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Oracle Utilities: Big Data, Bigger Opportunities

| August 2, 2012


Rodger Smith Oracle

Author: Rodger Smith,Senior Vice President
and General Manager, Oracle Utilities


Today, as a result of smart meters and other systems, utilities are forced to deal with unprecedented amounts of data. Simultaneously, added to this is a new generation of grid nodes, sensor detects and reports in every system anomaly which is adding to utilities’ already overburdened asset inventory.  At the same time, production systems arechurning out reams of new financial, customer, and staffing information. By combining these data streams together, utility companies have access to large volumes of data, but how can they use this data to drive their business?

Oracle’s recent report, “Big Data, Bigger Opportunities”, which surveyedexecutives at North American utilities with smart meter programmes in place, found that the average utility (with at least one smart meter programme) has increased the frequency of its data collection by 180x – collecting data once every four hours as opposed to just once a month.  While that might not be very surprising, it’s still a big number.  The good news is that utilities with smart meter programmes say they are somewhat preparedto manage the data deluge, rating themselves a 6.7 on a scale of 1 to 10.  Utilities also said that they are collecting critical information, such as outage (78 per cent) and voltage data (73 per cent), and many are using it tosupport business operations, improve service reliability, and enhance customer satisfaction.However, there is still significant opportunity on the horizon.

Utilities can use the massive data volumes they collect from smart meters and other systems to place a renewed focus on network and service reliability. Unprecedented data availability – coupled with sophisticated analytics solutions – will drive utilities to evolve many aspects of their businesses.  For example, asset risk analysis can help utilities identify and avoid operational risks, such as major/catastrophic events.

In addition, the majority of our survey respondents said that drawing intelligence from smart grid/smart meter data is among their current top three priorities. However, the average utility is only just somewhat prepared to handle the data deluge – noting deficiencies in analytics.  The study further found that even though utilities have access to unprecedented volume and variety of data from smart grid roll-outs, 45 per cent struggle to report information to business managers as fast as they need it and 50 per cent miss opportunities to deliver useful information to their customers.

Moreover, utilities see a need to improve their abilityto translate information into actionable intelligence and use data for strategic decision-making.When respondents were asked if they had a meter data management (MDM) system in place, which helps manage meter data,70 per cent of those with the system said they are prepared to successfully manage the data influx versus just 51 per cent of those without.

However, it’s important to note that it’s not only about collecting data – utilities must have the right systems, people, and processes in place to analyse the data, report on it, and act on it – to improve business operational efficiency, service reliability, and customer engagement.  Otherwise, it will be impossible to make sense of the staggering amount of data they’re collecting from smart meters and other smart grid components.

As utilities gain the ability to analyse big data, they will realise deeper levels of insight into how their own businesses operates and into their customers’ needs.  Efficient transmission and distribution (T&D) infrastructure management has always been a top priority for utilities, and it remains a key component of any smart grid strategy.  With the influx of new T&D smart grid data, asset management complexity has grown as well.

Today – through work and asset management systems, geographic information systems, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, sensors, grid nodes, mobile devices, and more – utilities have real-time visibility into the conditions and performance of specific assets, opening up a whole new world of possibilities for optimising asset management.  Work and asset management systems integrate with field operational performance data to enable utilities to identify potential issues and better assess risk.  Additionally, analytics capabilities provide insights that help utilities determine the best time to repair or replace assets—helping them reduce maintenance costs and make the right buying decisions.

Utilities can also use the “big data” they’re collecting from their customers – from website communications, social media engagement, etc. – to provide better, more personalised services based on customer needs.  With integrated systems and the sophisticated analytics tools available, utilities can move towards developing a true 360-degree view of every aspect of their businesses—helping them transform processes and support effective decision-making.

As data management becomes more and more complex, utilities need open, standards-based IT systems that allow for easy integration and data sharing.  They need access to business intelligence tools that are tailored to their specific needs.  These tools for statistical and advanced analysis must work with distributed data to perform analysis regardless of where the data resides, scale as data volume grows, and automate decisions based on analytical models.  Underneath it all, utilities need the foundational database, hardware, and storage for superior reliability, performance, and security.  All of these solutions should be modular and flexible – providing utilities with choices, enabling them to implement what they need, when they need it, to address the challenges that are most important to them.  But they also need the right people to do the job.  There is a unique skill-set required to examine patterns in unstructured data.  Investment in people is very important.

With data coming in from every corner of the business, utilities have the opportunity to use that data to improve operational performance across every aspect of their businesses – from asset reliability and replacement planning, to load forecasting and distribution management, to customer communications and conservation programs. As our survey results indicated, utilities must not only make data collection a priority, but invest in the systems and people needed to make sense of a growing number of new data sources collected from smart meters and other smart grid components.  In addition to streamlining business operations, successful data management should greatly improve the customer experience – both through improved outage management/service reliability and stronger customer communication around smart grid changes and benefits.

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