The battle around shared infrastructures

The multiplication of digital applications is expensive. In the case of distributed energy systems or in cities, the sharing of infrastructures, for example acquisition or data communication infrastructures, seems to be a way of optimizing the capital invested on behalf of the digitization of energy.

However, the migration to such infrastructures is not as fast as desired. Why ? Are there alternatives or reasons not to follow this evolution?

The first reason, it seems to me, is that sharing various infrastructures between several applications requires a prospective vision, a sort of master plan for development. It often means, when deploying one or more major applications, that we need to anticipate all the possible needs that this shared infrastructure will have to serve, to better define or size it.

This exercise is not impossible and is not just a production of the mind. It requires, however, to reconcile two aspects often seen as contradictory: planning, sometimes associated with rigidity, especially when it is conceived as a “decision made in advance”, and the possibility of agility to meet unforeseen future needs.

Methods exist for this, but few cities or utilities are used to them. The decision-makers associate a lot of risks with these anticipatory approaches and are reluctant to initiate them, preferring to undergo the successive … and expensive evolutions. This will always be possible as long as they can afford it.

The second reason comes from the industry. It seems obvious to all industries that the purchase decisions of their products are based less and less on the characteristics of these products and more and more on the value they allow to create. The data captured and provided by their product, or rather, the meaning of these data, becomes essential.

To respond to this evolution and to keep a grip on the purchasing decisions that concern them, so as not to be reduced to suppliers of commodities, manufacturers have successively taken several steps. They made their products communicating to provide new data. They have designed communication architectures, adapted to the environment and to the needs of their customers, based or not on existing standards, to deliver this data to their customers. They supplemented their offer with software to make these data available and understandable. They finally developed software to give meaning of the data. In the world of energy, manufacturers of meters or transformer station monitoring solutions are perfect examples of this trend.

Each manufacturer has therefore tried to provide a verticalized application, perfectly optimized, which is now part of the landscape.

Sharing infrastructures means giving up these optimized and verticalized solutions, means opposing manufacturers by asking them to break up their offer and means taking the risk that a particular application is momentarily less optimized.

Sharing infrastructures means losing some of the control of a panel of traditional suppliers and partnering with a major player in communications and especially IT platforms. This movement can scare cities, reluctant to become dependent on one of these giants, as industrials, potentially relegated to the background.

The sharing of infrastructures can, as far as IT and communications are concerned, hide a paradox between what appears to be an economic evidence and the defense, quite understandable, of industrial interests.

As in all wrestling, there will be a winner and a loser. Is there not another way to follow so that there is no loser?

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