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Electric Utilities and Data: A Case Study, Part I

A data analytics tool has led the Central Georgia EMC to data-driven destinations that other utilities will also find worthwhile. This is the first part of a two-part series.

Could your utility benefit from better data visualization and advanced analytics reporting? Ben Thomason, chief operating officer at Central Georgia Electric Membership Corporation, would answer that question with a resounding and confident “yes!”

The SEDC’s ReportIQ Advanced analytics has led the Central Georgia EMC (CGEMC) to data-driven destinations they believe other utilities will also find worthwhile, regardless of their organizational structure or their level of technical expertise. As Thomason puts it, “It’s often a misconception to think these data-driven tools won’t be of value outside of technical areas, such as engineering and operations. They are of great value to customer service, call centers, marketing, and many other areas. Regardless of job function, once people get a taste, they want to use ReportIQ more, because it brings greater insights and makes their jobs easier.”

Once its user community expanded beyond Engineering & Operations (E&O), the CGEMC found ReportIQ not only improved efficiency and effectiveness across the organization, but also led to benefits and discoveries way beyond anything they could have expected.

Start your engines toward efficiency

The CGEMC’s Senior Vice President of Engineering and Power Supply, Herschel Arant, explains how they started on their current path. He says, “We selected ReportIQ because it is both easy to use and sophisticated. ReportIQ’s mix of standard and customizable tools continually helps our organization improve efficiencies across a wide range of use cases.”

But CGEMC’s selection of ReportIQ was only made after a lot of research. They started their search for better analytics tools after finding Microsoft Excel and Access were unable to handle the large quantities of new meter data they wanted to analyze.

With the CGEMC’s new Advanced Metering Infrastructure system’s readings being done every 5 minutes, they were going from 12 to 105, 120 meter readings per member per year. Across the CGEMC’s entire service territory, this yielded an astounding 5 billion data points annually. The CGEMC also had an abundance of additional data they wanted to blend and analyze coming in from other sources.

After conducting multiple vendor site visits and reviews, the CGEMC personnel made detailed evaluations of several different vendors’ data analytics and grid operational analytics solutions. The CGEMC evaluation team found that these solutions didn’t offer the desired set of capabilities, and were not cost-effective. They also lacked enterprise-wide integration. The CGEMC selected SEDC’s advanced analytics ReportIQ solution because of the solution’s strength, ease of use, flexibility, and cost effectiveness.

As the CGEMC expanded use cases beyond E&O, they started to see how ReportIQ was driving general organizational advancements. They did not expect advanced analytics would go the extra mile by also causing their organization to change, and to improve its processes for achieving desired business, service, and engineering results.

Arant continues, “We’ve all heard about data-driven decision-making, but there was a time in the past where we were left making assumptions, where complex issues were addressed with educated guesses.” But, he says, with ReportIQ, “Now that is a thing of the past. We have the ability to extract data from an endless number of sources, from which we can blend, and analyze the data. We know we are equipped with all the analytical tools and dashboards that can be used to visualize the most accurate results, and in turn we are making decisions based on the best information.”

Arant also sees great value in the ReportIQ community within and beyond the SEDC, adding, “We continually deepen our efficiency improvements by leveraging the support and innovations of the SEDC’s ReportIQ team, along with the very active sharing of a large and growing user community.”

Driving efficiency and bypassing silos

The CGEMC chose as its advanced analytics entry point a “big bang” use case with ReportIQ, involving a line-loss reduction project. The CGEMC’s cost structure, like most co-ops, makes line-loss reductions a big savings area.

The line-loss project turned out to have been just the beginning of a great journey. As Arant says, “We saw the line-loss tool as a more complex situation to address, even though the things we learned with that use case have enabled us to ask all sorts of new questions about the enterprise.”

