Contrary to popular belief, utility executives are ramping up for “big data” in a “big way.” This industry, which historically focused on operational technologies like pole-mounted hardware, is making a big shift to information technologies to support initiatives such as distribution optimization and fraud detection.
We recently invited senior utility executives to sit down with their peers and explore the opportunities and challenges of applying analytics to “big data.” What I learned is that there are five areas that excite executives the most and give them the energy needed (pun intended) to cross the chasm and adopt new approaches to solving future power delivery challenges.
1. IT at the Speed of OT
One of the barriers to adoption of analytics has been the challenge of operationalizing the analytical outcomes so that they influence ongoing business processes. Now, information technology has become relevant to daily utility operations because it has scaled time barriers to deliver insights within the necessary decision timeframe. Examples include early anomaly detection in streaming data and optimization in near-real time for the integration of distributed energy resources.
2. Turn data deluge into goldmine
At the SoftGrid 2012, GTM Senior Analyst David Leeds said that "big data" was being regarded by some sectors, such as online retail and even some venture capital investors, as a new economic asset class, or even the "new plastic" thanks to its versatility in various applications. Analytics has been heralded as the application to derive value from the big data. Therefore, is big data the challenge or the opportunity? According to Gary Spakes of SAS, more likely than not, it’s the storage and compute capacity that are the constraints to deriving value from data. SAS High-Performance Analytics, in concert with platforms like Teradata, EMC/Greenplum, and Hadoop, was designed to alleviate those constraints.
3. Aggregated Event Perspectives
Smart grid investments are leading to an “event explosion.” Time-based event data, down to sub-second intervals, are available from multiple systems. The challenge is that each system has it’s own view of what happened. Correlating the event data across those systems can lead to insights for optimizing power delivery and enhancing reliability. However, utility CIOs are being asked to blend data sets that haven’t been used together before. In addition, layering geospatial makes a big difference and showing other data form other silos brings people into the conversation
4. Analytics, not just reporting
We recently asked a group of utility executives about their aspirations for how analytics will return value to their organization. These executives are counting on analytics to minimize losses, fight cybersecurity, and increase safety by predicting failures in aging assets, particularly gas. Karen Austin, the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Pacific Gas and Electric, offered similar thoughts at SoftGrid 2012, saying "We need database analytics to provide new tools for our associates. Spreadsheets are now like tea cups in the big data world; if I'm going out for a swim in the big ocean I don't want the tea cup anymore - I need scuba diving equipment.” It’s not just faster BI when you start to apply forecasting, optimization, and recursive analytics. Utilities will not be able to manage their business in the future without advanced analytics.
5. New information management paradigms
Okay, I’ll admit that not every utility executive welcomes the process and cultural change of the smart grid, much less “big data analytics”. For the ones that are acting proactively in this area, we see a strong interest in exploring the concept of an Analytical Center of Excellence. This center not only provides comprehensive quality information to the enterprise, but is a service to each business unit when exploring and exploiting the value locked in big data.
Conclusion: This is an exciting time to be part of the utility industry, but one that is also full of challenges that require creative thinking, strong leadership, and investments in people and technology. A new blog on AllAnalytics.com by Joe Gimenez is covering these emerging topics across the energy landscape. Stay tuned!