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Electric Utilities and Data: A Case Study, Part II

May 22, 2019
A data analytics tool has led the Central Georgia EMC to data-driven destinations that other utilities will also find worthwhile. This is the concluding part of a two-part series.

The CGEMC provides a wider perspective about how advanced analytics can go beyond Engineering and Operations (E&O) in their CGEMC-led presentation titled: “Using ReportIQ Across the Office: Visual Analytics are not Just an Engineering and Operations Tool.”

Top ReportIQ utilization areas at CGEMC

Ben Thomason authored the presentation, and has visibility into the range of the CGEMC’s ReportIQ use cases, as part of his role as chief operating officer. Thomason says, “It is important for other utilities to understand that they can benefit greatly from ReportIQ’s advanced analytics capabilities, even if they are not working with engineering- or operations-use reporting.”

The presentation highlights how ReportIQ not only provided valuable use case benefits within the co-op, but also how it led to a measurable and significant overall increase in customer satisfaction among the co-op’s membership. Thomason sees how ReportIQ has enabled improvements in customer satisfaction in two categories, one which he calls ‘proactive,’ and the other which he considers ‘retroactive,’ as follows:

In ‘proactive’ situations, Thomason provides two current examples to illustrate how the CGEMC is using ReportIQ with great positive impact on members. He says, “We are now able to reach out to our members and tell them that we noticed that their usage has spiked recently, and they figure out that they have a leaking hot water heater, or discover they left their big chest freezer in the basement running continuously with its door open. And they are so grateful because we make sure they understand we are simply passing along information even though we tell them they can use energy any way they want.”

In ‘retroactive’ situations with members, Thomason says, “Because of ReportIQ, now, when a member calls in with a high bill complaint, nine times out of 10 our data enables us to give the member surprising insights. ReportIQ helps pinpoint when a member’s usage patterns have changed, down to 15-minute intervals. Then, the member realizes that the bill was high for specific reasons, such as the fact that relatives were staying over with their big RV plugged in, or that the spike was from their child’s big birthday party because they’d left all the doors open on a very hot summer day.”

Member-owners at CGEMC are benefiting directly from the co-op’s ability to use detailed usage data to provide valuable insights. In fact, ReportIQ has helped the co-op achieve its highest-ever customer satisfaction rating.

Thomason says, “We were thrilled to see we broke all our prior customer satisfaction ratings, especially during a span of time when we were impacted by Hurricane Irma. We received an American Customer Satisfaction Index score of 87, on ACSI’s scale of 0 to 100.”

ReportIQ creates an open road of opportunities

Taking the wider view from the top, CEO Weaver says, “Advanced analytics provides unlimited efficiency opportunities for our utility, and for other utilities regardless of size. It does not matter whether your utility’s current software solution sets or distribution systems or business situations are very different from ours.”

Opportunities for improvements of existing processes run the full gamut both in and out of E&O, and include: The ability for CEOs to easily and cost-effectively justify data-driven recommendations to their board members; to better data-driven tools for utility member service representatives; to outage summary reports clarifying geographic and operational trends; to tools that help field crew members in their day-to- day tasks. ReportIQ is uncovering opportunities which, Weaver says, “Utilities could not have found years ago. With data analytics through the SEDC, now we can zero in on efficiencies in areas that we did not have the ability to work on before.”

Arant’s experiences echo Weaver’s, when it comes to ReportIQ’s unexpected additional benefits. In this regard, Arant says, “My colleagues at the CGEMC and I never would have imagined how broadly embraced SEDC’s ReportIQ advanced analytics tool would be within our cooperative. People have realized what a great tool it is, and how easy it is to organize information.”

Benefits with ReportIQ at the CGEMC are also associated with ways in which the solution has enabled employees to maintain current data in areas where it would have been difficult to do so in the past. In these data-driven areas, CGEMC employees now ensure the data is updated more frequently. Before ReportIQ, certain routine data-driven reports were so time-consuming and difficult, they tended to be done less frequently, despite the fact that having more timely output from the reports would have been valuable. This has been a natural transition at the CGEMC, since ReportIQ makes it easy to do the updates with a few clicks.

