Cybersecurity tops list of concerns utilities must address to advance the integration of information technology and operational technology

SAN ANTONIO – January 24, 2018 – Differences between U.S. utility executives and managers may be creating a cultural rift that could impede utilities’ ability to integrate information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) – a critical step in many utilities’ path to grid modernization. And, cybersecurity is the top concern on everyone’s minds – both around the risk associated with integrated systems and insufficient expertise within the utility work force. These are among the key findings from new research released today at DistribuTECH by West Monroe Partners, a national business and technology consultancy.

Industry survey results highlight challenges utilities face as they modernize. The findings provide valuable insight into how utilities are managing the integration of IT and OT, and where they should focus to advance their strategies. More than 140 U.S. utility professionals, representing a range of utility types, services, and sizes, completed the survey in late 2017. 

The full research paper, “Managing Grid Modernization: Integrating IT and Operations at U.S. Utilities,” is being shared at DistribuTECH, the leading annual electric power transmission and distribution conference, Jan. 23-25, 2018. It is also available for free download on West Monroe’s website.

Successful grid modernization requires strengthened organizational structures and change management – yet the survey results point to gaps in culture, priorities, and expectations between C-suite executives motivated to move their organizations into the future and managers focused on current operations. 

“It is not unusual for large organizations to experience a disconnect between the C-suite and managers. This is especially true for large investor-owned utilities that are grappling with distinct organizations spread across a large geographical area or even across multiple states,” said Daniel Belmont, senior director in West Monroe’s Energy & Utilities practice. “To make meaningful progress with grid modernization, utility executives must be aware of this gap and, more importantly, understand how to close it.”

The survey also explored concerns that may be limiting progress around IT/OT integration. Among the various issues studied – which ranged from governance of devices and systems to retraining staff – cybersecurity was far and away the leading concern and a key reason utilities are moving cautiously on technology integration. Two-thirds of respondents cited cybersecurity systems and devices as a top concern for managing converged IT/OT systems. Moreover, a majority (55 percent) said cybersecurity/NERC-CIP was the top skill or certification lacking in their workforce. 

“In addition to the usual headaches accompanying a service disruption, a cyber-attack carries significant reputational risks, which may prompt heightened caution from leadership at investor-owned utilities,” said Jodi Bednar, senior principal in the Energy & Utilities practice. “From our perspective, utilities are working on this issue, and the survey shows that they are acutely aware of the importance – but also the challenge – of bolstering cybersecurity skills.”

The survey report also allows utility executives to compare their own progress in other areas critical to advancing grid modernization, including: 

  • The degree to which IT and operational teams share asset management, knowledge management, and ticketing systems 
  • Current use of IT frameworks (including ITIL, COBIT, FCAPS, or eTOM) for managing the complexity associated with coordinating IT and OT operations 
  • Prevalence of a “single pane of glass” to monitor and manage grid health 

Survey author Daniel Belmont is on-site at DistribuTECH discussing the survey results with utility executives and other attendees. Visit West Monroe at booth #2761. 


About West Monroe Partners
West Monroe is a progressive business and technology consulting firm that partners with dynamic organizations to reimagine, build, and operate their businesses at peak performance. Our team of more than 950 professionals is comprised of an uncommon blend of business consultants and deep technologists. This unique combination of expertise enables us to design, develop, implement, and run strategic business and technology solutions that yield a dramatic commercial impact on our clients’ profitability and performance. 

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