Information Management Practices in the Energy and Utilities Sectors—The Core Principles

A solid, integrated information management and information security plan is essential to help utility and energy companies overcome competitive obstacles, grow and succeed.

But first, the challenge: Both industries face rising fuel and operating costs. There’s growing demand for energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. And the sector is grappling with new alternatives, competitors and stakeholders. At the same time, rates are set in advance for public utilities and even at private energy companies the market controls their fate so profitability informs every decision.  

The better you manage your information, the more you lower operating costs and minimize down time. 

That’s why the better you manage your information in utilities and energy, the more effectively and efficiently you can take advantage of the investments you’ve made to lower operating costs, speed up response times and minimize down time.  That’s because the greater the handle you have on the data that becomes the information behind business decisions, the more likely you are to reach your business goals. In many cases, this involves initiating a data migration effort for better information management and governance. 

And if you are going through such a data migration effort, it’s important to manage your content well. Effectively managing content is essential to your success and profitability. You need better ways to connect and enable employees who work in the field. 

Three basic energy and utilities information management principles: Understand, review and provide effective change management.

It all boils down to three core information management principles:

  1. Understand what you have so you can plan how you address the information and improve your processes; 
  2. Review and create policies that help you discover and take action on the right information; 
  3. Provide greener pastures” in systems or processes that encourage better adoption and more effective change management. 

For data migration, identify low and high risk content and understand your information security footprint. 

Also figure out content requirements and information management needs.

For any data migration, you want to follow these three steps:

  1. Identify low risk and high-risk content. This may involve scanning for basic information like the number of files and volume in terabytes. You need to look at breakouts of aging or filetypes or conduct a more in-depth scan where you use regular expressions (regex) to find specific sensitive information like PII, PCI, PHI, or internal IP; 
  2. Figure out how to address content requirements and information management needs during the migration; and 
  3. Understand your security-information management footprint, from the files open and available to employees on shared drives to more structured systems such as Microsoft SharePoint. 

You’ll find that far too much data is being kept beyond its useable life. For some utilities, there may be regulatory holds required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Otherwise you should consider seven- or 10-year holds, at the most, and moving this sensitive information to isolated storage or archive once it’s past its operational relevance to the organization (which is typically around two to four years.)

To review and create policies, you will need to understand the following three parameters: 

  1. If your policies are set up to move personal or team content; 
  2. Who the owners of the information are; and 
  3. The benefits and differences between moving clean and compliant data into a new system versus a lift-and-shift approach.

For more on approaches to content migration, read Jim Polka’s recent blog In Content Migration, One Size Doesn’t Fit All.

Many utilities and energy companies are behind the times with policies that are not up to date. 

Electric and gas delivery practices have not changed in recent years, so identify your ROT—redundant, obsolete and trivial information.

Many utilities and energy companies are behind the times when it comes to new technology implementations. Policies in these companies often are not up to date and may be archaic. That’s probably because current electric or gas delivery practices have not changed all that much in recent years. It’s important to identify your ROT—redundant, obsolete and trivial information. Many in the sector have been heavily paper based, with a primitive records management approach. 

Take the example of electrical transmission data. Who owns that information? Who manages it? Are there gaps in terms of the new business lines? (See Linda Andrew’s recent energy sector post, Content Migration Case Study: “Let’s Get Rid of that ROT.”)

Doculabs helps you with information management in energy and utilities. 

At Doculabs, we help you audit your data and look for gaps. Are both your business and IT teams on board? Who is the data owner? Where do information security, protecting intellectual property (IP), and legal fit in?

To organize your data correctly and align the information to business processes, you need an overall Information Architecture where you answer three questions: 

  1. How should team content be organized and structured? 
  2. Are information management, information security and governance processes based on business processes? Or do they come from regulations? Or from the technology you use that forces you into a particular kind of business practice? (Think about how ERP systems can straightjacket your approach here.) 
  3. What would processes look like if you had a clean slate? 

Information Architecture is so critical because it touches every interaction and business process. It’s part of every job. 

Go a layer deeper and identify global metadata fields.

Proper metadata helps search as well as helps organize your information architecture. 

You need to go a layer below and identify global metadata. Holistically there should be global metadata fields, which allow for one or two additional business line specific fields. Proper metadata helps search as well as helps you organize your information architecture. And that, in turn, can help you automate metadata tagging so that users only have to worry about one or two fields.   

Again, take the example of a transmission site. There’s the delivery of electricity. And there’s the tracking of transmission sites, generators and capacitors. A repairperson should be able to search histories on the fly. He or she should be able to get all the records and history of machinery while at a site. 

Content scans help inform the right information architecture.

Avoid the bad-data-in, bad-data-out syndrome, and test with prototypes.

If a transistor blows, the repairperson should have the history and as-builds at their fingertips. They should know what specific piece of equipment should be serviced. This can only happen if the data is stored, tagged and properly maintained. Bad-data-in equals bad-data-out.

To create a new, “greener pasture” for your users to adopt, consider: 

  1. How content scans help inform the right information architecture. 
  2. How the results create a basic SharePoint (or similar) template, or a repeatable sample, that can be used 80 percent of the time right out of the gate.
  3. How you test the structure with prototypes for hand-selected, advanced groups in the organization. Like any early adopter in technology, these are the people who can help you work out the bugs and roll out new policies to the rest of the organization. These folks naturally will help you create positive buzz that enables change management through evangelism of the new system.

See Rich Medina’s blog post, So What Should You Do First? Planning Your Information Management Roadmap.

Change management is challenging in industries that employ older workers.

These approaches are important because both the utility and energy sectors still tend to employ older workers. The change management piece is difficult. “This is always the way it’s been done” is the all-to-common mantra. The sector needs to attract younger workers while retaining the institutional knowledge. Technology is there to help aid that retention. 

Modern, structured information architecture makes the job—and the organization—so much more vital. It also helps each utility and energy company face the challenges of the marketplace.


Rich Medina
Brian Johnson
I’m Doculabs' Midwest Area Sales Manager.