In Part 1, we discussed some of the scenarios where a utility might be looking to develop a roadmap, as well as some of the challenges they may face. In a sector that is evolving faster than ever, it’s vital to keep track of industry directions. This time, we focus on the essential elements and considerations that every roadmap should include.
Building the grid of the future is a complex and multifaceted endeavor that raises challenging questions that lead to critical decision-making. Ultimately, a utility needs to find a way to upgrade, expand, and enhance its working infrastructure to improve reliability and efficiency, while allowing it to keep up with and remain open to future changes in the industry.
However, moving forward in a way that is intelligent and adaptable requires awareness and careful planning.
A roadmap, especially a technology roadmap, is a strategic plan that outlines the vision, objectives, and milestones of a technology project, program, or initiative. It helps align the stakeholders, resources, and activities needed to achieve the desired outcomes. It can also serve as a tool to communicate, inform, and persuade internal and external audiences about the benefits and challenges of the target activities included in the roadmap.
This article covers the process and activities for developing a robust roadmap as well as how to leverage one to obtain the maximum benefits.
Scope of a roadmap project
As we start down the path, it’s important to define the scope and purpose of the roadmap. What’s the problem or opportunity the project or initiative aims to address? What are the specific goals and objectives of the roadmap? And who are the intended audience and users?
A roadmap guides the organization from one state to the next and can ultimately be broken down into three main components. It assesses and documents the current state of the utility (point A), their desired future state (point B), and details the most likely path or paths to get there.
Where are we now? (Current State)
Utilities can vary significantly in the type of resource(s) they harness, the systems they use, and the demands they need to fulfill; therefore, each utility has unique challenges requiring unique solutions.
Before the planning can really begin, there needs to be a thorough assessment of the utility’s current state. This involves the engagement of the various systems and process owners throughout the organization to gather detailed information about their specific systems, infrastructure, processes, and capabilities. This can be achieved through workshops, interviews, and review of available documentation for the existing environment, including technology, staffing, processes, and procedures. In this evaluation, it’s important to be honest about the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Where do we want to go? (Future State)
A deeper understanding of the current state will serve as the foundation around shaping the vision and building the strategy. How will the technology project or initiative contribute to achieving that vision and what are the key strategies and actions required to achieve realization?
This requires further investigation.
Engaging a broad variety of stakeholders beyond just the core is key to understanding not only the obvious needs, but also the seemingly minor annoyances which, if addressed, can have advantageous impacts across the organization. You must identify not only where they feel the organization should be focusing, but also where each department or group is looking to grow their capabilities and efficiencies. Are they looking to transition to or integrate renewable power generation? Perhaps they need more SCADA or are looking to implement a DERMS platform? Do they need to improve or automate processes? Or maybe they’re looking for ways to provide better service and value to the end customers.
It’s also important to think about how a given change will affect the various areas of the organization. Will a seemingly obvious change for the benefit of one group have unintended impacts on another? How do the systems, capabilities, or proposed changes help them in their day-to-day tasks? What might help improve their job satisfaction?
While it’s obvious to engage the stakeholders directly involved in and impacted by the activities required to achieve the future state, it’s also critical to engage with the senior and executive leadership. As the chief strategic and financial decision-makers, they need to be on board with the proposed goals and objectives. They must see how the proposed changes benefit their operations. Do the recommended activities help their grid run more efficiently and reliably? Will they improve the organization’s status with their customers and community? What sort of implications does this have for the utility’s bottom line? Are the changes necessary to ensure future regulatory compliance?
The key for these projects is to be ambitious but realistic. The changes should have an incremental and meaningful impact on their operations while recognizing that implementation can take time.
How do we get there? (Roadmap of activities)
After clearly defining where we are and where we want to go, it’s time to develop a plan to get there. In other words, a roadmap. Using the information collected for the ”current state” and ”future state,” a gap analysis can help identify the projects, initiatives, and process changes that might be undertaken to elevate the organization to the desired future state.
With the gaps identified, it’s time to dive into research efforts to understand the details of each gap. What are the industry directions that may impact or influence various solutions? Are there regulatory requirements driving industry change? What are the latest vendor offerings? What are other, similar utilities doing? Are there regional influences that must be considered? What are our customers demanding? What are the interdependencies of the various projects and initiatives, both internal and external?
The questions can seem endless, but the more effort put into this phase, the more accurate and complete the roadmap will be.
The results of this effort will be a high-level definition of the projects, initiatives, and organizational change that will be the core of a roadmap. This will include a high-level timeline as well as the interdependencies of various activities both within the program as well as within the organization.
A comprehensive roadmap will also identify risks and roadblocks. These can manifest as financial, regulatory, supply chain, cybersecurity, or organizational challenges. This may lead to the dropping of some activities while for others, contingency plans can be developed and included in the plan.
The ultimate deliverable from a roadmap exercise is the documentation of a comprehensive plan that can be clearly presented, understood, and followed throughout the organization. It should clearly (and correctly) define the utility’s current operational state, future operational goals, and provide a structured roadmap of activities and initiatives. This means defining core deliverables and providing a high-level timeline that explains how long each activity should take and how they all fit together into a logical and cohesive plan.
A roadmap is often comprised of various content from written details, diagrams and charts, industry references, schedules, and even stakeholder notes and surveys. While sometimes these must be presented as separate deliverables, wherever possible, a comprehensive, single document is desired to ensure the various components do not get misplaced or taken out of context.
A realistic roadmap will leave room for contingencies and change. It should be considered an evolving framework that requires regular review and update. These days, the utility industry is no different from other technology industries and we must remain acutely aware that there will always be things that are difficult to predict. Therefore, it’s vital to revisit the roadmap; monitoring and reviewing progress, and updating when necessary.
Once more it’s important to engage the various stakeholders and decision-makers by presenting an executive summary of the roadmap. Communicate and validate the roadmap with the stakeholders while soliciting feedback and input to ensure it’s realistic and feasible. Be sure to incorporate any changes or adjustments needed based on their feedback ensuring they see the value in their engagement efforts.
If it’s not already clear, developing a roadmap is a significant undertaking, one for which the more effort you put into it, the more value you’re likely to get out of it. As such, you should plan for this to be a multi-month effort to ensure you have the time to engage all the stakeholders, develop the as-is and to-be states, and perform the necessary research to find the best available path forward based on currently available information.
Think of it this way: the development of the roadmap is the first of many projects that will drive the utility to achieve its goals and aspirations. As a project, it should be treated with the respect and effort any project deserves. And for those who insist on a number, you should assume a good quality roadmap will take between 3 and 6 months to develop, sometimes longer.
A roadmap is a vital tool that can help energy providers make the best decisions for their grid while navigating an industry that is quickly evolving. It provides a framework and details to allow a utility to attack the future head-on rather than being attacked by the future. It provides a structured and comprehensive plan that enables utilities to transition from point A to B.
Are you ready to Roadmap the future?
The experts at PSC can design a comprehensive roadmap that accounts for the various moving parts in the industry and can help you make the best decisions to improve the efficiency and reliability of your operations while proactively preparing for the ever-increasing change in our industry.