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Business intelligence and analytics represent the tools and systems that play a key role in a utility's strategic planning process, but a majority of utilities have immature business intelligence and analytics capabilities, according to the 2012 Utility Industry Survey by BRIDGE Energy Group.

The survey, which included over 14,000 utility employees, found that 53% of respondents widely admitted their organization had immature business intelligence and analytics capabilities - meaning they know about the potential of business intelligence, but do not necessarily have first-hand experience.

Regardless of maturity, 29% of respondents indicated that they are planning major business intelligence and analytics projects in the coming two years, while 62% are planning minor such projects.

Example projects that participants noted include initiatives as minor as introducing predictive analytics tools, as well as efforts as great as integrating advanced metering infrastructure data into an enterprise-wide business intelligence platform.

Survey participants revealed three main challenges impacting planned or ongoing projects: the integration of related systems and data stores, the supply and availability of staff with the right skills, and the limitations with current business intelligence tools.

In fact, 79% of respondents indicated the availability of knowledgeable staff and the integration of related systems as the top issues hindering business intelligence and analytics improvements.

Living with the smart grid - and improving utility operations, as a whole - requires a full-handed understanding of information technology, operations technology and industry-specific business acumen. Therefore, better information brings about smarter business decisions, period.

Analytics is more than just the heuristic of business insight queries. Robust utility enterprise analytics is also about having the dashboards, reports, search tools and technical insight to make and support value-driven decisions.

Six hallmarks of business intelligence

There are six hallmarks for utilities that help grow and develop their business intelligence capabilities:

Hallmark 1:
Visibility increases, particularly in the management and measurement of total business performance. To start, many utilities monitor the performance of certain key performance indicators in customer service or field service and seek to describe the new value chains created across existing business processes.

Hallmark 2: Transparency surges, bringing with it the opportunity for utilities to mitigate business and technology risk, support compliance, upkeep audit and control and promote visibility to material events at all levels of the organization.

Hallmark 3: Analyzing and monitoring data enables the business to improve a functional process across both internal and external stakeholders. For example, a field service technician reconfigures an outage management schedule based on data and analysis from customer service.

Hallmark 4: Timeliness becomes a driver in secondary, tertiary and even quaternary decisions, and optimization becomes a business lever whereas prioritization rubrics create constraints. Utilities at this stage might, for example, be able to react quickly to a change in engineering labor rates and decide to move up the design of new laterals even in the midst of other more complex projects.

Hallmark 5: Innovation, or doing business differently, becomes second nature and is no longer a special project requiring significant management oversight. For instance, a municipal utility begins to identify areas of infrastructure under-investment by cross-populating street repair surveys with power or gas infrastructure field surveys.

Hallmark 6: Productivity increases when people are provided with focused, relevant information. In turn, more utility employees can deliver evidence-based insight and make value-centric decisions.

Seems simple enough, right? Well, simplicity and elegance do require effort and come at a price. Utilities have, so far, focused on analytics and not the whole stream of tools and capabilities that enable business intelligence.

Overall, utilities must have the right people, processes and technologies in place in order to capture outcomes from business intelligence and achieve success.

Ethan L. Cohen is practice leader at BRIDGE Energy Group, a smart grid information technology services and software solutions provider. Cohen can be contacted at To get more information on the 2012 Utility Industry Survey, click here.

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