Key stakeholder and executive sponsor presence at the vendor demonstrations is encouraged to set expectations and keep key members informed on the RFP selection process. These members and the evaluation team should continually monitor the vendors throughout the presentations to detect any fundamental issues.

A qualitative assessment at the onset of each presentation helps the evaluation team to assess vendor preparedness and professionalism. Assessment topics to consider include initial reactions, presenter roles, vendor understanding of requirements, and compatibility with the vendor team.

A similar qualitative assessment at the close of each vendor presentation allows the evaluation team to assess the vendors’ overall ADMS suite of products, including overall impression of the OMS product, product ease of use, vendor OMS performance, etc.

Select Vendor

A team consensus among your evaluation team(s) is vital to an effective selection process. As part of the decision-making process, your team should analyze any discrepancies, vendor strengths, vendor weaknesses, risks, and whether the demonstrations validate the given RTP scores.

Next Steps after Selection

The contract Statement of Work (SOW) is created following vendor selection. A draft SOW is usually requested as part of the RFP response deliverables. The SOW should clearly define the technical and commercial components of the vendor work. Agreement between your utility and the vendor on the technical issues is integral regarding the core product modules, the criteria that verifies the functional requirements are met, and whether functional requirements are gaps that need to be addressed as part of the initial project deployment or after the system has been in use. Commercially, the contract defines vendor responsibilities, the criteria for project final acceptance, expected delivery dates and prices for the gaps in the existing functionality, payment milestones, and the project schedule that includes the amount of effort that the utility is expected to provide the project.

Best-in-Suite vs. Best-of-Breed

The best-in-suite and best-of-breed solutions provide different advantages and disadvantages for your utility to consider when choosing an OMS vendor. For the most complete solution, you should consider a best-in-suite ADMS vendor to implement your OMS because of the value of having to manage and maintain only one model build process to generate the as-operating model that the OMS and all the advanced DMS applications will utilize.

Best-in-Suite Approach

Set-up, integration, and operating of the solution are more straightforward and support future optimization as the utility is collaborating with one vendor and one single-user interface exclusively for all DMS, SCADA, and OMS operations. Employing a sole vendor and platform creates ease with leveraging your current system and reduces user training for distribution operations as more of the ADMS functionality is deployed. The DMS and OMS will function on top of the same operational model, avoiding additional effort of maintaining two systems with their own operational view of the distribution model. The ADMS solution approach also provides the performance benefits of having the SCADA functionality organically built to support the DMS advanced application requirements and should allow the utility to scale the solution to support the growth of adding smart devices to distribution substations, feeders and premises.

Best-of-Breed Approach

The best-of-breed solution requires your utility to purchase multiple software products with specific functionalities from multiple vendors, allowing you to choose the best software product to perform a specific function. Invariably, these products outperform non-specialized products for specific tasks. OMS vendors have had years of being deployed at utilities and have learned from their OMS performance during actual storm events and have upgraded their products to meet their customer needs. The fact that OMS vendors have been storm hardened makes picking an OMS vendor rather than an ADMS vendor appealing, but the long-term maintenance and management of supporting two model build processes and integrating the OMS with both SCADA and DMS outweigh the benefits of selecting a best-in-breed OMS.

Vendor Selection Success Factors

Communicate with Your Team

Gaining executive support and maintaining executive awareness of the vendor selection progress and known vendor risks are crucial to the success of the process. Keeping management in the loop helps to prevent directional changes and financial obstacles and overall project performance and success.  

A cross-functional team is also vital to project success. Key stakeholders and executives provide different insights; as users that will be using the OMS functionality daily, the stakeholders contribute the technical and performance feedback, while executives provide insight into the management aspect of the company. Getting your team involved early on and remaining informed of the process is instrumental to success, helping to provide a checks and balances to the process progress and to identify issues early on.

Build a Comprehensive SOW using Vendor Support

A common misconception is that the RFP should serve as the SOW. Your utility should use the RFP to communicate the project requirements to the vendors and to evaluate the vendors. The SOW is configured following the selection with vendor involvement. Inadequate time for contract negotiations and SOW generation is also a standard process oversight. These activities generally require weeks or months to decide on requirements, reach a consensus and generate a SOW tailored to the selected vendor’s implementation services. You should allocate enough time for the RFP generation, selection, and post-selection activities. 

Consider the Fuller Solution

Ultimately, for the most successful selection and OMS solution, your utility should choose a vendor based on its complete suite of ADMS functionality and services – rather than just the OMS functionality. Collaboration with one long-term ADMS partner, managing one model build process and one user interface for all DMS, OMS, and SCADA activities will reduce maintenance efforts and costs, create more ease with leveraging the system, support optimization of the system, and support future technology upgrades that help your utility manage its investments in distribution automation and distributed energy resources.

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