As Utility companies gear up to smart customers and fiercely competitive markets, collaboration is key to survival. And in todays digitally disrupted world, collaboration is not limited to departmental units, teams or workforce. Device and system level collaboration, an equally important success factor, is creating altogether new industry sub-segments and sectors renewable energy and smart cities being ideal examples. Imagine hiring a driverless car in a smart city through your smart phone, then simply boarding it, reaching your destination, getting off, and walking away, without settling the invoice! The car sends pricing and billing signals to a cloud-based settlement engine, which after your authentication, connects to, and debits your mobile payment wallet. Smart, isnt it? Companies across the globe are already collaborating to build such smart systems of the future. The most populous state in the US – California, plans to meet 50% of its electric power needs through renewable sources, and support 1.5 million zero emission vehicles by 2025. Other states and countries too, will follow.
Clearly, the device-system collaboration trend is driving transformation not just in energy generation and transmission, but also its consumption. However, success of these use cases depends on device and system interoperability put simply, such smart scenarios need devices that can seamlessly exchange data, with systems powered by equally responsive software. And this data exchange cannot be left to chance. It must be validated, secured, and assured.
A common protocol or standard is the basic pre-requisite for any form of communication data exchange included. Thankfully, with ISO 15118 the Global Interoperability Standard for vehicle-to-grid communication interfaces, regulators have proactively set the stage for a smooth Assurance take off. For instance, in our smart car use case, ISO 15118 can facilitate seamless communication between the electric car, cloud systems, grids, the mobile wallet and other intermediary systems and devices. Other use cases of ISO 15118 include authentication at charging points, automatic contract handling operations, quick and easy foreign authentication, and high security against data manipulation. While regulators have provided the standard, its implementation is the responsibility of the Quality Assurance (QA) & Testing function. Moving beyond functional validation, QA must now assure entire device-to-device collaborative ecosystems, with advanced levels of interoperability testing.
Specifically, interoperability testing assures seamless data exchange between devices, without operational issues, data loss or compromised functionality. It includes syntax checks, data format validation, and network provisioning. At a minimum, this requires sufficient physical and logical connection methods. Software components too, must be tested for their ability to accurately recognize incoming data from other software sources, handle stressed load levels, and provide accessible and useful results. Given the need to operate in highly stressed environmental conditions, these devices and software must be designed for such operations. Finally, the varied device and screen size presents interface design challenges, making ease of use an important component of interoperability testing. Needless to say, interoperability testing must begin at the outset during the design stage, when the solution is being architected.
From the overall strategy perspective, while drawing up the game plan for device and system level connectivity, its important for CxOs to:
- See the big picture, consider present as well as future use cases.
- Avoid taking the big bang approach as yet, even if you have the budget.
- Avoid doing everything in one go which is a high risk proposition. Instead of a big bang approach, use small pilot roll outs.
For a typical energy use case, the interoperability roadmap could start with smart grid implementation, followed by gateway and smart meter integrations. Wherever possible, automation must be introduced, to maintain the gateway systems. When combined with a robust governance and monitoring framework, automated device and system monitoring can auto-correct faults, and significantly reduce failure response rate and time.
From the competency perspective, to assure device interoperability, QA teams must acquire deep domain and technology expertise. Armed with this expertise, QA folks must evolve from their traditional tester roles, and become consultants for CxO guiding them on their overall game plan and applications of device and system connectivity. With their data validation and analytical expertise, QA teams will help businesses unlock uncover intelligent insights, and provide smart solutions to customers.