At a recent trade show in San Francisco, utility companies in the US and Europe discussed the transition of data from servers into the cloud and how meaningful this switch has become to their organizations. Suez executive Bertrand Schweisguth explained, “Municipalities demand more operational data in real time.” Cloud platforms enabled his organization to deliver that data and successfully answer the demand. Other municipalities, like The Greater Cincinnati Water Works have used their cloud utility platforms as a revenue-generating service. As utilities become increasingly digitized, storing utility data in the cloud is a logical next step. Cloud platforms deliver live data streams alerting utilities of red flags. Additionally, cloud utility data provide quantitative patterns of behavior, enabling managers to forecast patterns and improve service to customers.
Switching to a cloud platform reduces cost and increases speed and reliability, however concerns about security and human error still remain. How do cloud platforms counter these concerns?
- Relevant Data Streams Real-time data streams are essential in times of emergency as well as in the accumulation of historical data, however, how often do you really need an update? Frequency of data delivery is adjusted based on user needs. The data is always collected but you choose when to see it. Having established, consistent delivery feeds of data that is necessary keeps users from being overwhelmed by information. Assuring that the best user sees relevant data further guards against human error.
- Speed and Reliability The great benefit of cloud data is access. All users have access to the cloud via their devices: smartphones, tablets, desktop and emerging technologies. The speed of transmission is faster than through a physical server and users can access the data from any location. Speed and convenience increases productivity and accuracy. Collaborative teams are able to work with the same data, this facilitates an environment of "checks" wherein team members can catch or prevent errors in data detection or analysis.
- Secure Data Storage and Transmission Regulations and compliance differ from industry to industry and municipality to municipality. During the initial cloud storage set-up phase, regulatory rules are put into place, ensuring that the data collected and stored is appropriate and available should audits arise. Privacy regulations also differ. These protocols are also put into place during the set-up phase and transmitted securely. Private mesh networking adds a layer of security. Nodes and bridges connecting the data stream also provide secure data storage. As cloud platforms increase in number and importance, so do security measures.
- Power Back-Up Even though the cloud exists digitally, it is reliant on physical structures to collect, transmit and store data. Data is collected and transmitted via the nodes and bridges mentioned earlier. These nodes and bridges are equipped with their own power source as well as data storage. In the event of a power outage (either human or nature-caused), data continues being collected and stored.
Utilities are a data-heavy industry. With the addition of sensor-collected data, the volume only increases. Cloud data storage is a cost-efficient alternative to servers and offers utilities a flexible means to collect and analyze these rich data sources. Harnessing this information effectively, securely and with minimal error provides organizations with competitive leverage in a highly competitive industry.
When establishing data streams IT personnel should always consider the human end-user. Providers with flexible data delivery features, in the form of visualization or text, keep the end-user in mind. In addition to tailoring data streams for individual users, users are able to choose the delivery format that works best for them.