Rodger Smith, Senior Vice President and General Manager with Oracle Utilities dives into the modernization of CIS technology, the industries increase use of data analytics and the importance of being on “The Leading Edge of Innovation.”
Want to hear more from Rodger Smith? Click the play button below.
UMC: Your analytics solutions such as Oracle Utilities Analytics, DataRaker and Oracle OBIEE are helping utilities process information generated from big data that would otherwise go unused. How does this software improve customer satisfaction?
Rodger Smith: Customer satisfaction is one of the foundational pillars of every utility, and constant improvement in that area is one of the utility’s primary goals. Oracle Utilities’ analytics solutions support the goal of improved customer satisfaction in a variety of ways. For example, customer satisfaction can go up or drop dramatically in response to a utility’s ability to effectively deal with outages. Our distribution grid analytics improve a utility’s visibility to the network for capacity planning and outage prevention by identifying linkages that lead to overloads and outages so the problems can be eliminated before they arise. Analytics also uncovers utility network model inaccuracies that lead to poor outage response, so utilities can work to reduce the frequency and duration of outages. Further, when an outage does occur, outage data analytics help to improve SAIFI, SAIDI, CAIDI and CMI scores, and make it possible for the utility to deliver updates to customers accurately and faster via mobile devices and self-service applications.
But analytics help to increase customer satisfaction in other, less obvious ways, too. Our analytics solutions assist utilities in identifying and resolving meter and billing issues before they impact the customer, as well as assisting them in issuing bills based on better data. Prebuilt analytic KPIs and metrics in our solutions uncover insight for utilities into usage trends so that they can more effectively provide data-driven services and targeted outreach to their customers.
UMC: In what areas have you seen customer successes using advanced analytics?
Rodger Smith: Analytics are embedded into most of our solutions, so we are seeing customer successes across the board, in all areas of the utility business processes that we support. However, let me give you one particular example to more clearly illustrate the successes being achieved by our advanced analytics customers.
One utility used advanced analytics to drive smarter asset management. With the assistance of our DataRaker cloud service, the utility aggregated individual customer usage up to each transformer, and then further extrapolated these values into full-circuit models for use in evaluating equipment loading and increasing situational awareness to continuously improve the utility’s meter-to-transformer connectivity model. Once the transformer load shape framework was developed, it was applied to the utility’s entire population of distribution transformers, beginning with those that were suspected to be at risk. The utility now uses this type of analysis regularly as part of its summer and winter readiness activities.
Once the transformer load profiles were completed, the utility utilized DataRaker to further analyze its transformer failure data, looking for ways in which to improve its understanding of how to use hourly consumption data and mechanical thresholds to improve its transformer failure prediction abilities.
This one utility was able to realize savings of almost $1M across their service territory annually, due to avoided oil spill cleanups, avoided overtime costs and lowered transformer replacement costs, all the while improving SAIFI scores and reliability, resulting in increased customer satisfaction.
UMC: What is your opinion about the progress the utility industry has made in better utilizing data to improve operational efficiency and customer service?
Rodger Smith: The opportunities for utilities to better utilize data—both in operational efficiency and in customer services—are massive. However, in our research and work in analytics, we have found that the adoption of analytics by utilities has been slower than in other industries such as banking and retail, for example. There is exceptional value throughout the business for the use of analytics to transform daily operations and to drive strategy.
As utilities continue to identify their own most pressing needs and build use cases for analytics, the uptake will increase. We have seen that occur steadily in the past few years, particularly in areas such as reliability, operational efficiency, customer satisfaction and safety.
The challenge for utilities is to successfully adapt to a rapidly changing world of increased customer expectations—both in terms of engagement as well as reliability. The more utilities see analytics as core to that effort, to view analytics as the key to unlocking latent value and not just as a cost center, the faster the industry will move. We at Oracle are confident the industry is moving in the right direction, and are committed to providing the most complete solution with the quickest time to value. We are doing this by leveraging our investments in purpose-built utility applications, core data management and analytic technologies and cloud infrastructure.
UMC: You have two Oracle Utilities Express implementations of CC&B underway at Greenville Utilities Commission and Orlando Utilities Commission and you have completed CC&B Oracle Utilities Express Implementations at Louisville Water and COOP in the UK. What is the status of these projects and are there any early lessons learned about the express implementation’s effectiveness?
Rodger Smith: We actually have five Express customers in production and four projects underway. Some of the live customers have initiated other smaller add-on projects to take advantage of more functionality from other products. The projects underway are going well and are on schedule and either on or under budget.
Some of the learnings or observations we have realized along the way include projects and management support. Management support during implementation is critical to using an accelerator. With this support the implementation project is more predictable and makes fewer demands on the client resources. Projects with very active Project Sponsor involvement have benefitted greatly in terms of project effort and consulting costs, and, we assert will have a better more supportable solution. Also, creating RFPs that allow vendors to propose accelerated solutions such as Express would help project governance greatly.
We have also realized that while cost and schedule reduction and impact on internal staff were key issues for our Express customers, they felt that it was important to stay focused on the key goals and benefits of the new system. They felt that more time spent at the beginning of the project to define measurable business goals for the project would have made decision making during the process easier, and, helped their team focus always on the end business goals.
In general, our Express customers have given us positive feedback on the way the Express offering helps with functional application content. However, they have asked that we spend more effort on the other aspects of project effort. For example, in Express projects, where the time to design business processes, configure and customize business processes used to drive the project duration, we found that data migration and integration work became the critical path. To address these areas of effort, we are actively working on accelerated approaches to data migration, interface development, training, testing and production transition. For those customers willing to stay consistent with the pre-configuration in Express, they can expect to reduce the time and effort for these other aspects of the implementation.
