The issue of “stovepiping” or “siloing” ourselves within our own organizations/utilities has come up over and over again in meetings, conferences, publications, etc. – particularly as we discuss “IT/OT convergence.” I also wrote about it in my first Forward! article in the Q4 2016 issue of the UTC Journal. The problem of stovepiping/siloing also occurs in the federal government, and is particularly thorny for UTC’s policy focus because we have two discrete and very different agencies regulating telecom/technology policy (the Federal Communications Commission) and energy policy (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).
There is broad agreement that energy is the lifeblood of the economy, and underpins the health and safety of society. Given this basic tenet, utilities, especially electric utilities, are expected by policymakers to continue to provide essential energy services, with the added element of the technology necessary to improve efficiency and allow more flexibility in addressing customer needs (and, oh by the way, making sure the technology is cyber secure!). Meeting these expectations are no small task, especially when you have regulatory agencies that don’t see the overlap among their regulatory mandates and don’t talk to each other — through no fault of their own, mind you. These agencies were statutorily created decades ago when the proliferation of technologies we have today did not exist. Electric utilities did use telecommunications networks for mission critical communications needs as long ago as the 1940s, so the overlap has existed previously, but the rampant deployment of digital technology on top of the telecom networks has blurred the lines exponentially in the last two decades.
What to do? Well, leadership is needed from the agencies themselves to outreach to each other and educate each other on their overlapping mandates – telecommunications providers need energy and vice versa. Congress and other parts of the Administration can facilitate and support this dialogue through joint briefings and other educational forums. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), which represents state commissions that have long regulated both energy utilities and telecommunications providers, can provide another forum for this needed education.
The bottom line is that UTC will keep up trying to break up these silos and turn the stovepipes into halfpipes (see my Forward! article if this analogy is puzzling to you). As electric, gas, and water utilities that provide essential services, but also deploy ICT networks, we can demonstrate the overlap. Until we meet again…