replicate their collective wisdom. We
need operational intelligence: technology
that shows real-time asset performance,
infrastructure locations, trouble tickets,
weather conditions, customer calls and
tweets, and field crew activity. In short,
utilities need technology that will help
them monitor the many threats they face.
In addition to the ever-present threat
of storms, utilities must monitor aging
assets, whose failure could lead to outages. Utilities must guard against malicious
attacks—both physical and cyber. And,
they must keep a wary eye on workers’
If we’d had the digital version of
and formed the core of our utility’s oper-
Then Stanley retired. All that knowledge, intuition and understanding simply walked out the door.
SOME WILL STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE
Many infrastructure-focused companies will struggle to survive against the
upstarts. Data, along with the intelligence
it provides, may be their salvation, but
only if they know how to synthesize it.
My company wasn’t unique. Throughout
the industry, people like Stanley have
been retiring in large numbers. In their
absence, we need a system that can
a SCADA display. The desk is filled with
paper reports from the field, detailing
work that needs to be scheduled.
The manager must synthesize that
information into three kinds of insight:
• What is happening?
• Where it is happening?
• What should be done about it?
It is rare to find a manager who has that ability.
WANTED: A DIGITAL STANLEY
Years ago, when I ran the operations division of a northeast utility, one
of my favorite employees was Stanley,
the regional crew manager. Every night,
Stanley had to make a decision. He had
to choose whether to send the day crews
home or keep them on overtime. If he
dismissed them before a bad storm hit,
for instance, it would mean longer outages, unhappy customers and a flood of
complaints to the regulator. If he kept
the crews on overtime and no storm
appeared, he would have wasted company money.
Here is what Stanley did: He stood
at the loading dock to smell the air. He
checked the weather forecast. He considered our vulnerabilities—trees that
hadn’t been trimmed, poles that were
leaning and overstressed. He knew exactly where customers had been complaining. To make his decision, he organized
this data in his head, by location. He
assessed the risks. Then, he would come
into my office and tell me he was sending the crews home or keeping some
on overtime. Stanley was doing spatial
In the years I worked with Stanley,
he was almost always right. His deep
knowledge of his workers, local weather
patterns and our infrastructure—mixed
with intuition—influenced his decisions