William Bell, director of operations and corporate analytics at CenterPoint Energy, is the well-deserving winner of the UAI’s 2017 Analytics Ambassador Award. Bell is an analytics change agent, passionate about using analytics to change things for the better for his company and the industry. He is always willing to help any UAI member who asks and is happy to discuss CenterPoint Energy’s substantial analytics successes, talk about the struggles, and recommend best practices. The following is the first part of a two-part dialogue that UAI had with Bell.
UAI: Congratulations on receiving the Utility Analytics Institute’s 2017 Analytics Ambassador Award!
Bell: Thank you.
UAI: Let’s start by reviewing your analytics journey at CenterPoint Energy. Will you please provide an overview?
Bell: Certainly. The journey for me started when I was pulled out of IT and asked to be the technology leader of our AMS smart grid/intelligent grid program. The team included three people, one from electric operations, one from gas operations, and I was the IT guy responsible for system-related needs. We managed multiple work streams and people and had a lot of success. I also worked on the acquisition and deployment of a distribution SCADA and was building an advanced distribution management system when my boss pulled me into his office and said, “We're drowning in data, go do something about it.” Literally, that’s all he said.
We had the good fortune to have somebody smart enough to make a movie about Billy Beane called Moneyball. My wife and daughter allowed me to go see a movie about baseball because Brad Pitt was in it. That’s when it all came into focus. So, after months of frustration, we realized OK, we're changing the world, let's go do this.
About that same time, Gary Hayes, our CIO and godfather of analytics, decided to build a technology center to educate business clients and third parties on our capabilities. I asked for a front and center space. We included all of our analytics initiatives, developed slideshows and conducted demos.
UAI: Would you mind sharing a few examples of your analytics successes?
Bell: Initially, we worked on how to use the data being generated by smart meters to improve operations. Some initiatives were driven by PUC orders such as diversion detection. We also worked on improving communications with our equipment and transformer load management. An important early success involved bill estimations. The market still settles on a cycle bill and before smart meters, we read meters once per month and estimated the unbilled revenue for the rest of the month. We realized that we could improve that process since we read every meter every day. We went from a 90 percent estimation of unbilled revenue to 0.01 percent, and seven plus people no longer worry about creating a forecast. Scott Prochazka, our CEO who was the COO at the time, told me that investors quit asking about unbilled revenue estimations after he was right for so many months in a row.
We really started to shine when we focused on driving operational efficiency. We built screens to provide real-time situational awareness and subsequently invested in a small company with a perfect platform for expanding situational awareness and operational efficiency for our company.¹ We've pushed situational awareness into people's iPhones, iPads and other devices. We’ve deployed a new damage assessment app that we used in our latest Emergency Operations Procedures drill. We can give access to contract crews who can punch a couple of buttons and draw to let us know about the damage and the equipment needed. This has taken off in Gas Operations as they want to make sure that we never miss a deadline on a leak in our six states/jurisdictions. We’re more efficient and making our workers’ jobs easier, and that's the point.
UAI: Looking back over the last several years, how has utility analytics changed?
Bell: Utility Analytics Week 2011 was a great event but we could fit into a fairly small room and knew everyone. There were so many people from so many different utilities embracing analytics at Utility Analytics Summit 2017. While some utilities are just beginning their journey, they realize that analytics will help them solve business problems. It is an exciting time for utility analytics.
¹The Treverity EDGE Platform has been referenced in Company Approved Presentations
The Utility Analytics Institute (UAI) is a corporate membership-based organization consisting of more than 110 operating utility companies and leading analytics solution providers. UAI’s mission is to enable its members to realize desired business outcomes using data analytics. CenterPoint Energy is a long-standing member and highly valued UAI member.