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Three Actions to Advance Data-Driven Decision Making

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Without good ways to handle data, we often default to making decisions with a little data and a healthy dose of gut feeling. With enough experience, this approach can yield favorable results if conditions don't change. However, utilities are facing major changes at every turn, and many of the most experienced employees are nearing the end of their careers. We need more business intelligence (BI), better use of data, and a little less gut feeling to make the best decisions.

In my early driving days, driving directions were on a yellowed paper map from the glove box. Often, driving decisions were based on gut feeling. Before we had real-time traffic analytics, directions were often the cause of lively disagreements. "I always take Route 101 to Anytown." "You're crazy to take Route 101! It's Monday and the quarry trucks will have it all blocked up!" "If I leave before 7:00 a.m., it's still faster than Old School Road!" We always managed to get there, but we make much better decisions today using data. We know the best route, estimated time of arrival, and the options—all based on real-time traffic, weather, and construction activity.

Every day, utilities generate all kinds of valuable data about their business. The list of traditional data is long—customer billing, employee time cards, work orders, operating parameters, customer calls, budget/actual, etc. These all contain the “raw material” to make business decisions. We've added new data from sources like smart meters, equipment monitors, and vehicles. The challenge is to take unfiltered and unorganized raw data and turn it into decisive action.

Executives and employees alike recognize the insight potential from better understanding conditions and identifying trends. BI can translate insights into actions and increase effectiveness in every corner of the utility, turning raw data into intelligence.

These three actions can help organizations with vastly different levels of maturity make better decisions using data and analytics. Work in steps and do what you can do. Maybe you can't do everything but do something. Keep moving forward. If necessary, overcome being stationary.

1. Talk about Data

Set the example by reporting and communicating with data yourself. What kind of data story are you telling? Build a culture that values decisions based on data. Make it a priority in your sphere of influence to discuss the relevant data and its implications. Your behavior will encourage your sphere toward gaining valuable insights, considering multiple variables, forecasting, and asking meaningful questions.

Analysis is all about the questions you ask. Decide what is most important and ask questions about how to do it better. Questions about data often lead to even better questions, deeper insights and, ultimately, better decisions. Get in the habit of questioning gut feeling recommendations. Ask about the underlying data. "What data supports this recommendation?"

With your priorities in mind, set specific goals to improve efficiency, lower costs, or reduce processing time. Consider some questions: What objectives and actions will support those goals? What data do you have? What do you need? What data can you get?

As you talk about data, find a great business goal and identify the insights that will clearly produce better decisions. Champion this goal to demonstrate better data-driven decision-making and secure an early win building support for this approach.

2. Improve Access to Data

Using data in these ways involves different skills and considerations that can hinder new users. To facilitate access to data, improve access to data expertise at the same time. Consulting someone with expertise can help unleash the ideas of those that are timid or unsure.

Communicate about the data you have. Put your data conveniently in front of users enabling them to envision their own uses. Create a data catalog or a forum for sharing data. Consider adding free or affordable data from external sources to your collection.

Applications are structured with different outcomes in mind. Therefore, data formats can vary significantly. Where possible, determine and enforce data standards on a go-forward basis and invest time modeling your data to support your desired outcomes.

3. Provide Great Tools

Aside from encouragement, clear goals, and open access, people need tools to help answer those questions. The answers will enable new processes for better decision-making based on solid information rather than hunches. Start with training. Consider training about data formats, modeling, and manipulation. Encourage employees to take advantage of free online courses. Sending those with an aptitude to formal training will also send a message that you are taking data analytics seriously.

Invest in analytics software tools to help find the best time or location, determine hot/cold spots, or make predictions. Invest in tools to present results in clear meaningful ways. Move datasets to more robust formats like a warehouse or historian. Finally, be proactive about data governance and security to ensure the best long-term data access.

Promoting the value of data to support decision-making is the first step and leads to many questions. To answer those questions, make sure you provide appropriate data access and the necessary tools.

What does spatial technology have to do with data-driven decision-making?

The industry is changing on nearly every front. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that over 50 percent of the utility workforce will be over the age of 55 in less than 10 years. Those valuable, experienced decision-makers are leaving the workforce. Now is the time to build new decision support capabilities and find the gems in your precious data.

Utility data is by nature very location intensive. Assets, employees, and customers are all located somewhere. They all must relate to each other's location. Examining raw data through the lens of location opens the door to greater insights and more meaningful visualization.

The ArcGIS platform delivers a complete solution providing instant access to many forms of critical data and offering outstanding analytical and presentation capabilities. The platform fosters excellent communication and collaboration between all users. Move forward seeing data in new ways with deeper insights and understanding of location for better data-driven business decisions.

For more information about how the ArcGIS platform enables electric utilities to make data-driven decisions, click here.

Pat  Hohl's picture

Thank Pat for the Post!

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Esri, the global leader in geographic information system (GIS) software, builds the most powerful mapping and spatial analytics technology available.


Karl Colins's picture
Karl Colins on October 23, 2018

It was very exciting to read how the industry is changing

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