Black & Veatch VP: More utilities need to embrace data analytics

In an effort to grow and develop into the future under the “working smarter instead of harder” concept, Scott Stallard, vice president of Black & Veatch's energy unit, said recently that utility companies such as his should not only study the data it collects, but also learn from it and make adjustments based on it when necessary.

“The spotlight needs to be on the use of data analytics that extracts actionable system knowledge that will reduce costs and better position leadership to improve their organizations’ performance,” Stallard said. “It is important, however, to avoid grouping all data analysis into the same bucket. In many cases, data analytics remains an aspirational resource.”

Despite the apparent need for data analytics for the success of the energy industry, Stallard said there still are many utilities that have not yet adopted an active program.
There has been little or no increase in the integration of utility analytics programs into practice, current reports from Black & Veatch’s 2015 "Strategic Directions: Smart Utility" publication, said. In fact, over 30 percent of those surveyed said they still do not know what types of analytics their organization uses.
The good news is that there are some analytics being used. Registered descriptive analytics are up to approximately 35 percent usage, and closed-loop optimization has risen to a rate of 28 percent. Another promising trend is that where programs are being used, the concept is being driven by younger, more tech-savvy senior leadership.
“Over the past year, the discussion has shifted to the role of analytics in asset management and capital investment planning functions that fall more into the predictive/prescriptive realm,” Stallard said. “This demonstrates where leaders are trying to use data to better make future decisions vs. gaining a snapshot of what is currently happening in the organization.”
Although it may take some time, Stallard said the movement for more aggressive use of analytics to shape the future of the energy landscape seems to be gaining momentum, and should eventually take hold.
“We believe that analytics programs will continue their evolution from those programs focused on customers and individual assets within an organization to programs informing the comprehensive needs of the enterprise,” Stallard said. “Evaluating strategic options and business case development functions requires more complex analytics systems, or combinations of systems, to help utility leaders plan for an increasingly challenging business environment.”

To more effectively address these challenges, utilities need smart analytics capabilities that will provide visibility that allows for improved interaction with the customer and understanding of the organization,” Stallard said. “Armed with a range of options, and likely outcomes, operators can work to avoid collisions with customer needs and build synergies to strengthen their networks while ensuring the viability and service that communities expect.”

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