The Internet of Things, empowered consumers, stringent regulations and digitization have changed the approach towards data in utility industry, said Sudheer Warrier, vice president and global head of utilities for Tata Consultancy Services. Utilities all over the world have more data than ever.
What started with the dominance of smart meter data has continued with social media comments and sensors. And, according to Warrier, this is only the beginning. Next will be a wave of automated demand-side management, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, distributed generation with companion storage and consumers whove morphed into prosumersall of it creating (or desiring, in the case of those consumers) more data.
Warriers Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is a tech giant from India that is often named one of the worlds biggest brands, and they do just what their name implies: They consultalong with offering business solutions and servicesall underneath that big information technology (IT) umbrella.
TCS has done a lot of work under this umbrella, in factfrom tariff policy framework with a leading Australian energy retailer using analytics to unearth a progressive tariff policy for solar PV to helping a European utility understand consumption using a non-intrusive load disaggregation algorithm to preparing U.S. utilities with a storm management solution.
And, whats also under that big IT umbrella? The growing concept of big data. TCS recently completed a study in 2013,with over 1,200 global companies, on that growing big data wedge of the umbrella. They found that utilities spent about $10 million apiece on big data issues in 2012. (Yes, apiece.) But, dont worry. TCS also noted that wasnt super unusual and was, in fact, pretty much in line with other industries surveyed. (And, just to make you feel better, utilities are actually cheap in this arena compared to telecom companies that averaged $25 million, though TCS sees utilities gaining in this area to an average spend of $20 million by 2015.)
So, whats all that money buying us?
A good return on investment (or ROI), according to TCS.
Of the 11 industries in the big data study, the utility industry reported the highest ROI on big data74 percent average vs. 46 percent for all 10 industries combined, said Warrier.
Why are we getting a better ROI than others? It all comes down to the data itself, which is highly concentrated in nature and can be used across multiple areas within the utility. Think of utility data like laundry detergentconcentrated gives you more loads with less liquid. Its the same with the big data inside utilities.
So, just how are utilities disseminating this data? Hows it being used across those multiple areas? TCS survey noted that most utilities are looking to reduce cost, improve quality and identify those existing customers who might buy extra products and services.
Other concepts gaining traction with big data use in our industry: enhancing customer experience through gamification, new product & service creation with device-level consumption analytics, more disaster/storm management use, reliability based in predictive and risk-based thinking and, of course, revenue protection or stop stealing our stuff, which is the bane of every company that makes or sells a product.
If a lot of those sound more like a retail company than a utility company, welcome to the future of both the utility industry and how it uses data. That parallel will only continue to grow, along with a focus on the customer. (Those disruptive technologies like PHEVs that we discussed earlier? All customer-centric.)
Also customer-centric and new data to utilities: social media.
And, just so you know utilities, social media can help with that ROI, too (as it does with retail).
Investments in social media are also paying off, said Warrier .Of the 53 percent of utilities in our survey that said they measure social media ROI, only 19 percent said it was negative vs. 33 percent that said it was positive.Interestingly, utilities that have more presence on the Internet are having more return on investments.
While this is all positive news, Warrier does warn of several challenges to address before utilities can reap the full big data benefits.
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