A utility challenge: enterprise information management

Insights from Day 2 of the UAI Summit 2012

Kate Rowland | Feb 16, 2012

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While we may hear a lot about electric utilities' focus on customer segmentation and customer analytics, many utilities are also deep in the trenches with grid analytics.

"The grid itself is becoming the central nervous system," said Brad Williams, vice president, industry strategy, for Oracle's Utility Global Business Unit, in the Grid Analytics Solution Workshop at the Utility Analytics Institute Summit yesterday. "Utilities still have to have control over these distributed processes."

One of the challenges, he said, is making the information coming back available enterprise-wide. "The greatest value of data comes by looking at patterns, trends and correlations across multiple data sources," he said. "As utilities move into data analytics, it's important to make sure there is a commitment to enterprise information management (EIM). That's what helps lead to analytics."

The UAI Summit solutions workshop Williams moderated provided attendees with a well-appreciated opportunity to address and engage with industry thought leaders and colleagues from other utilities on challenges specific to the grid analytics market. (Another solutions workshop held at the same time addressed customer analytics issues.)

As the larger group split into four breakout sessions to discuss the current state of grid analytics, the challenges and lessons learned, as well as the early successes, it was interesting to see that the largest group chose to discuss advanced asset management, while smaller groups covered foundational infrastructure, grid operational performance, and bridging the gap between information technology and distribution operations.

In next Friday's column, I will dive into this discussion in greater detail, but today I wanted to quickly share some of the most valuable takeaways from each of the four grid analytics breakout sessions, in hopes that they will generate even more discussion here.

The group discussing foundational infrastructure, led by Samuel Harrell, an Oracle industry director, noted a number of challenges. Topping the list: How critical is the need for data storage? What do you store, for how long, and at what level of granularity? Third-party data access continues to be a thorny topic, because of the necessary customer authorization constraints, as do data governance issues.

Thankfully, other industries have already dealt with a number of these challenges in their own applications of analytics technology and processes, and there are lessons to be learned there. "We need to learn these, and apply them to utilities," Harrell said.

Williams' group addressed both the challenges and opportunities available in advanced asset management, including the expressed need for automating certain processes. "More than just collecting the data, there is a need to automate processes that can trigger events," one workshop participant noted.

And, while we have seen a lot of utility investment in sensors and other advanced technology, the data coming back from the new technology on the grid is, in many cases, still residing in Excel spreadsheets.

But the discussion became even more lively around the topic of enterprise architecture, and the need for an enterprise data warehouse, or an EDW, along with the need for necessary processes to be established around asset data (managing it, securing it, and more). "We have a lot of data, but we're not analyzing it to drive performance. There is a need for new positions in the business units to add value to the business performance and, ultimately, value to the organization," Williams concluded from the group's discussion.

H. Christine Richards, a senior analyst with UAI, captured both the challenges and successes of grid operational performance. Her group noted that there is a lot happening currently, but it's scattered, and integration is only just beginning. There are a variety of efforts with a lot of different drivers, which indicate different priorities and goals throughout the utility.

The challenges, she said, include the big question of who is driving the bus for some of these grid optimization efforts, IT or the business?

And that question leads to some of the challenges and lessons learned discussed by the fourth group, led by Guy Anderson, a UAI analyst. "Analytics is forcing the structures [IT and distribution operations] to come together," Anderson said, citing a decade-long project by TXU Energy to merge the thinking processes of both groups. Hydro One, as well, put together an internal business architecture group in 2006 that now encompasses 30 staff members, with half from the business end of the utility, and half from IT.

Both are utility success stories we will share in later columns.

Kate Rowland
Editor-in-chief, Intelligent Utility magazine
krowland@energycentral.com

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