Utilities can Drive Efficiency, Cost Savings and Improved Performance with Clean Data

By Sean Zintel, GISP

From manufacturing and transportation to retail, nearly every industry now uses data as a driver of efficiency and operational improvement. For utilities and pipeline operators, data can offer many benefits and it is becoming more important than ever in an era of increasing regulatory compliance.

Yet many utilities are not making the best use of technology and are saddled with antiquated manual systems that limit the accuracy, timeliness and accessibility of that data. Real-time information can help utility and pipeline operators improve efficiency, reduce risk, ensure compliance and improve customer satisfaction.

Clean Data is Valuable Data

From tracking customer usage to quantifying the risk of outages and locating pipelines, data is essential to operating a utility.

Yet McKinsey said in a recent article that utilities face several challenges in making data work for them and taking advantage of the benefits of accessible, relevant data. Many lack the technology to adequately collect, manage and process data, and even fewer have clear analytics strategies that focus on converting data into a measurable bottom-line impact. “Many energy companies have observations and maintenance tickets that could yield valuable data for predictive maintenance, safety and other uses cases, yet all too often this data is waste because digital observation tools and text-mining capabilities are lacking,” McKinsey says.

According to the consultants, conservative estimates supported by rigorous use-case analysis suggest that advanced analytics can reduce rates to the customer or boost utility profitability by up to 10 percent. Bain executives wrote in a recent article at Forbes.com that analytics can also help reduce costs, improve reliability, and deliver value through better customer engagement.

One of the best ways to improve a utility’s data is to start with solutions that involve the front-line crew members engaged in inspection, compliance and construction. The Grid Modernization Multi-year Program Plan Developed by the U.S. Department of Energy is forcing many utilities to reduce peak loads, improve security, lower operational costs and increase the integration of renewables. Deloitte noted the continuing growth of such regulations and new innovations means utilities can’t fully predict what standards they may face next year or five years from now. The aging infrastructure, growth in consumer demand, and impacts from innovation coupled with increased scrutiny from regulators are driving utilities to revisit “significantly dated” asset management protocols, Deloitte said.

Solutions for Capturing and Managing Data

While most utilities know that they need a better means to capture, manage and process data, many don’t know where to start. Those that want to get ahead of the problems should perform detailed assessments to identify asset management programs and categorize operational data.

They must upgrade their antiquated systems and manual processes with new technologies and solutions. Putting tablets in the hands of inspectors and front-line workers with a robust analytics solution can make clean and real-time data accessible to all stakeholders up the line. Bain recommends seeking a few “quick wins” to build momentum. Teams can start their data journey with off-the-shelf and custom solutions and tools then build up their capabilities to extend their expertise.

An enterprise-level GIS solution can be a good starting point to integrate information from many external and internal sources into a common framework. Bringing together many disparate tools under one platform can help reduce manual processes, eliminate the need for paper maps, and provide a central repository where inspectors, contractors and engineers can access all data they need in one place.

Having clean, real-time data available when needed offers many benefits. It can increase efficiency by saving countless hours by eliminating the need for paper forms and reducing the time spent gathering information for compliance reports. It can also streamline workflows by integrating more automation and reducing redundant data entry. The improved accuracy of data can produce cost savings, lessen the risk of compliance failures, and support better decision-making when it comes to asset management.

Customer Centricity in the Data-Driven Age

As clean data will pave the way for regular compliance and future improvements in the utility industry, McKinsey says analytics transformation must be embedded into the culture and organization of the utilities. Because utilities lag other industries in digital maturity “the value at stake from such a transformation is substantial,” McKinsey said.

Now is the time for utilities to upgrade their data assets and capabilities with a client-centered solution provider that can meet their needs and enhance their performance.

A data software solution should offer a flow of real-time information from the field to the executive level, all with toolsets that enable designated users to view information, schedule tasks, manage data and extract reports. Such solutions should also be designed to grow with the ever-evolving needs of the client to enable easy and efficient data collection with real-time access to data, whether that be an inspection or a construction product.

Closing the gap between technology and performance potential starts with accurate, timely and accessible data. That’s where GeoCurrent comes in. Contact us today to demo our suite of cutting-edge solutions.