Digital Transformation in the Nuclear sector
NUCLEAR PLANTS FACE SUBSTANTIAL ECONOMIC pressure that may lead to early retirement and decommissioning in troubled markets. In particular, the USA lacks a coherent vision for its energy policy and is plagued with cost and schedule overruns at its few sites under construction.
In response, nuclear power plants are turning to digital technologies to help optimize people, processes, and assets. Young and innovative companies have come up with some dramatic disruptions that force traditional corporations to adopt digital transformation initiatives. But according to consultants Gartner, while 90% of CEOs and CIOs consider digital technology as a priority, 83% of them are struggling to achieve digital transformation. Nuclear plants face a tremendous challenge in taking advantage of digital transformation to reinvent their business model, cut costs and build stronger customer experience.
The potential of digital transformation
How can the nuclear industry cope with the deluge of information involved in digital transformation? The industry traditionally has a heavy engineering focus and risk-averse approach. Legacy IT systems and restrictive protocols for information security may restrict the adoption of digital ways of working in the industry and its safety culture and conservative decision-making procedures are difficult to align with a digital culture that rewards the taking of reasonable risks.
However, digital transformation in the nuclear business architecture, with safeguards, has helped to transform nuclear organizations; for instance, using secure private clouds to manage sensitive information, reducing on-premises IT infrastructure costs.
Advanced analytics, modeling, autonomous robotics, and other technology aids will enhance the safety of nuclear plants as facility and plant maintenance, operations and failure analysis will be significantly improved and expand the methods used for plant maintenance from existing manual methods. Models will be used to train for incident recovery and management for disasters – robots have already been used to capture images of the damaged core material at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi.
Organizations in the nuclear sector going through digital business transformation have to make sure digital technology solutions meet their business needs. Thierry Mennessoneng and Hong Lim, both senior members of the Oliver Wyman team, noted in 2017 that attracting the right people and allowing them to work with flexibility and agility within the organization is critical to digital success. However, incumbent businesses often prove unattractive to highly skilled digital talent, who have many choices and seek evidence of commitment and the potential for making an impact.
Organizations in the nuclear sector look for experts in business architecture to guide their transformation. They are responsible for aligning strategic objectives with tactical demands, and the digital technologies required so the companies can collaborate more effectively, increase the return on investment for new technologies and create more opportunities for growth.
So far utilities have focused the use of digital on power generation and distribution operations. However, Matt Leedham of PwC noted in a blog that many assets used in the nuclear sector still cannot collect and transmit data. Those that are able to transmit volumes of data cannot be remotely accessed, and the few that are connected lack ‘cloud’ capabilities to produce real-time actionable insights. The need is to equip energy assets with sensors so cloud-based analytics can be used across all functions. This may become possible with the declining costs of sensors, bandwidth and processing power. Information and operational technologies are converging, making it easier for digital platforms to combine in a more intelligent power system. These platforms improve planning, operation and maintenance processes.
Now organisations can access data and information with greater ease; this has led to the creation of data-rich ecosystems like the ‘Internet of Things’ (connected machines, consumer electronics and smart devices). Industries, including the power generation sector, are adopting IoT principles to improve performance, leveraging software and analytics to optimise asset performance, via utility-vendor partnerships.
General Electric which has been successful in adopting IoT technology using the Predix asset performance management (APM) industrial cloud platform, is a prime example. General Electric uses Predix solution to bring together advanced data analytics and enterprise software using real-time monitoring of operations within the plant, enabling comprehensive health management for the assets – detecting issues, diagnosing symptoms and predicting performance impacts.
Integrating digital transformation in the nuclear business architecture spans the full spectrum of nuclear assets and encompasses safety-related issues, critical operational components, maintenance and other activities.
The use of enterprise software by nuclear companies signifies the bonding between two distinct worlds.
Bruce Power uses a critical infrastructure provider to transform management of its assets. In this highly regulated and asset-intensive environment, Bruce Power uses OpenText Content Suite to support compliance, follow procedures and maintain the plant’s assets. Content Suite has enabled Bruce Power to share files with construction companies and regulatory agencies. According to Bruce Power, regulators seek to know who did what, the kind of work undertaken, and proof that it was done. Moving to digital has allowed it to record maintenance and give all stakeholders access to appropriate records in real time. With Content Suite, the company has been able to document operations, demonstrate corporate compliance, and minimise the risk of litigation.
Stakeholders of digital transformation
Business architecture professionals have to cultivate a broad range of skills, complementing technical skills with business acumen. A complete application of business architecture requires the professionals to have a deep understanding of digital journeys and the priorities of the nuclear sector allow them to map outcomes and solutions.
The technology vendor is key to the success of a nuclear plant’s digital transformation. Business architecture professionals must form partnerships with plants. This requires extensive communication throughout technological deployment and further requires that deployment and integration considerations, including digital signposts of performance, be adjusted to the nuclear industry’s yardsticks. They must consider the maturity of the nuclear company and provide solutions that match the entity’s capabilities.
They must also take on the role of internal analysts, assuming a strategic mindset and evaluating the applicability of various technologies in achieving the company’s goals, such as cost reduction or efficiency improvement. They must work across the entire company and collaborate with all appropriate departments to develop realistic strategic digital transformation initiatives. The vital skills in this role are collaboration, technical expertise, and business acumen.
Nuclear sector employees, in turn, require reliable access to operation guidelines to achieve a successful digital transformation. This is why every employee lanyard mentions procedure adherence as a critical performance factor. Work must be executed the same way every time regardless of the person doing it. The length of a turbine may span several football fields, and a large building may have up to four turbines. Digitalization of information could greatly improve adherence to procedures and safety, as an employee will have the necessary information readily available rather than having to backtrack a ten-to-fifteen- minute walk to locate a print manual for instructions.
Enterprise architecture (EA) professionals are responsible for reducing the complexities that accompany digital transformations in the nuclear sector. Most nuclear plants have dedicated EA staff operating within the IT department who oversee the operations of business processes and IT infrastructure. They develop rules and procedures that guide the use of digital technology to ensure that all processes are consistent across the plant’s functions. As such, enterprise architecture professionals help the senior leadership team to redesign nuclear plants’ business and IT architectures in a manner that will avoid potential shortcomings and compete effectively in the digital era.
The integration of digital technology into the nuclear sector is not only an opportunity but a necessity. Digitalization is an exceptional performance driver. A digital transformation in the nuclear business architecture defines how processes can be made more effective across all nuclear operations. This may initially be described as electronically enhanced versions of the traditional paper processes, but digitalization is likely to improve efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness in the long run.
Nuclear is becoming a data-driven business, where operations must be agile and able to anticipate, rather than respond to, actual conditions. This puts the responsibility on enterprise architecture professionals improve nuclear generation through digital innovation. The reward will be longer plant life, increased efficiency, reduced costs, improved performance, and enhanced safety.
*First published in Nuclear Engineering International https://www.neimagazine.com/features/featuredigital-trans-7184211/