Analytics tech talk

Let's gather and talk about challenges

H. Christine Richards | Jun 24, 2012

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Conference season will return this fall with our upcoming Utility Analytics Forum in September, a great opportunity to talk and learn about what's happening in the analytics space. 

Through all the good old-fashioned handshaking and roller-bag lugging of the conference season just past, we're seeing some pretty high-tech analytics challenges arising. Let's take a look at a couple of technology challenges facing utilities as they move forward with analytics.

Who should we turn to for the analytics "stuff"?

Analytics are the hardware, software, professional services, business processes and people that transform data into actionable insights. At the Institute, we harp about the importance of people and business process change in analytics because these areas are often overlooked. However, the analytics stuff—also known as hardware and software—is certainly important. Going a step further, perhaps more important in a rapidly evolving marketplace, is not just the technology, but who provides that technology. For example, will your technology provider be around in a year? Will the company's solution for a pain point you're experiencing right now serve your company's needs well into the future?

During my recent conference presentations, several utilities have asked me who are the top five analytics vendors—particularly for analytics middleware. Utilities said they were getting inundated with vendor pitches, and needed help figuring out which vendors were the best. This inundation isn't surprising. In our most recent research report around customer analytics, we had over 60 solution and service providers who said they served the space in one form or another. Narrowing those sorts of numbers down to the top five is tricky because each utility has unique needs. We'll be exploring this area more in the coming months, but here are a few quick things to keep in mind as you evaluate analytics vendors:

 

  • COMPANY DURABILITY In this rapidly evolving marketplace, the viability of companies is crucial to understand. Not that upstarts can't provide great products, but it is important to understand the financial health and stability of any company you're working with.
  • FOCUS ON UTILITY ANALYTICS There are analytics companies and then there are companies providing analytics. Either type of company can offer value, but just take time to understand the company's commitment not just to analytics, but utility analytics. For analytics companies, ensure that they are committed to the utility industry, and for companies that have traditionally provided other utility solutions, confirm that analytics are a key part of their long-term vision.
  • MATURITY OF ANALYTICS SOLUTIONS Analytics have to get started somewhere, but it's important to consider the number of pilots, projects in progress and full projects completed for a specific product.
  • FLEXIBILITY/INTEGRATION OF ANALYTICS SOLUTIONS We've seen a lot of specific point solutions, much like the bazillion apps out there, which can be a great solution. With the focus on building enterprise-wide analytics, it's just important for technologies to be able to play with one another when needed.

 

Please, give us a meter asset management system!

While inundated with vendors for some analytics, utilities are sending up flares and waiting for help to arrive for other analytics areas. At one conference, two utilities—within five minutes of one another—asked me about analytics and asset management solutions available for smart meters. As smart meters roll out, utilities now have to maintain them. The trick is that the complexity of these meters is much greater than traditional electromechanical meters. There are communications cards and all sorts of newfangled devices in them, and the meters need to be tested and certified each time they come in for service. So how do utilities keep track of all of that? These utilities couldn't find a good answer.

These utilities also realized that if they tracked meter problems and the locations of those meters, then they could analyze that information to identify trends in meter problems. Again, how to do this eluded them. We'll be exploring this topic more at the Institute, but a few things to keep in mind for now:

  • How will this system support other asset management needs? Can your company leverage existing asset management systems?
  • Are there ways to engage existing analytics to help with tracking meter problems? Could new solutions be leverage in other areas, too?



Technology always has its challenges, and analytics is no exception, but that's what makes it interesting. Well, time to hit the road again. As always, thanks for reading.

This article first appeared in the May/June issue of Intelligent Utility magazine. 

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