It is crucial for Alliander, the Dutch utility company, to intregrate the GIS, ERP and SCADA systems for a correct picture of its assets.
Alliander is the largest regional energy grid company in the Netherlands. With electricity network size of 87,848 km cables and 42,637 km gas pipes, the Alliander energy infrastructure distributes electricity for 3,063,000 connections and gas to 2,649,000 customers every day.
As customers and businesses increasingly deliver self-generated energy (for instance through photovoltaic cells or wind turbines) to Alliander energy networks, it is the company’s task to match the supply and demand of energy and distribute it as efficiently as possible.
For this, it is crucial for Alliander to have an overall picture of its asset data, which is currently located in its ERP, GIS and SCADA systems.
Traditionally, these systems have a somewhat stovepipe- like architecture, containing (asset) data optimised for the system only, and having little integration with the other systems
Integration of systems: why it is necessary?
The utilities’ domain is changing rapidly. The three trends that drive Alliander to re-engineer parts of the IT architecture concerning asset management and service provision are:
The transition towards smart grids: decentralised production of sustainable power adds a ‘bottom-up’ dynamic in the load-balancing of our networks that requires improved real-time analytics;
The increasing need to operate cost-efficiently means there is a need to improve the ability to assess and forecast the asset health from a holistic perspective. Information from all types of data-stores needs to be included into an overall capability to engage in condition-based maintenance.
The pace of innovation in IT is speeding up, so do expectations of the workforce and customers. With the lifecycle of software applications continuing to drop, the workforce and external stakeholders both expect Alliander to be able to cope with the increased rate of innovation.
Pace-layered application strategy
When integrating ERP, GIS and SCADA, Alliander faces the common problem — on one hand it has to deliver solid and robust systems which should last for years and ensure high data integrity and quality, while on the other hand, it has to quickly respond to business needs and support innovative applications.
The map shows which area’s specific assets should be replaced first
The map shows the cathode protection of gas pipes and supports the inspection process.
The map shows the schematic view of a piece of Alliander’s electricity network. This view is typically used by engineers and service mechanics.
To address this challenge, the utility decided to use Gartner’s pace-layered application strategy as the starting point to architect and design its integrated ERP-GIS-SCADA environment.
A pace-layered application strategy segments applications based on the degree of commoditisation of the functionality and the rate at which they need to change. The three pace layers identified are:
Systems of record: Applications that make up an organisation’s systems of record typically support administrative and transaction processing activities. Often this is also referred to as the single source of truth for certain elements of data. The rate of change of these applications is low (ERP systems older than 20 years are not uncommon) because the processes are well-established and common to most organisations, and often are subject to regulatory requirements.
Systems of differentiation: Applications that enable unique company processes or industry-specific capabilities. They have a medium lifecycle (one to three years), but need to be re-configured frequently to accommodate changing business practices or customer requirements.
Systems of innovation: Applications built to support new, innovative business activities and are constructed quickly to enable enterprises to take advantage of these new ideas and opportunities.
The concept of pace-layered architecture also distinguishes connective tissue. This is another name for technology that allows applications in different pace layers and within layers to work together as a whole, much the way integration of applications allows applications from different vendors to work together. As it is difficult to innovate on an unstable foundation, Alliander decided to make this distinction in its architecture, first focusing on the systems of record, to be able to facilitate innovation in the near future.
The application of the pace-layered strategy concept at Alliander started with the definition of the components. The asset data is recorded by the GIS, which excels in specific functionality that is specific for documenting the data: the ‘system of record’.
On top of this is the ‘system of engagement’ containing functionality to exploit the (geo) data. Here we find functionality for (geo) analysis, functionality to share the results of an analysis, or functionality to just share the plain data.
Between the ‘system of record’ and the ‘system of engagement’, data is stored and combined in specific data marts and organised in themes. Examples of themes are assets and asset condition, assets and energy disruptions and assets and financial value.
System of records
The most important benefit of pace-layered architecture is to drop the typical application stovepipe thinking. Start thinking in ‘information’ and ‘data’, and use application functionality in the way best suited. For the GIS recording, this means that a lot of data, which is now stored in the GIS, can probably more easily be stored in the ERP.
Splitting and spreading the recording of asset data over multiple systems of record also means that it has to be made sure that all data can be brought together again in the enterprise data warehouse. This means that defining the correct primary keys becomes really important. Making the wrong choices regarding keys will result in an inability to combine data in the EDW.
During the design of the asset data registry, the static data was further divided into ‘functional locations’ and ‘equipment’, concepts typical of SAP. The ‘functional location’ identifies an asset that executes a specific (distribution) function in the network. The term ‘functional location’ is independent of a physical location as is common within the GIS world.
These relatively simple rules make it possible to choose the best fitting application for documenting the data. This results in functional locations been recorded in GIS and synchronised to the ERP, on which the equipment is placed. Maintenance and all other types of notifications and work assignments, are the domain of the transactional ERP. And finally the real-time data is documented using a machine-tomachine interface and stored in real-time databases.
Systems of engagement
As discussed earlier, all documented data is brought together in the enterprise data warehouse so that it is ready to become information supporting all kind of processes. Because a lot of information products can be generated, it is a good idea to collect the information products in a few clusters. At Alliander, these views have been organised around the asset, e.g. ‘asset and condition’ or ‘asset and finance’. A total of nine asset-centric themes have been oraganised.
Alliander believes in ‘self service business intelligence’ for its end-users. Traditionally, business intelligence was all about reports, but slowly it is becoming more and more mapbased. The data is already available in the themes, so end-users can easily access the data and create maps. As more data becomes available from inside and outside Alliander, more (geospatial) analysis will be possible.