Utility leaders know that business practices need to adjust to the advance of electrification, DER, energy transition, supply chain constraints, and more. In this blog, we explore the topic of a Bimodal IT Management Model and how it can help utilities realize the Smart Utility to build the Smart Grid.
What is Bimodal IT?
Although the term “Bimodal IT” may initially sound like IT jargon, the idea behind it is simple and powerful. Bimodal IT is a management model that believes a company should have the ability to experiment and iterate (aka innovate) while free of the long and rigid change cycles of certain software applications.
Gartner was amongst the original propagators of the concept, but many think tanks and consultancies encourage some form or method which breaks through the constraints of heavy software to enable change.
Certain utility systems and processes, like the billing process, should be rigidly controlled and subject to great care when changed. Bimodal IT is about augmentation so that utilities can pursue future innovation without incurring improper risk.
Let’s dig a little deeper into these two different “modes” of Bimodal IT, and how they relate to the present-day challenges of the utilities industry.
Mode 1 – “Reliable IT”
The Mode 1 style emphasizes minimal risk and operational certainty. This is the mode familiar to utilities as they see their MDM, Work Order Management (WOMS), CIS, Billing, SCADA, and AMI (head end) applications participating in a long cycle of requirements, integrated systems testing, user acceptance testing, and then finally a release to production.
This cycle is long, expensive, and consumes a lot of resources. It’s best used when improving and renovating well-understood areas and areas of the business that should remain stable.
Can Mode 1 be more agile?
The Mode 1 change cadence makes its way into, and becomes an unchangeable reality of the software publishers, by virtue of software design, construction, and usage. These publishers must manage multiple “versions” of their code base that have manifested on-premise instances across hundreds or thousands of companies, in heterogeneous environments, sometimes with customizations applied to those instances.
This is an ‘n’ x ‘n’ x ‘n’ complexity problem for these publishers wherein they must limit risk to their customers.
Mode 2 – “Agile IT”
The Mode 2 style emphasizes innovation, speed, and flexibility. The focus is on exploration and experimentation towards an end state that is new, evolving, and carries some ambiguity. Requirements are often not complete, and the path to address a challenge may not be clear or well-understood. Leveraging Mode 1 software tools for a Mode 2 journey usually stymies change before it begins.
An extreme example of Mode 2 is amazon.com.
Amazon releases new code to the public-facing website every second. Other software publishers, Trynzic included, have adopted a daily or weekly cadence.
Books have been written, primarily to a developer audience, about how this is accomplished. Here are the highlights:
- Endure to maintain just a single ‘version’ of your software product
- Use cloud-native SaaS
- Parameterize everything
- Invest in plenty of “dev-ops-like” code to use when developing your product
At present, the utility industry is primarily relying upon their data warehouse and the inherent flexibility of the analytics stack (e.g., Power BI, Tableau, etc.) to achieve something akin to Mode 2. There are a few problems with this:
- The data has likely out-aged the business event.
- Those stacks cannot scale to the real-time demands of a smart grid.
- Analytics outcomes (reports and dashboards) are not purposed to automate and orchestrate a business process.
While both modes in parallel are essential parts of a well-run organization under the bimodal model, the utility industry is now experiencing a great need for Mode 2 solutions.
There are a variety of external pressures facing utility organizations – rising costs, reduced generation capacity, the electrification of the grid, and equipment supply chain problems. All these pressures are causing utility organization leaders to realize that they can’t run the business as they have in the past.
The Shift to a Digital Business
Llewellyn King (writing in Forbes) makes the case that “Data is the new player in the utility space”.
Distributed generation and storage, tightening power supplies, tightening equipment supplies, rising operational costs, the increasing load of electrification, legislative actions, and a changing workforce all create the need for a real-time connection between data and business processes.
Just as mastery of real-time data has become an essential component to business success in other industries (retail, transportation, logistics, etc.), it is now time for the utility industry to follow suit. Terms like ‘smart’ and ‘digital’ and ‘transformation’ go from describing the future to becoming a factor for present success.
This shift was started in part by the introduction of Advanced Metering Infrastructure or AMI. We can expect other sensor-derived data to proliferate, rapidly.
Yet the growing stream of data input remains largely consigned to post-facto reporting, unused in real-time business operations. If we accept that the industry’s data is currently held in Mode 1 software, then we begin to understand at least one reason for the modest progress.
Thus, the need for Bimodal IT and the ability to innovate with low risk.
How Trynzic Delivers on Low-Risk Innovation
Trynzic for Utilities was designed specifically for this moment in this industry. We started with the question: “why is grid telemetry so under-utilized?” Work began in 2018, just when critical technologies were becoming viable, most importantly serverless computing. The workloads of the future are simply not cost-effective in on-premises, client-server architectures.
Armed with the new computing paradigm of serverless and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), Trynzic committed to an R&D path grounded in a bedrock requirement of enabling organizational innovation with our Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) software product.
To that end, we achieved foundational capabilities such as single version always, continuous delivery development and build infrastructure, multi-tenancy with multi-environments, extreme high/low data processing elasticity, iPaaS-level integration, and more.
Other design decisions with an industry focus then contributed to Mode 2 capabilities such as an enterprise canonical data model, a robust rules engine, a workflow engine with process designer, and cross-system orchestration capabilities.
In summary, you can make changes often, without triggering code-level development, while not putting your current line-of-business applications at risk.
Starting the Journey
More than ever before, advanced software technology is more accessible to utilities of any size. In keeping with low-risk innovation, moving forward is comparatively easy given the right software tools designed for the problem of real-time alignment between data and business processes. One or two use cases will grow into more and more, until a culture of continuous improvement and innovation becomes the new status quo.
Talk to the Trynzic team today. We’re passionate about helping utilities grow their Smart Utility capabilities.