Our Thinking

Managing ADMS implementations demands a strong training focus

The breadth and speed of digital transformation in the electric distribution business are unparalleled. What started with innovations such as smart meters and smart switches rapidly progressed to more sophisticated and complex distribution solutions — including advanced distribution management systems (ADMS). 

The impact of ADMS-related changes to people, process and technology cuts across multiple divisions, service centers, departments and roles. Impacted workstreams include telecommunication and control room technicians, planning and area engineers, GIS mappers, operators, dispatchers, and field operations.

What is ADMS?

Gartner defines ADMS as a software platform that supports distribution management and optimization. It can automate outage restoration and optimize distribution grid performance.

Most modern ADMS systems are made up of the following software subsystems:

  • Outage management system (OMS)
  • Distribution supervisory control and data acquisition (DSCADA) system
  • Advanced applications, such as load flow; state estimation; fault location, isolation and service restoration (FLISR); volt/VAR optimization (VVO); and load shed
  • Operator training simulator (OTS)
  • Companion thin client applications for remote users or field workers

The impact of ADMS-related changes to people, process and technology cuts across multiple divisions, service centers, departments and roles. Impacted workstreams include telecommunication and control room technicians, planning and area engineers, geographic information system (GIS) mappers, operators, dispatchers, and field operations.

ADMS benefits

One of ADMS’ biggest benefits is that it provides one network model in the system that represents all distribution lines and equipment and their current ‘as operated’ state. This is commonly referred to as a single source of truth for current field conditions. In addition, ADMS allows all the software subsystems to be managed within one user interface, with permission-based access for all roles responsible for keeping the lights on.

There are additional benefits for electric customers and utilities when ADMS includes advanced applications. These can include reduced outage duration, better voltage control, solar and battery deployment management, visibility improvements across multiple work groups, and improved reliability.

Managing the transformation

From our work with six different utilities, Mosaic has found that many are struggling with the speed of change and its associated disruption to the control room and operations. As Figure 1 shows, ADMS adoption is difficult because the criteria used to determine success within power distribution is changing.

Utilities recognize that success demands building and maintaining a workforce competent in ADMS. However, successful training and change management is difficult due to the magnitude of ADMS’ reach and the fact that ADMS completely redefines multiple job functions. This is mostly due to the depth and critical nature of the industry’s convergence between operations technology and information technology. Successful training is predicated on understanding and embracing this convergence to produce the level of competency needed for successful ADMS adoption across the organization.

Some utilities see success by beginning their training efforts early, which enables them to deliver training in a more progressive and iterative way as their go-live date approaches. Effectively using the OTS for scenario-based training, for example, can significantly accelerate operator competence and reduce resistance by providing opportunities for repetition in a simulated, real-time environment.

Transitioning to ADMS is costly and user adoption, success, and return on investment are not guaranteed. Utilities that enter into ADMA implementation without an understanding of the level of complexity and effort required for a successful transition are at significant risk of limited adoption and potential failure in gaining the sought-after benefits from an ADMS investment.

Embrace and leverage the interdependencies through training

As stated above, in most ADMS implementations, extensive training is required and includes significantly more roles than expected. ADMS implementations and associated training must be orchestrated carefully because ADMS impacts every job role and business process associated with distribution operations. Entering into training efforts without acknowledging, understanding, and embracing the inherent system interdependencies will lead to workforce frustration, alienation, and confusion.

Leadership’s commitment to ensuring that training and change management efforts address the technology, people, and process requirements for success is essential. Figure 2 depicts what can happen when a major component of change is not aligned during the implementation.

Utilities that implement a phased, iterative approach to training that covers all job roles and functions are experiencing much smoother go-lives. Key indicators of success have included:

  • Engaged operators and dispatchers
  • Less support requests and operator errors in the system
  • Reduced customizations and workarounds
  • Sustained or improved operational productivity (e.g., shorter outages, no work delays)

Lessons Learned

Industry trends show that ADMS is and will increasingly become an essential and powerful asset used by utilities. It’s beneficial to seek out lessons learned from utilities and vendors in front of this transition. From our work helping utilities implement ADMS, train operators, and provide go-live support, the following lessons learned are:

  • Do not underestimate the importance of data quality and integrity at the beginning of an ADMS project.
  • Analyze job roles, duties, and tasks for as-is business processes early in the project to ensure the business fully understands the impact to distribution operations and can identify skill and training gaps earlier in the process.
  • Train your project team on the new ADMS before moving to system and to-be business process design to ensure that configuration and process flow decisions support business goals and a seamless adoption of the new system.
  • Use industry experts with ADMS deployment experience for training delivery to enhance instructor proficiency and familiarity with new functions, integration points, and OTS use.
  • Modify and sustain training materials for new hires and make full use of one or more OTS systems to continue to build ADMS capability and competency across your organization.
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