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Field Data Gathering Services — A Cloud-Based Approach

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Utilities today wish to facilitate the capture of asset information in the field in a way that is not only scalable but cost effective. They need a system that is simple to use, inexpensive to implement, flexible enough to meet ever-changing needs, yet also powerful enough to cover a majority of their needs with immediacy. This paper describes Schneider Electric's powerful cloud-based solution to optimize the inspection and gathering of field information.

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Field Data Gathering Services — A Cloud-Based Approach

  1. 1. APPLICATION NOTE Field Data Gathering Services – A Cloud-Based Approach Abstract For today’s utility, having as much knowledge about its infrastructure as possible, and being able to use that data in real time, is vital in maintaining enterprise efficiency and effectiveness. Accurate information helps it reduce operational risks, keep up with regulatory requirements, and support the decisions necessary to optimize performance and customer service. Many utilities are pressed to manage their traditional information technology models that connect infrastructure, the enterprise data platform, and application software, due to continuously increasing user needs and changing data requirements. New cloud-based field data services provide an alternative to the traditional IT model – one that is particularly advantageous to utilities. Instead of owning, managing, and training staff on the computing hardware, systems, and software of the traditional IT model, the cloud-based platform provider leases out any or all of those elements to aggregate current and complete infrastructure data and make that data available across utility processes. The utility sees many benefits by subscribing to such a cloud-based platform for maintaining vital infrastructure knowledge. A variety of mobile devices communicate with the solution, allowing a location-focused database. Federated security puts the utility’s own authentication standards in place for direct data access across the enterprise. All users can access field data, stored and backed up in an external data center, so that the utility realizes its security and reliability goals. In short, the utility owns the information and accesses it through its own security definitions; it does not own the infrastructure on which the information is stored and is relieved of the IT duty associated with platform ownership and maintenance. The utility can easily scale the services as its network grows. A cloud-based IT platform accommodates the changing and growing information needs of the utility focused on smart infrastructure operability. Schneider Electric makes such a platform, and its operational advantages, available to utilities through its innovative Orbit cloud-based field data services solution. Introduction Most modern utilities are pressed to do more with less. In particular, the IT department often is spread thin in its efforts to establish and manage continuously growing information and communication needs. Adding to that challenge is the speed at which the organization’s assets, procedures, and regulations are changing. Its information systems must evolve and adapt 1 ____________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2013 Schneider Electric. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, photocopied, transmitted, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature, without the written permission of the copyright owner. www.schneider-electric.com Rev 2013--0
  2. 2. APPLICATION NOTE continuously to meet changing needs. In a way, asset management is like strategizing during a game of chess – one change to the infrastructure, or chess board arrangement, usually affects several players and impacts many subsequent moves. IT responsiveness is vital. Having as much knowledge about the utility infrastructure as possible – and making that information as accurate and up-to-date as possible – allows operations and maintenance to move faster, be more efficient, and serve customers better. This paper discusses the use of cloud technology to allow utilities to implement not only the effective and secure information management necessary for operation but also the flexible and practical information management needed to create viable intelligent infrastructures. Know thy infrastructure To reduce risks. Knowing what components make up your infrastructure, and their location and operating condition, is vital in minimizing risks and avoiding tragic mistakes. As an executive with a large gas operator in the U.S. shared, “On any given day, my liabilities can far outweigh my ability to generate revenue.” If you know where the weak points exist in the network, you can identify risk and create a plan to optimize infrastructure integrity. To keep up with regulatory updates. Up-to-date network elements information is necessary to comply with in-house standards and the continuously evolving requirements of regulatory authorities such as NERC, FERC, the PUC, or the DOT. To optimize performance. Now, more than ever, it is vital to have the infrastructure information that supports decisions and helps find ways to gain new efficiencies and time and cost savings. What is the best way to get the accurate information about the real infrastructure out there? Of course, this knowledge is best harvested by getting out in the field to see, measure, and evaluate the actual elements. Yet, a number of challenges lie in the way of putting field data to work effectively. Technology supports – and challenges – data management The availability of infrastructure data needed to achieve the above benefits requires advanced information technology. Many thousands of dollars might be spent on the mobile devices used by field operations crews, the durable cases protecting those devices, and the software they apply. Of course, once the utility makes that investment, mobile computing offers newer choices to be considered. Then, further investment is made in developing the integrated code to make certain that the data collected remains intact while being sent back to the office, where the utility puts it to work using the tools the utility had to create. More time and cost 2 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2013 Schneider Electric. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, photocopied, transmitted, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature, without the written permission of the copyright owner. www.schneider-electric.com Rev 2013-0
  3. 3. APPLICATION NOTE is invested in staff training and contracted help. Long implementation timeframes continue the cost and challenge. While transferring data, the utility also must regard security measures as well as applicable regulatory pressures and internal governances – all subject to modification and requiring a data system that can flex with those changes. Traditional IT network model The IT department of a utility knows the limitations of the traditional information management model as shown in Figure 1.Maine Fiber Vice President Dwight Allison explained, “When we tried to map those fibers on our own, we almost immediately arrived at the conclusion that it was going to be nearly impossible. We needed technology that could help guide us as we grew.” Infrastructure. The IT network infrastructure consists of the hardware – the servers, hard drives, and network devices – on which systems can be built. IT infrastructure is costly and finite in capability and lifecycle. Platform. The platform represents the soft layer – the operating systems, database and file storage, and identity and security applications. Here’s where the utility looks to upgrade and enhance technology to realize more accurate and secure performance. However, because the platform is often shared with other systems, updates and upgrades require testing and evaluation – which can slow down both operations and business progress. Software. With a foundation of infrastructure and platform, software is the interface with utility users, providing the tools to put infrastructure information to work. The good software solution providers can efficiently create and implement upgrades, which are viewed as valuable to the users. The higher the level of focus in this traditional infrastructure staircase, the more value is seen by the organization. The utility sees accelerated return from its hardware and platform technology investments as it continually implements improvements at the software level. 3 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2013 Schneider Electric. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, photocopied, transmitted, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature, without the written permission of the copyright owner. www.schneider-electric.com Rev 2013-0
