Big Data Reshapes the Utility Industry

Big Data is the buzzword du jour, but it’s not just about the Internet. Big Data is impacting a variety of sectors, including the utility industry, by enabling the development of intelligent infrastructures that improve service delivery, reduce interruptions, and save costs over the long-term by optimizing assets and processes.
utility polesFor the utility industry, Big Data is at our fingertips thanks to utility asset tags, pole markers and other tracking mechanisms that streamline data collection. Combined with modern software applications with powerful analytics capabilities, identifying relationships and opportunities is not only possible, but instant. It’s this technology that facilitates the optimized, data-driven and intelligent utility services delivery consumers demand.
Run-until-failure approach is outdated
Utility companies spend millions of dollars just maintaining the infrastructure required for the constant delivery of services available today. Even small utility companies are faced with maintaining, repairing and replacing hundreds of thousands of assets between meters, poles, transformers and the many things in between.
Traditionally, utility companies tried to get the most use out of every asset using a “run-until-failure” protocol. This method of operation replaced assets only when repair was no longer possible or fiscally logical. But this method resulted in service interruptions, and fails to emphasize the value of preventative maintenance and proactive detection of malfunctions in extending the usable life of an asset.
This tide is shifting, with utilities now armed with the technology required to take a more proactive approach to maintaining assets. The Utility Analytics Institute says, “The utility industry is now at the precipice of a new era of asset management,” pointing to the now readily-available data gathered from the last several years of intelligent infrastructure use, which enables utility leaders to make informed decisions and maximize the value from every single asset in the field.
Asset tracking facilitates proactive asset management practices
Asset tracking is the fundamental component of Big Data in the utility industry. It’s through unique asset identification that we’re able to closely monitor assets on an individual level, maintain detailed usage, maintenance and repair history, and analyze that data over time to identify key patterns and opportunities.  These six key data points are just a few of the vast amount of critical data that is now easily obtainable to drive strategic decision-making in the utility industry:

  1. Usage – By monitoring usage demands on an individual-asset level, utilities can identify thresholds at which certain assets begin to lose efficiency or become at risk of overload or malfunctions. This data informs planning by enabling utility companies to spread out demands on infrastructure strategically to ensure that individual assets are functioning at optimal performance levels.
  2. Maintenance – Detailed maintenance records reveal shortcomings in maintenance processes, issues with frequency and service delivery complications. This information is helpful in determining the optimal maintenance patterns that result in the longest lifespan for each asset, which ultimately means a greater return on investment.
  3. Repairs – Repair history is critical data for utility companies. This information reveals trends that can help identify problematic assets, which in turn allows managers to make informed decisions regarding vendor selection and asset utilization to reduce repairs and associated costs going forward.
  4. Capital Investment – Utilizing assets from a new vendor is no longer a shot in the dark. Utilities can easily track vendor statistics in terms of response times, shipping delays, average lifespan, usage thresholds and other data that enables managers to easily identify the vendors offering the most ROI.
  5. Profitability – It’s not just asset functionality and capabilities that impact the overall service provided by a utility company, but the efficiency with which those assets are utilized to provide the best possible service to customers. By analyzing profitability from different regions within the service area, utility managers can identify relationships between this data and other factors, such as outages, customer service complaints, and overall cost of delivery. If some regions are more profitable than others, it’s now possible to identify why and implement changes to other segments to increase the overall bottom line.
  6. Regulatory Compliance – Regulatory compliance issues are critical for the success of any utility provider. Tracking asset-specific compliance issues isn’t merely helpful for avoiding regulatory concerns in the future, but it’s often required under state or federal guidelines.

It’s not just the ability to collect this data that makes such a significant impact on the utility sector, but the fact that the data is no longer siloed. That means a much more streamlined approach to data collection is coupled with the ability to easily identify meaningful relationships to increase productivity, reduce costs, improve service delivery and ultimately, boost profitability. By tapping into Big Data and asset tracking, the utility industry can become more effective and efficient for years to come.

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