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Expert Interviews

Melinda Tam Discusses How Cybersecurity Plays into the Digital World

Headshot of Melinda Tam

Melinda Tam is an electrical engineer with more than 30 years of experience.

She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Arizona State University and a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Technology Management from the University of Phoenix. Five years out of college, she started her own electrical, instrumentation, and controls engineering firm. Within 15 years, her firm had more than 100 employees and 4 offices across the United States. Melinda focused on turn-key control system upgrades, which included planning, design, implementation, and maintenance services. Since 2010, she has been supporting clients to develop a technology road map to transform field data into intelligent information for utility operations, maintenance, and management.

To stay on top of operational trends and technology in the water industry, Melinda is actively involved with the Water Environment Federation’s (WEF) Intelligent Water Committee and Technical Practice Committee. As Tetra Tech’s National Automation Practice Lead in the water operational technology group, she is strategically growing the digital transformation business to assist clients in overcoming security challenges associated with the rapid growth in digital technology. 

Learn how our Tetra Tech Delta team uses technology to drive value-generating project solutions.


What is digital transformation?

Digital transformation means applying digital tools and technology in business areas to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and manage risk. From a business perspective, digital transformation represents a fundamental and necessary shift in how to provide data-driven value and drive revenue quickly.

Digital tools include smart phones, cellular connectivity, cloud services, and mobile applications that allow business tasks to be performed electronically from anywhere. Advances in wireless communications, low-power sensors, low-cost computing, and smart devices are transforming the digital landscape.


What are the drivers to move to digital transformation?

There are three main drivers accelerating digital transformation: people, process, and technology. Customer expectations continue to rise and understanding customers’ needs is essential. Technology, such as data analytics, improves equipment reliability and reduces maintenance costs. From a utility standpoint, process optimization such as energy, chemical, and automating operations and maintenance workflows are focus points. And lastly, technology developments are driving new products and services from manufacturers that enable low-cost and high-speed alternatives to traditional systems.


How is it currently applied in the water industry?

The water industry has historically lagged in technology adoption when compared to other industries. However, because of increased public health and safety awareness, aging workforce, increased regulatory compliance, increased operation and maintenance costs, system reliability, workforce mobility, and aging infrastructure, the need to harness technology to address these issues has moved to the forefront. For example, integrating equipment health monitoring with predictive analytics allows maintenance personnel to access health metrics from anywhere and adjust repair priorities prior to equipment failure. This improves reliability and operational efficiencies and saves costs in procurement and maintenance.


What are key considerations to secure data?

The increased connectivity to data in the cloud and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) requires rethinking traditional system architectures. Security must address the expanding network into the internet, field, and facilities to a greater degree than ever before. While this increases opportunities, it also introduces significant risks. A secure architecture must address increased internal and external exposures while still allowing essential communication.

Modern utility networks must include advanced security previously reserved for enterprise applications. Multiple security technologies are used simultaneously to provide defense against cyber attacks. These tools include data and communication encryption, physical security, user and device authentication, and advanced monitoring and detection tools. This approach is necessary to protect your network, data, people, and systems from ransomware and data breaches.


What does digital transformation look like in 10 years?

In the water industry, I believe digital twin operations, process and business data integration, and data analytics is where we are headed with Tetra Tech as an emerging leader. The definition of a digital twin is essentially a digital replica of a physical or living entity where there is a connection between a physical model and a virtual model. Tetra Tech is already providing digital twin engineering where designs are created in a scaled 3D model that accurately represents the current field conditions with embedded engineering, maintenance, and operational data. Taking this one step further and incorporating real-time sensing data into the model allows operators to monitor and control their facilities from any remote and secure location. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for secure remote operations is quickly becoming a high priority.


What is Tetra Tech doing to help its clients ensure that their systems are safe from cyber incidents?

Our approach to risk and resilience assessments, cybersecurity assessments, master planning, and control system designs address cybersecurity as a core requirement. Security planning must not only address technology, but also organization, skills, training, and practices that impact security. Tetra Tech incorporates the recommendations of leading industry and government security best practices such as American Water Works Association cybersecurity guidance, National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) cybersecurity framework, NIST 800-82, and manufacturer recommendations into a comprehensive approach for planning, implementing, and managing system security. Tetra Tech assists utility customers with applying cybersecurity technologies to existing systems as well as the planning, design, and implementation of new systems.

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