  4. 4. APPLICATION NOTE Figure 1. Traditional IT model put to work by utilities, connecting infrastructure, data platform, and software. Cloud-based services provide an attractive alternative Cloud technology providers offer these three levels of IT network as contracted services, where the utility leases the functionalities instead of owning them. Subscribers offload the ownership of these components and reduce the burden of purchasing, operating, and maintaining the infrastructure and platform technologies. Further, infrastructure computing, platform technology, and user solutions are configurable and scalable, See Figure 2. Cloud-based field data services are an ideal solution for utilities and telecommunications operators who need reliable infrastructure information to minimize operational risks and optimize performance – A mobile solution. A cloud-based information platform allows focus on location within the infrastructure. Crews can use a variety of devices, even their own personal devices (Bring Your Own Device) – making location-focused information collection easier for them. If outside communication is severed, they can continue working. A collaborative solution. The cloud-based information platform funnels information to the field and back in near real time. Field crews know where to go, what to do, and what information to gather. Results are reported to the office promptly, without custom code, providing reliable information that supports dispatch, outage management, asset management, and work management teams. An enterprise solution. A cloud-based platform fosters information sharing between disparate systems and among mobile clients, desktop or web clients, and integrated enterprise systems – allowing alignment with utility security standards. See Figure 3. Further, when the enterprise network is isolated from the hundreds or thousands of field devices, data providing location information is collected is stored in an external data center, is backed up, and is safe. 4 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2013 Schneider Electric. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, photocopied, transmitted, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature, without the written permission of the copyright owner. www.schneider-electric.com Rev 2013-0
  5. 5. APPLICATION NOTE The best-hosted solutions allow the utility to retain ownership of its data, even while it does not own the infrastructure on which it’s stored. Figure 2. With cloud-based field data services, mobile client applications, platform functionalities, and software tools are updated whenever needed, and managed, by the provider for fast implementation. This approach does not impact other utility network systems. Figure 3. A flexible cloud-based platform streamlines information collection and availability – adding value when the utility needs to respond to customer calls, assess storm damage, and assure access to all field data such as construction dig-ins and leak surveys. Cloud provides security The utility wants to make certain that the services provider offers an isolated data center with strict controls. The data services subscription provides the only access to this data; no outside hardware is involved in communicating in or out of the data center. The utility also can feel more confident in the security of the field data services that applies ‘federated security’ – that is, the utility uses its established internal user provisioning and security to log into the cloud-based platform. Utility users apply the same credentials – the same user names and password strength requirements – as those used to access the utility’s own network. Access to data is secured through HTTPS protocol and a single sign-on solution. 5 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2013 Schneider Electric. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, photocopied, transmitted, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature, without the written permission of the copyright owner. www.schneider-electric.com Rev 2013-0
  6. 6. APPLICATION NOTE The utility concerned with the security of cloud-based data services will want to ask the vendor about the security model of its cloud hosting services. It can gain confidence by starting its data hosting with information that is not highly sensitive – keeping in mind that not all infrastructure data is mission critical. Comparing the security models and determining potential cost savings will help the utility determine if cloud hosting services will help it meet current and future infrastructure management demands. Part of a smart infrastructure strategy The smart infrastructure requires a high level of infrastructure knowledge. As more readings are made and more users need real-time access to that data, hundreds of more communication points connect with the utility’s enterprise system. How does this scaling up in data management load affect operations? The cloud-based field data services funnels and aggregates this burden of information from mobile clients so that utility users can access it directly. The utility controls the frequency and bandwidth used; see Figure 4. Figure 4. As the number of smart infrastructure talking points increases, the utility network system must plan for better data flows. Only the utility using the data service have access to its infrastructure data, using its authentication standards. Further, cloud-based data services assure the utility that its infrastructure information remains accessible and tasks can be managed even when the enterprise network is disconnected from the infrastructure. Schneider Electric’s Orbit Solution Schneider Electric offers a cloud-based field data services solution designed to meet the needs of smart infrastructure-focused utilities. As a hybrid model, it enables the utility to keep its GIS data on premises, behind its firewall, while the Orbit cloudbased platform maintains the field data. To collect data, it uses individual applications that take advantage of the native ability of each mobile device. Orbit provides access and functionality via secure services and can authenticate users via a federated security model. See Figure 5. 6 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2013 Schneider Electric. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, photocopied, transmitted, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature, without the written permission of the copyright owner. www.schneider-electric.com Rev 2013-0
  7. 7. APPLICATION NOTE Figure 5. The Orbit Solution gathers information reliability and inexpensively, provides geospatial work location visualization, and provides reporting services in real time to maintain an accurate – and secure – database available to field and enterprise users. Conclusion Achieving a higher level of knowledge of a continuously changing infrastructure will require the utility to have ready access to more data. Implementing cloud-based field data services allows the utility to relax the resources that would otherwise be needed to manage its network platform in response to this infrastructure and communications evolution. The services that can be accessed by a variety of mobile devices, and collect and deliver data reliably, securely, and in real time across the enterprise, will enable the leverage of information needed for a smarter infrastructure, improved operational efficiencies, and, ultimately, enhanced customer satisfaction. 7 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2013 Schneider Electric. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, photocopied, transmitted, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature, without the written permission of the copyright owner. www.schneider-electric.com Rev 2013-0

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