For the CGEMC, each 1% of line-loss reduction is conservatively estimated to save the co-op more than US$750,000 annually. The CGEMC is already enjoying significant savings from the line-loss reductions enabled by ReportIQ, with losses now below 3.5%. Once the CGEMC’s annual line-loss savings were in place, all the savings in future years become an ongoing benefit since they are effectively locked in. In the future, the CGEMC hopes to find new ways to lower line losses even more. (For detailed reporting on the line-loss reduction project, see the article Herschel Arant wrote for Transmission & Distribution World Magazine’s column, Grid Innovations, “A Data-Driven Utility” dated February 27, 2018.)

Map and graph showing statistical line loss

The way the co-op has extended the use of ReportIQ analytics to other departments with a sense of widespread enthusiasm naturally stems from the organization’s long-standing tradition of efficiency.

Arant says, “From top to bottom, starting with the leadership of our CEO, George Weaver, we always talk about how we can improve efficiency across the entire spectrum of what we do here.”

ReportIQ users drive insights based on newfound abilities to analyze patterns and trends in data.

Weaver says, “No matter your staff size or department structure, you will find, as we did, that the SEDC’s ReportIQ enables employees throughout a utility organization to discover new ways to keep the cost of electricity as low as possible while providing the best class of service, and making it easier for them to do their jobs.”

Across an ever-increasing number of analytical dashboards and reports, the efficiencies and organizational improvements associated with the CGEMC’s data-driven drive are growing. Personnel at the CGEMC are using ReportIQ to improve efficiency and workflows across a wide range of functions. According to Thomason, the following 10 areas use ReportIQ the most:

  1. Billing
  2. Marketing
  3. Customer Service
  4. Engineering
  5. Field Service
  6. Metering
  7. Corporate
  8. Human Resources
  9. Operations
  10. Finance

The SEDC’s ReportIQ advanced analytics solution has helped CGEMC break down barriers between departments. As Weaver observes, “In the past, we had different islands of technology that did not all communicate with each other, but now ReportIQ has enabled us to pull information from various areas into one source. Workflows are being optimized within and across departments, by blending data from disparate sources and displaying unique reporting and insights in varied ways. Employees’ imaginations are being fired up since they no longer have to focus on cumbersome data-related tasks and can instead address higher-level improvements.”

The data updates happen rapidly and produce dramatic results. ReportIQ automates the extraction of data from diverse sources and enables related updates. There are instances where the system is automatically performing tasks that previously would have taken one employee the equivalent of a full-time 40-hour week to complete, or longer. Such extractions of data are used for periodic reporting — hourly, daily, or less frequently — based on situation and need.

In a matter of minutes, ReportIQ users are able to create new custom reports and charts that previously were of lower quality and took hours to finish. Graphics engage personnel to quickly get a sense of the status of a trend or situation, or the performance of specific assets. They can easily create, adjust, or update visual dashboards with quick drag- and-drop interfaces.

The data-driven results have propelled the cooperative towards progressively better processes across the entire organization. As Weaver sees it, “Employees are now able to utilize ReportIQ’s more accurate and timely information, whether from AMI or other databases which were so much more difficult to work with in the past, all to the benefit of the cooperative and communities being served.”

Data-driven answers prompt better questions

While each utility’s data-driven destinations will vary, a common theme involves ways in which advanced analytics helps employees solve problems, become more efficient, and make better recommendations to management. And employees are doing all of this with greater confidence that they can justify their recommendations based on their ability to perform deeper analyses using more accurate and up-to-date data, even when the data is extracted and blended from diverse sources.

The result of the ReportIQ enterprise-wide approach is that, as Arant puts it, “Empowered employees throughout CGEMC are eliminating the guesswork used in the past and instead are asking better questions, and getting better answers.”

As Arant describes the process further, it becomes clear how a continual deepening of efficiencies follows as part of the process. According to Arant, “Our employees take their better answers, and improve processes, and often go on to dive deeper into asking more challenging questions. They are able to do this by analyzing visual data dashboards and observing what drives data-specific trends. They use more up-to-date information, because data-intensive updates that used to take hours are now being done easily, and better, in minutes.”

To be continued in Part II.

More information is available about SEDC’s ReportIQ via email at [email protected], or at this link.

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