The Rise of the Data Integrator

 In Blog

Author: Scott Harden

The role of information technology in business has shifted dramatically over the last 10 years.  In the previous decades, the foundation of enterprise IT was based on the integration of various mission-critical systems – each transactional in nature and representing ‘systems of record’ for core business functions.  Today, data itself represents the foundation of our economy.  However, as many executives are discovering, data volume and velocity alone do not equal value. The new focus of value — and complexity — is found today in the relationships that exist in the deluge of data coming from disparate sources both within and beyond the organization.

Along with this fundamental change, the role of the traditional system integrator is being replaced by a new breed of professional whose skills are rising to primacy in the world of digital transformation: the data integrator. Equal parts data specialist and industry expert, the data integrator focuses on making the complex data meaningful by identifying the relationships inherent in data that allow new insights, better customer service and more efficient operations.

Discovering New Opportunites and Efficiencies
The data integrator’s expertise is especially pertinent in the domain of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which involves the proliferation of sensors and smart devices in industries such as manufacturing, logistics, and utilities. While the excitement around IIoT has historically centered on new insights that sensors can provide into the operation of assets, this application only delivers a fraction of the potential value that the technology has to offer. When that asset’s data is correlated with information in your organization’s management systems, incredible new opportunities for efficiency and customer service arise.

Consider how data integration is reshaping operations in utilities. The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that utilities use to store, analyze, and display their grids’ operations are notoriously inaccurate. One reason is that many changes — power outages, rerouted electricity, or temporarily disabled transformers and lines in the field — don’t make it into the system for one reason or another.  What results is an insufficient best guess of the grid’s state, without complete certainty about which assets are operational or how the delivery of electricity is orchestrated at any given time. This inevitably leads to poorer service and operations, simply because the scope of any problem that occurs cannot be accurately defined, let alone anticipated or avoided.

Data Provides a Full View of Operations
Consider a foundational use case that OSI Digital delivered with GE Power Digital: correlating information from previously siloed systems to create a highly accurate picture of the electric distribution network connectivity model. This involves integrating data from residential smart meters (IIoT sensors) with a utility’s GIS, outage management system (OMS), and SCADA system so that operators can identify mismatches and make corrections in their representation of the network.

This increased accuracy translates into big dollars. Depending on the utility’s regulatory regime, inaccurate representations of the grid can cost millions of dollars related to miscalculated outage estimates and the resulting customer rebates.  This is one of many business cases that can now be satisfied by way of data integration.

Data integrators are also correlating information to deliver predictive analytics. Working with GE, OSI also helped define a use case to associate real-time weather data with grid information to forecast the effects of a storm.  By analyzing historical weather and asset data to train the system, current-state data residing in operational systems (and now supported by an accurate connectivity model) can be intelligently analyzed to provide utilities with a predictive forecast of which assets are most likely to be affected by an incoming storm; and how much time will be required to restore power in affected areas.

Based on these insights, utility operators can proactively reroute power, send crews to areas most likely to be affected, and provide accurate information to customers. For utility operators that are accustomed to historical reports and rough estimations, data integration can be a game changer.

A data integrator requires two things to be able to uncover these relationships: sophisticated data expertise and deep industry experience.

Data Integration vs. Data Science
It’s important to understand the distinction between the data integrator and the data scientist. While the two professionals play very complementary roles, their skill sets are different. The data integrator is an expert at establishing meaningful relationships among data in the context of industry priorities and an organization’s vision.

The data integrator — with a profound understanding of data systems and industry — starts with a problem and organizes the available data to solve it. Then the data scientist comes in and — with a profound understanding of data and algorithms — works with the data and searches for any patterns that can provide an insight. The data integrator creates the context in which data scientists can apply their surgical skills to help collaboratively achieve business outcomes.

Data Informed Insights Drive Value
For more detail on use cases involving data integration, take a look at OSI Digital’s IIoT practice and check out our library of success stories. From our experience in this domain, we’ve determined that one thing is certain: as data continues to pour into organizations, the potential to discover new and profitable relationships among that data increases. Data integration is the new frontier of value, and the data integrator is the professional who can bring it into focus.

Related Resources:

Scott Harden is presenting Advanced Grid Analytics Demos at the GE Power Digital Energy Conference in London from October 8-11.

Scott Harden

Scott Harden, Practice Leader, Industrial IoT
Scott is a strategic leader in the design, development, and implementation of advanced solutions for industrial IT/OT transformation, and an energy sector and technology specialist with broad expertise in system integration and software-defined operations.  With deep knowledge of real-time analytics, artificial intelligence including machine learning, data visualization, edge computing, Scott skillfully leverages his expertise in data-driven technologies and industrial operations to drive efficiencies for our customers. Scott currently serves as the Chairman of the Board for Smart Grid Northwest.

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