Readers of this column might have observed that at the Institute, we are big believers — not only in utility analytics — but in the value of utility analytics leaders applying their solutions across the enterprise. One way of looking at the potential of enterprise analytics at a high level is this: If we believe that there are specific behaviors that reside in specific, siloed databases, and if we believe that there are correlations or even cause-and-effect relationships from one set of behaviors to another, the case for enterprise analytics can be made.
With this hypothesis in mind, consider how a change in customer behavior that resides in a CIS has the potential to change the behavior of the grid that resides in the SCADA system, which would in turn change the behavior of the assets managing that same grid which reside in the asset management system. With some of the early success we are seeing in various spot solutions impacting customer, grid, and asset behavior, we are really not too far from seeing this concept come to life.
But life at the utility, of course, is not all a bed of roses. Consider these comments that appeared in our recent Enterprise Analytics industry briefing from some industry leaders who are on the leading edge of applying analytics in their organization:
- From the director of information management and security at a large IOU: “Every project wants to solve its problems with its own analytics. Every business unit has a slightly broader, but still narrow problem that it wants to solve with customer or grid or some segment of that. As an IT person and shared services organization for two utilities plus a parent company, we have to see the whole board. We have to look beyond the boundaries of just a single project or a single business unit.“
- Or this from the assistant general manager at a large municipal utility: “Most of us at utilities are very good at operating our systems. We’ve been doing that for 100 years. So we’re very good at each function, looking at what data we need to run our specific business segment. What we’re not very good at is actually looking across the enterprise. Enterprise analytics would give us the ability to say where is the best place for us to invest across the company to provide the biggest bang for our customers.”
The italics are mine for emphasis. We are finding that utility leaders see the value of taking it to the enterprise, but they do so with their eyes wide open to the challenges that lie ahead.
That same report identified enterprise analytics characteristics, challenges, and steps in building enterprise analytics solutions. These are briefly summarized here:
- Breaking down silos
- Embracing data integration
- Supporting technology integration
- Developing analytics excellence
- Cross-departmental coordination
- Actually doing integration — it will be messy!
- Finding funding
Building the enterprise
- Define key business goals
- Start with targeted quick-win projects, but be ready to expand
- Data governance!
- Executive support is critical for enterprise efforts
We recently discussed how utilities are moving towards an enterprise posture for analytics with a few of the executives at Dake Solutions, a technology consulting and software development services company based in South Africa. The folks at Dake believe that while these enterprise initiatives are extremely complex, there are some common-sense threads that can be woven into an enterprise project that will yield results. And as many of our readers know, South Africa is home to one of the world’s largest utilities, State-owned Eskom, so the Dake experience speaks to the issues of scale that are being confronted across the industry today.
Hari Khamandula, director at Dake, started off our discussion by noting some of the particular challenges they face in South Africa and how the lessons they learned can be applied to just about any utility in the world: “The ultimate goal for Eskom is to serve the customer with no interruption in supply. This is challenging in a developing economy with constant load growth and a developing electric infrastructure. In terms of analytics, it’s more about how we leverage data to manage the demand and ensure supply is uninterrupted.”
So, how do the folks at Dake suggest that a utility go about meeting these big challenges that encompass IT, customers, operations and regulatory challenges? Hari suggests that “This does not have to be the `big bang’ approach. We always believed in what we call quick wins — shorter steps to reap benefits more immediately, but at the same time taking into consideration the long term and the ability to scale the solution or infrastructure. We think of this in terms of taking one system, scaling it, and then deploying it on a broader basis while providing benefits at each stage.”
Hari cited one example in working with Eskom where they were able to apply this methodology successfully. This was around connecting new customers within a mandated time period. The utility improved their compliance by over 200% by leveraging customer data more effectively. This resulted in:
- Bringing Eskom into regulatory compliance with regards to laws as laid out by NERSA, (National Energy Regulator of South Africa) by creating a system with the ability to meet operational goals
- Having an integrated solution which is able to assimilate the most data in the most intelligent format possible to enhance the executive-level decision-making processes
- Providing the utility with a snapshot ability of various competency performances within the organization
Another prime example is the substation automation feature which Dake designed and implemented for Eskom. They now have brought in the financial information, “OT” data, (SCADA data and data from other monitoring devices) and asset data into one seamless, integrated system. This was done without disruption to any of Eskom’s internal systems and once deployed, it all seamlessly integrated into a collective analytics solution.
So, while the enterprise movement among utility analytics professionals has its challenges, we are seeing the emergence of some leading edge examples of how to build the enterprise approach in the face of these challenges.
To learn more about how utilities are applying analytics to meet their business challenges, come to Utility Analytics Week, the industry’s largest gathering of utility analytics professionals, which is taking place September 23 to 25 in Atlanta. Visit www.utilityanalyticsweek.com for more information.