UMC: Some utilities have made the decision to modernize their utility’s information systems using Oracle Utilities products. What advantages do you see for a utility that makes Oracle Utilities solutions their standard technology?
Rodger Smith: As the industry continues to change, utilities are being pushed to innovate, and are looking to technology to help them make the leap. Trying to innovate, to add new programs and services and increase operational efficiency with existing legacy systems means they are spending much of their time tying together existing applications and attempting to maintain a legacy infrastructure that is straining with the increased demands upon it. As a result, many utilities are increasingly replacing legacy systems that no longer meet their growing needs and are taking bold steps to modernize major portions of their entire technology platform.
Two of the biggest barriers to innovation are time and cost. The third is risk: utility IT teams spend a lot of time integrating their applications and then managing those integrations back to their existing in-house applications or other third parties, and they spend a lot of time maintaining the integration, maintaining the movement of data between the applications, and maintaining upgrades. Oracle offers a truly modern and integrated platform—one that is both flexible and extensible—allows a utility to move forward at its own pace, adding new capabilities as they are needed. This allows utility IT teams to shift their focus from integration fine-tuning and maintenance to driving new innovation in the utility’s business processes and in customer experience.
UMC: CS Week 2015 awarded Oracle Utilities customers with several Expanding Excellence Awards for example, Orlando Utilities Commission, for Innovation in Customer Service, Green Mountain Power, for Best Mobility Implementation and City of Burbank Water and Power for Best CIS Implementation. As a company, how gratifying is it when your clients receive acclaim for innovation due to implementation of your software?
Rodger Smith: Obviously, it is immensely gratifying to see our utility clients receive well-deserved acclaim for their innovative efforts, and we are proud of the role our solutions have played in their success. It is also immensely gratifying to work with forward-thinking utilities who are dedicated to innovation in the ways in which they approach increasing customer satisfaction and engagement and managing their operations more efficiently. In many ways, it is the utilities that challenge us to come up with new and better solutions to the issues they are facing, and the utility teams who then implement our solutions to address one set of challenges and then say, “Now let’s use it to do this for us, too.” That’s true innovation, and, for us, that’s validation that we’re on the right course.
UMC: Oracle serves so many different industries. How does experience across different verticals benefit the utilities you work with?
Rodger Smith: We feel that Oracle’s deep experience in many different industries gives us a definite, leading-edge advantage that directly benefits the utilities we work with. It’s the best of both worlds, really. Our utility customers not only gain the experience of an Oracle Utilities team dedicated solely to the energy and utility marketplace, staffed by a mix of industry, technology and operating professionals with many years of knowledge and practice in this space, but they also gain access to the solutions and applied knowledge from other industries facing similar challenges.
UMC: Mobility and Cloud Technology are two aspects of technology that are being thoroughly engaged by other industries. How do you see the utility industry capitalizing on this technology in the next five years?
Rodger Smith: Utility consumers expect applications and information to be available through phones, tablets and other mobile devices, and employees expect the same. We are delivering responsive design in our applications to support a better user-experience on devices like iPads and Android tablets, including features such as screen reconfiguration, zooming, the ability to use gestures and the like. In addition, we will deliver point-specific applications designed for mobile. For example, an asset management application designed for ding site or asset inspections, or a customer sales and service application that will provide diagnostics and customer service information in a format specifically tailored for mobile devices.
The utility industry is in the midst of significant transformation, experiencing changes faster than at any time in history. Utilities are looking to new technologies to support this transformation—technologies that empower utilities to tackle new challenges, deliver new services to customers and reach their strategic goals. With increasing frequency, utilities around the globe, of all sizes and types, are turning to the cloud as an attractive alternative to on-premise software delivery. Utilities considering the cloud often have these key goals in mind: adopt innovation more quickly, simplify IT management, take advantage of Oracle’s scale in delivering Oracle applications and decrease time to value.
Oracle Utilities continues to make significant investments to move our applications to the cloud with the goal of offering a complete utility software suite delivered in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. Today, we have Oracle DataRaker and Oracle Utilities Mobile Workforce Management available in a SaaS model. We will be releasing SaaS versions of Oracle Utilities Meter Data Management and Oracle Utility Analytics in early 2016. And we won’t be stopping there – you’ll see our other products move to the cloud shortly thereafter.
Combine these applications with Oracle Enterprise Management Cloud, Oracle Talent Management Cloud, Oracle Sales Cloud, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Oracle’s Java Cloud Service and Platform as a Service and utilities are able to run almost the entire business in the cloud.
UMC: Keeping with the theme of the previous question, how does Oracle foresee the Internet of Things (IoT) will affect the utility industry? What advancements have been made already?
Rodger Smith: Drawing on the success of Uber and AirB&B, IoT opens the door for new crowd-sourced energy services providers. In terms of affecting the industry, IoT is an enabler of true step change transformation of utility business models where utilities can serve as distribution system platforms for delivering value-based energy services and products to consumers, in addition to continuing to serve as traditional distribution service providers.
We are seeing advancements now by utilities that are experiencing significant growth within their distribution grids of consumer-driven distributed energy resources (DER). Forward-thinking utilities are using these DER to address grid-level optimization, reliability and outage management challenges. As well, utilities are now harnessing another dynamic of IoT, mining the data created by the proliferation of low-cost sensors across the grid to manage asset risk and improve performance.
Oracle has an IoT Cloud Service and distributed energy resources management system (DERMS) solution that we offer to the market and we are excited to work with more utilities on this opportunity.