Adapting to the Industrial Internet of Things: why utilities need a data evolution

The Industrial Internet of Things is creating a data explosion in the UK utilities industry. Providers will need new data strategies to take full advantage.

Digital transformation may be arriving later to the utilities industry than it has to others, but it’s making dramatic changes to the technologies that make up its networks – and the data volumes those technologies collect.

The government and utilities industry bodies are responding to this shift towards the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) accordingly. The Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the University of Cambridge have partnered to create the Centre for Digital Built Britain, while Ofgem and the government have launched the Energy Data Taskforce (EDT).

Data management in utilities needs to evolve

The EDT published its first strategic report in mid-2019 with a set of recommendations, based around the digitalisation of the energy system and maximising the value of the data it produces. But for this plan – and others like it – to succeed, the way the industry handles data needs to evolve at every level.

As Laura Sandys, chair of the EDT, explained to Utility Week: “the biggest challenge is regulation related to getting access to the data we need. We will hopefully see legislation come through over the next couple of months with a greater emphasis on data and data retrieval. There will be a greater focus on data needed to manage the system.”

Utilities regulation may be evolving – you can read more about that here – but individual providers have their own responsibilities when it comes to data, too. If they want to ensure their infrastructure can support this shift and use the data effectively, it’s going to require a new, adaptive approach to the platform and methods they use to manage and apply this data in the long term.

New technologies bring new sources of data

Advances in technology are set to bring about a data explosion for utilities providers. It’s going to come from across the whole utilities network – for gas, water and electricity alike – as transmission and distribution networks are connected to the IIoT.

Data about network infrastructure, capacity, and assets is vital for utilities providers if they want to build a complete picture of their operations. Dr Richard Dobson of Energy Systems Catapult, the organisation that runs EDT, says that these are all areas where data collection and management needs to improve.

For many providers, this is going to require a fair amount of work – particularly in updating and upgrading their supply and delivery networks to include technologies such as ultrasonic flow monitors and power system automation.

At the household level, smart meters, which are being installed as standard UK-wide with a recently extended deadline of 2023, are a whole new source of information. In 2018, the government updated the initiative’s Data Access and Privacy Framework, which allows providers to pull data from consumers’ meters as frequently as every 30 minutes.

This creates a unique opportunity to build a complete picture of how individuals use water and energy, rather than a general picture of a demographic. This granularity will hugely benefit utilities providers’ efforts to create more customer-centric services.

As the utilities industry adapts to this IIoT model, the flow of big data from multiple sources is going to grow quickly – which will open up huge opportunities if providers have the infrastructure to support and use it effectively.

A data explosion requires robust management

At the moment, data management in utilities is often siloed – assets, usage metrics, customers, operations and more are all handled separately.

That works for the smaller amounts of data the utilities industry has been working with previously. But as IIoT technologies bring more and more data into the organisation, the strategy, management practices and systems need to change.

Utilities providers will need to:

  • Build a single source of truth that everyone in the organisation can pull data from, to maintain data integrity and accuracy
  • Set realistic goals for how the organisation will use data, to help identify which data sources are most valuable and which objectives are achievable
  • Identify the data sources that matter, so the organisation doesn’t get bogged down in unnecessary information
  • Create a connected ecosystem that can support diverse data sources and complex analysis

For most providers, the final – and probably most important ­– point on that list will require a major overhaul of the data management platform and practices. A complete modernisation project is a serious undertaking, but necessary for utilities to evolve into a connected industry that offers a high standard of service and support to customers.

Find out more in our guide to data platform modernisation

If you’re interested in learning more about the evolving role of data in the utilities industry specifically, get your copy of our white paper, Data: The key ingredient of utilities modernisation.