News & Ideas

The Shift Is On: UAW Showcases Data-Driven Utilities

“IT and data scientists used to have to ‘sell’ the idea of data analytics to the business – now the business is coming to buy."

By Tom Martin, Managing Director, Product, at TROVE

After last year’s Utility Analytics Week, Mark Johnson, Managing Director of Utility Analytics Institute, noted big changes in the content and context of the event, astutely observing that “IT and data scientists used to have to ‘sell’ the idea of data analytics to the business – now the business is coming to buy.”

He also hit the nail on the head when he succinctly summarized: “We’re moving beyond the general education tracks that marked our early years to harder hitting ‘o.k., we get it, now how do we really apply analytics to deliver value?’ discussions.”

The shift Mark noted last year was in full evidence at this year’s event. UAW has turned into the epicenter of ‘applied data analytics,’ where results speak louder than words. Here’s how I saw these themes playing out earlier this month in Phoenix:

1. Putting Data to Work

In the past, UAI events spotlighted “building block” types of content, from sessions on “best practices,” creating “centers of excellence,” and setting up requisite IT infrastructure. Now the focus is on doing data science, getting your hands dirty using data, learning from experience, and following where the data leads.

PPL Electric did a great job sharing the results of its data-driven journey in two packed sessions. The first, “Risk-Based Analytics for Utilities,” examined PPL’s ongoing shift towards data-driven, risk-based approaches for infrastructure management that have replaced legacy “cadence-based” maintenance. The approach has worked brilliantly, with the company more precisely allocating maintenance dollars across its vast network and reporting its best reliability metrics to date.

In its second presentation, “Moving from ‘Data’ to ‘Data Science’,” PPL highlighted the importance of learning by doing and the discipline involved in listening to the data (and doing what it tells you). By doing so, PPL has demonstrated how reliability monitoring and management can be improved by using analytics that incorporate diverse data sources and that unscramble the components of multi-faceted performance metrics, such as CMI (customer minute interruptions).

2. Know the Customer

While the shift toward “data driven” was on full display across presentations on asset health and operations, there was also a noticeable uptick this year in use cases applying data to improve customer engagement and adoption.  

Engaging customers, i.e., really recognizing the differences among them, is key to customer adoption. There is no Utility of the Future without customers participating in a utility’s best programs, whether that be demand response, EV charging, or something as simple as e-billing. TROVE has long championed using data from disparate sources to understand the customer, meet them on their own terms, and drive adoption, and it was great to see this “human dimension” of data on full display at UAW.

3. Risk of Failure

As utilities embrace a more data-driven approach, they are being called upon to become savvier planners. I saw this on display in a great presentation from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) addressing how  utilities need to adopt risk-informed decision making as part of their safety regimen for addressing wildfires. What’s most interesting to me here is that utilities have always used data to inform risk, but that data was always heavily skewed by the intuition of leaders. That is not being data-driven. The new norm needs to be letting the data drive the insights.

The good news from UAW 2019 is that that new norm may finally be taking place.


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