Apr 8, 2020

Siemens: cybersecurity for energy during COVID-19

Utilities
William Girling
3 min
Following on from Energy Digital’s last article on Siemens, the company has released a prudent guide to cybersecurity during remote working
Following on from Energy Digital’s...

Following on from Energy Digital’s last article on Siemens, the company has released a prudent guide to cybersecurity during remote working.

Recognising that working from home has taken on vastly greater significance for the energy industry because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Leo Simonovich, Global Head of Industrial Cybersecurity, believes that executives face a two-fold challenge of safety and security.

“By accessing critical plant production and grid networks from homes, employees raise the risk of a possible second wave crisis: rolling outages and safety events when keeping the lights on matters most,” said Simonovich.

“Attackers will attempt to exploit the rush to remote systems, understaffed facilities, and new ways of working.”

Understanding the threat

Although enterprise systems are always under a certain degree of threat from cyberattacks, workers trying to keep utilities functioning correctly may be working in sub-optimal conditions that amplify security faults.

Some of these include unsecured internet connections and human-error caused by a different way of working (i.e. a change in workspace setup which renders once-familiar tasks difficult or confusing). 

For this reason, Simonovich advocates, energy companies must thoroughly asses each procedure and determine which are safe to operate by a worker remotely and those which are not. 

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“Cybersecurity is as strong as its weakest link,” he continues. “Ensuring that partner systems work from a shared roadmap will help utilities assess and improve security. Failing to consider partners’ cybersecurity leaves a potentially large blind spot in your defences.”

Establishing a response

After understanding where the increased risk of cyberthreats comes from, Siemens recommends setting up a clear three-pronged approach to bolter defences: 

Secure connections: Knowingly giving access to strictly confidential or important systems to workers who cannot guarantee security is unacceptable, therefore companies must carefully assess what plant operators require access to in order to mitigate the risk of infiltration.

Monitor anomalies: Because remote working is currently outside general ‘normal working conditions’, it may be difficult to differentiate between a cyberattack and legitimate operator usage. Careful monitoring of the system will help to establish a baseline to measure this.

Prepare an incident response plan: Workers may be off-site, ill or otherwise not able to respond in their normal capacity during a cyberattack event. Plants must factor in these changes and alter response plans accordingly.

“While the COVID-19 crisis makes these steps urgent, several long-term trends that pre-date the pandemic will drive similar changes,” Simonovich states. 

These changes will include new operating models, automation and advanced training for remote workforces. Due to the unknown length of the current pandemic and its effect on global lifestyles, companies should prepare for these changes over the long-term.

For more information on energy digital topics - please take a look at the latest edition of Energy Digital Magazine.

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Jul 13, 2021

Technology revolution for water retailers

Utilities
technology
IoT
digitaltransformation
Paul Williams
4 min
Paul Williams, Chief Technology Officer at Everflow Tech, reflects on privatisation, industry complexities and future for utilities in a digital world

In April 2017, the UK’s water retail market in the world opened for business – the single biggest change to the water sector since privatisation. This development allowed businesses, charities and public sector organisations to shop around for the best deal.
However, like any industry, this change hasn’t been without its sticking points; here, Paul Williams, CTO at Everflow Tech (pictured far right), discusses how retailers can harness technology to their advantage

Our CEO, Josh Gill, set up independent retailer Everflow Water in 2015, and Everflow Tech is his response to the difficulties it faced.

Quotations could take up to a week to produce, billing software had to be manually updated and brokers were unable to manage the complete customer journey in one place – all of which took time, cost money and allowed for human error.

The more complexity that was involved in billing or quoting, the more contact end customers needed to have with their retailers, pushing up the cost to serve for every SPID. This meant retailers – ourselves included – found themselves in a situation where profits were simply eaten up by service costs.

We also note that it can traditionally be hard for retailers to stay on top of balancing what they are charging their customers with what they are being charged by the market. To further exacerbate this, the longer a change goes unnoticed, the more trouble it can be to balance the issue.

It was these issues that Josh and his (at the time) small team wanted to ameliorate, creating their own technology in the absence of anything else.

This technology evolved into our award-winning retail sales, billing and customer management platform for the water retail market, and Everflow Tech was launched as a standalone venture in 2018, selling the software externally for other water retailers and their customers to benefit from.

What retailers want

As a relatively new entrant to the world of utilities competition, the water market could be seen to be lagging behind, particularly when it comes to innovation.

In fact, as recently as 2019, Ofwat said it expected the industry to be making technological advances and to be working with a culture of innovation, collaborating with companies both within and outside of the sector.

And with cost-savings for consumers traditionally lower than for other utilities, retailers need to be offering something more – whether that’s better support, energy-efficiency advice or more accurate data.

What’s more, consumers have had a taste of the power of technology, and they’ve come to expect nothing less from retailers across the board.

Another key issue – thrown into sharp relief during the past 12 months (and counting) of a pandemic – is rising levels of arrears, which are likely to increase bad debt beyond margins that retailers originally allowed for when the market was created.

In such a low-margin industry, there is a limit to the amount of debt retailers can take on, especially as recovering costs can be a very slow process. Ofwat has signalled that this issue could be addressed as early as this year, with a mechanism for recovering bad debt to be established during 2021/22. 

The market needs simple solutions to better serve the end user, and we were perfectly placed to develop those solutions. At Everflow, our software is designed for the water retail market, by the water retail market.

As well as simple billing, clear-to-understand workflows, and a revenue assurance system to allow retailers to quickly compare market charges, Everflow has also introduced a complete debt solution, allowing missed payment dates to drive late payment charges and escalations automatically.

Retailers are able to design and put out their own bill and quotes, tailoring customer journey and overall experience – whatever the circumstances.

What does the future hold?

Automation is key to any industry; we’re heading into an age of driverless cars and smart homes, and this drive for tech will filter through to our industry, and we need to catch up. 

The Internet of Things – a network of physical objects connected to each other – means human error (and effort) can effectively be removed from many everyday tasks, which goes for meter readings too. However, in the 21st century, the water market is still not leveraging previously emerged technology in the form of smart meters to provide accurate billing. 

Consumers are also becoming more empowered, both to ask for information and change their preferences if they don’t like what they learn. Retailers need to be armed with this information, not next week, not tomorrow, but now – and, at Everflow Tech, we’re putting that information at their fingertips.

But the retailers themselves need to speak up too, and we will always work with them to get the best ideas on what needs to be developed and when.

Our strong bond with Everflow Water, along with other key customers, means we have a direct interest in making sure our systems serve the water market in the best way they can. 

For us, the goal is to make sure retailers on our platform can grow as much as possible, leaving behind laborious daily processes to focus on their own strategic growth and, most importantly, helping their customers.

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