By Lisa Caswell, President, eMeter, A  Siemens Business

Traditionally, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) have occupied separate silos within a utility. Operational systems like energy distribution management and real-time grid operations at the transmission and substation level were handled in one department and IT systems supporting metering, customer business process, analytics, etc. in another. But, utilities are realizing that to reap the full benefits of advanced metering and smart grid systems, IT and OT must work together. It’s a topic we’ve discussed previously on our blog and one that remains extremely important to utilities and how they will operate today in the future.

Recently, Siemens partnered with Zpryme and surveyed 115 electric utility executives about data issues around the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). We wanted to get perspective from the individuals within a utility who are handling IT/OT convergence, seeing its benefits, and challenges on a day-to-day basis.

The study found that perceived cost remains a major impediment to IT/OT convergence. “The findings highlight that the majority of utilities understand the value of leveraging IT/OT convergence to infuse value across the utility enterprise,” said H. Christine Richards, Zpryme analyst. “However, costs, a lack of tools to create business value, and a lack of interoperability continue to be the biggest impediments for IT/OT convergence.”

It’s an understandable problem. Utilities have often faced difficultly in adopting new business models, and integrating IT/OT processes is no small feat. But, strides are being made to close the IT/OT convergence gap. According to Larsh Johnson, founder and CTO of eMeter, A Siemens business, some utilities have created a networks operation center which is physically located near the operational control center that runs the grid. This makes it easier to integrate both teams in key decisions and brainstorming.

Additional study findings prove that though challenges remain, utilities see the benefits in convergence. Out of the 115 respondents, 47 percent believe a digitally-driven organization should be the vision for the electric utility brand of the future. And 38 percent reported their systems and network data is shared across all departments.

Despite recognizing these benefits, the definitive issue remains cost. But, utilities may pay a higher price in the long-run if they don’t address IT/OT integration. They will miss critical opportunities to streamline processes and implement time and cost-saving technologies if convergence is ignored. The utility landscape is already changing and it’s no longer a matter of “should we” but “when we”.