Along with numerous direct efficiency benefits associated with easier updates for more accurate data, indirect benefits include ways in which more up-to-date data improves safety and helps inform better decisions. In addition, both time-wise and mentally, employees are freed up based on their utilization of ReportIQ to pursue additional higher-level tasks of importance to their utility. In this way, being data-driven created great opportunities for change at CGEMC.

Being data-driven became enjoyable. It turned out to be about more than just having the right tools. By enabling flexible workflows for easily extracting actionable intelligence, ReportIQ helped shift the culture at the CGEMC to one of continuous improvement.

When it comes to forging improvements in new areas, the CGEMC also sees value in how ReportIQ supports capabilities to target marketing of new programs to the optimal subset of co-op members for whom the offerings would be of the most value. Such ancillary offerings could include the utility helping members save money in new ways based on timing and costs associated with the HVAC or other appliances’ usage, or based on shifting the charging pattern of their electric vehicle to minimize peak demand charges. Patterns in real-time data could even be utilized to predict imminent failures of equipment and/or provide services to help homeowners and businesses optimize maintenance of their appliances.

Thomason says, “ReportIQ is now our go-to resource enabling us to work with data by running lean without running ragged.” He suggests, “Big data needs to be seen as an opportunity, not a threat, because with big data comes big opportunities. It enhances the human element rather than replacing it, because the human element will always be needed. In this regard, ReportIQ helps people across all different departments in our organization to paint pictures and create profiles based on data, and focus on other issues that are more pressing rather than having to be bogged down in the details about managing the data.”

A look forward: "Cresting a new hill" on CGEMC’S data-driven drive

As Arant looks back to the start of the CGEMC’s journey with ReportIQ, he states, “From an innovation perspective, I think we are on the cutting edge, as far as the reporting we’ve been able to create. The CGEMC’s utilization of SEDC’s ReportIQ solution has been a big game-changer, across the entire culture and organization of the CGEMC. I find it amazing how woven into the fabric of the CGEMC’s continuous improvement processes the ReportIQ tools have become, including how we now rely on logic and clarity in areas where the decisions might have been less data-driven than we thought at the time. Our priorities in decision-making and in the educated guesses of the past were influenced by emotions or hunches without us knowing it.”

“It is hard to imagine a time without ReportIQ. It’s like the way we now sit around and wonder about how we ever managed to live life before smartphones. Where once it seemed like a foreign technology, now it’s a necessary part of our day and we can often take it for granted,” says Arant.

“We are in a continuous discovery process. It is a very exciting effort,” Arant says, adding, “ReportIQ has allowed us to learn and understand things about our distribution system that we never thought of before. We are now ‘cresting a new hill’ and looking ahead to a future where we see things in new and exciting ways. So far, the destinations we’ve arrived at are better than anything we would have expected when we started, even though we started with very positive expectations.”

Arant sees operational optimization on the horizon. He says, “It has become a great shift and is about really engaging our imaginations. Now we know how to ask the right kinds of questions, and we also know where the data is, and how to use it to get more insightful answers. Gone are the days of trying to address an issue and finding ourselves stumped halfway through the process. Now we address complex challenges with rigor, because we can take ReportIQ and apply logic to it for quick and reliable answers.”

Now the CGEMC is thinking about operational optimization not as an issue that needs to be corrected or fixed, but as a way of building a situational awareness system in real time that allows them to operate better.

Momentum to move forward

Thomason expects each utility will see its own unique data-driven destinations and future opportunities on their horizon. Those opportunities will resemble the CGEMC’s experience in some areas, and be different in others. Some opportunities will improve upon how current tasks are done, while others will involve improvements in entirely new areas.

Arant says, “If you are not using ReportIQ, it’s worth looking into to see what it can do for you. And if your utility is using it, you should connect with SEDC’s ReportIQ team and the user community to discover its full potential. We found, even though our original use cases for ReportIQ continue to bring a lot of value, we were able to reach a deeper realization of benefits once we made ReportIQ more widely available across our co-op.”

Where does your utility want to go on its data-driven drive? How will employees across your organization use data in new ways in the future when looking at optimizing how you are serving your community and running your business? Will you join the CGEMC and other ReportIQ users in their community as they continue to strengthen their sharing of innovation and data-driven best-practices?

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

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