April 2023 | Point of View

Defining project interdependencies for better utility portfolio management

Integrating new technologies can feel daunting for utilities—enter interdependency management

Defining project interdependencies for better utility portfolio management

Utilities are evolving. Faced with ambitious decarbonization goals, accelerating electrification efforts, new regulatory requirements, and critical cybersecurity risks, industry leaders are looking to large, transformational technology deployments to adapt to new challenges and position themselves for the future. 

Among the most common technology platforms being deployed or enhanced are: Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS); Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS); Customer Information Systems (CIS); Enterprise Asset Management Systems (EAM); and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). 
But deploying these systems concurrently is often a challenge given their multiyear timelines, large budgets, and significant resource requirements. Even small-scope changes can cause a ripple effect of delays. 

To be successful, utilities need a dedicated process for proactively identifying interdependencies across a project’s lifetime—from establishing governance to tracking timelines to risk management. In what follows, we’ll discuss the changing needs of utilities and how these organizations can use interdependency management techniques to effectively deploy critical technologies.  

A Changing Technology Landscape  

Trends in technology adoption among utilities have been shaped by regulatory requirements, changes in consumer behavior, and evolving data security standards and options—typically occurring simultaneously. Some key examples include:  

  • DERS and DERMS: New state and federal regulations and clean energy targets—FERC 2222, Build Back Better Act, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act, CA SB-100 Renewable Portfolio Standard, or NY ISO DER Roadmap among others—aimed at promoting the proliferation Distributed Energy Resources (DER) are accelerating utilities’ timelines for digital management of such assets using a DERMS or other advanced distribution applications. While it may be challenging to get the full picture of regulatory impacts, anticipating affected areas and related initiatives—such as increased battery storage projects on the grid and furthering interconnection points—can help build a business case for pulling forward some requirements on large DERMS projects.
  • Customer service: On the consumer side, utilities are enhancing their Customer Relationship Management (CRM), CIS, and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) platforms to get more comprehensive information about customers and provide higher levels of service. Integrating these systems and the Outage Management System (OMS), ADMS, and analytics platform is important for sending critical customer notifications during outages or peak hours, for example.  
  • Cloud-based platforms: Utilities are moving enterprise data and analytics platforms to the cloud. Consequently, concurrent projects that provide data to the cloud need to be aligned so downstream consumers still get the intended use cases with the right latency and redundancy requirements after the migration. For example, multiple end users could require outage data (outage maps, outage notifications to customers, or predictive outage analytics); however, the end users might require different frequency, latency, or cybersecurity to achieve their outcomes. Architecture and integration designs should be made jointly between teams to make sure requirements are met without overloading the source systems. 

Special considerations for large, transformational technology projects  

Risk management may be a standard part of project management—but concurrent system deployments for utilities require a special approach. With communities dependent on utilities, major projects affecting multiple systems require informed, effective, and highly coordinated project management to mitigate risks to operations. 

Independent or formalized interdependency management allows project teams to do their jobs better by orienting attention on their work rather than design and stakeholder management. For instance, time spent tracking down teams for deadlines or information can be redirected toward advancing the project and meeting deadlines. 

Beyond the typical project management tools and responsibilities, large projects with numerous external interdependencies require paying extra attention to the following: 

  1. Sequencing. The order of operations for interdependent projects is critical. Just as important is ensuring that project teams are in regular communication about sequencing to prevent rework and unnecessary delays. If an upstream project is moving data to the cloud and another project is designing for a different data stream, knowing the design of the cloud project ahead of time may prevent rework downstream. 
  2. Sticking to the schedule. Project delays for integrated systems affect everyone. Sticking to the well-defined project sequence and schedule ensures that other teams can meet their deadlines. 
  3. Communication. Too often teams work in silos or fail to communicate changes to the right level, including informing external stakeholders. While delays are never ideal, communicating quickly and effectively can mitigate further risks and interruptions for interrelated teams. 
  4. Resource Management. Identifying and allocating the right resources—such as subject matter specialists for design and testing phases—to ensure their availability when needed is paramount in preventing disruptions. 

Ensuring success requires the right tools and procedures 

Some of the most effective ways to keep a project on track include: 

  • Frost/Freeze: Develop a governance structure to freeze changes made to interdependent applications for a specified period ahead of the go-live date (usually during testing through the “hypercare” period immediately following the launch) so that no further changes can be made to the system. Not only does this protect the project from testing delays, but it also ensures that other projects have their designs included in the go-live. An integrated frost/freeze plan between major programs can also maintain strategic alignment and confirm buy-in from major stakeholders through the governance and escalation process.  
  • Monthly forums: Establishing regular communication touchpoints as early as possible will help uncover potential conflicts or risks. Monthly stakeholder meetings are an effective way to share schedules, scope or design changes, and new project challenges. Tailoring the type and content of the forum to the stakeholders’ level of involvement can also improve efficiency. For example, a forum of project managers or department leads is useful for sharing high-level schedule or scope information of interdependent projects, while a forum of IT/OT system maintenance leads can help identify conflicts with network environments or critical IT staff needed for implementation.  

  • Ad hoc meetings or tiger teams: Because every risk or problem doesn’t need to be addressed by a large forum, these versatile teams can tackle specific issues between two or three projects to maintain progress and alignment. Smaller teams responsible for interdependent projects can also meet more frequently to discuss details and mitigate specific risks.  

  • Shared/integrated schedule: Having a shared schedule that maps key milestones can show and validate dependencies between projects. It’s important to visualize these integrated milestones in an easily digestible manner (such as the example below) and share them in a centralized place where stakeholders can challenge the dependencies and verify their understanding of what is happening when. 


Given the new challenges and high stakes that utilities face in their operations, integrating transformational new technologies can seem overwhelming—especially when risks and delays can threaten multiple critical systems. 

But with effective interdependency management, utilities can create buy-in and alignment from stakeholders on key scope decisions and schedule sequences, effectively assess risks and ownership responsibilities, and work toward a successful outcome. 

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