Smart Meters; IT vs OT – confused yet?

Smart Meters; IT vs OT – confused yet?

Jul 13, 2021

I don’t think we need to explain what a smart meter is, and we are all pretty aware of IT in our modern lives, but what about OT?

Operational Technology are the systems which monitor processes, devices and infrastructure.

Simple enough, but then, when you think about it, many OT systems are, themselves IT systems, and nowadays, many of the things OT systems monitor, are IT systems.

Think of a modern production line in a factory – the sensors and controllers which provide the OT function and the factory assembly line equipment all have the characteristics of IT systems – compute resources, firmware, software, configuration.

The whole topic of IT-OT convergence is a big one, and often results in blurred lines, frowns and quizzical expressions.

Now, lets add in Smart Meters. These are devices that monitor and (increasingly) control energy infrastructure, largely in the low-voltage grid. They are OT devices by that definition. But, they are IT devices because they have compute resource, software, firmware, configuration...

And we have another challenge. Historically, the low-voltage grid has had little or no intelligence. So, not only do we have to get our heads around the concepts of the smart meter as OT devices; we must also recognize that they are, in themselves, IT devices. We must also consider the introduction of OT into a domain which has, prior to smart meters, had very little if any.

The DSOs that are into their second generation of smart meters have gone through this, and the systems that support them have embedded some elements of IT management into them. In fact, the most successful operational tools recognize the smart meter as an IT component and address this by embedding many of the concepts of ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) standards. Issues like performance management, event management, problem management, configuration control, release management, SLA management, well established in IT infrastructure management, need to be considered carefully; from selection of the smart meters themselves through to their operational maintenance after deployment.

When this is done, the IT aspects of the smart meter are managed. This means that the smart meter becomes a fully effective OT device, and the efficient operation of the energy infrastructure is strengthened.

NES Grid Operations is a great example of tools that have focused on applying IT and ITIL concepts to the management of smart meter deployments. Grid Operations helps you operationalize  your smart meter deployment by providing features including fault management, configuration management, accounting, performance management and security, which are essential to run your smart grid optimally and efficiently.

Jon Wells - Vice President of Customer Solutions at NES

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