April 28, 2021

Current Data and Analytics Trends in Utilities

Barry Ellis

Barry Ellis

Managing Director, Data Science and Analytics

At Utegration, a large part of the work with do with our clients is in the area of analytics. In this article, I will share several observations about the analytics capabilities utilities are currently seeking most, and which technologies are in the best position to support industry needs and priorities.

Visualization
In large organizations, the task of developing reporting and dashboards is either a shared task with IT or a completely self-service endeavor by the business. However, there are many utilities still heavily dependent on IT to build and maintain reporting services. Fortunately, the highly competitive market for analytics tools is creating more automated features to enable less skilled individuals to create impactful content. SAP Analytics Cloud and PowerBI both integrate some simple machine learning model integration to automatically analyze a set of data, identify key influencers to performance, generate dashboards, and more.

We believe these tools will continue to evolve and make it easier for non-technical business users to quickly conduct meaningful analysis and provide deeper insights into what is happening and why it’s happening. In fact, these analytics tools (SAC and PowerBI) also can generate insights to the data and can prompt deeper analysis or suggest actions to be taken.

Data Warehousing/Data Lakes
There are several interesting trends related to data warehousing that we are seeing with some utilities. Those using SAP BW as a platform are either slowing additional investment or planning to replace it with some other alternative, likely based in the cloud. One reason is that utilities that are planning to implement SAP S/4HANA also are planning to support embedded operational analytics. So using BW only for data originated in SAP is no longer a popular strategy with the capabilities of S/4HANA.

Secondly, the major investments in digitizing the business generate large volumes of data that are more easily (less expensively) placed in a data lake. We are seeing many companies replicating data to AWS S3 and then to Redshift or Snowflake. We’ve seen moves to GCP Big Query and Azure SQL Data Warehouse as well.

SAP, not to be outdone, also released their Data Warehouse Cloud product that has some pre-delivered content for meter-to-cash that is worth evaluating and represents an interesting move in the direction of virtual data warehouse/business user enabled replication but with governance by IT and transparent cost controls.

Data Services
Advances in network speed and in-memory databases and the explosion of data have made this are very dynamic driver of analytics architectural debate and wonder. Virtual data warehousing, data replication technologies and data pipelining are gathering adoption. We are beyond just simple data extraction and transformation tools (ETL) and many visualization tools offer light data wrangling and transformation capabilities to support self-service.

Traditional client server-based ETL tools like Informatica or SAP Data Services have enjoyed a legacy of deployments in many organizations but are becoming less popular options related to moving data to the cloud. A popular approach is to use a data replication tool to capture real-time changes to a data lake in the cloud and then transform to a relational data warehouse in the cloud from there.

We are fielding questions related to products like Alterix, Brightflow, Talend, and Fivetran, all recently released in the last 5 years or so. Additionally, there are data pipelining products being adoption by data science teams that manage data inflight and enable decision making at scale. These newer toolsets are being evaluated whether they should be part of our reference architecture.

Analytics Strategy
A common pain point we see for utilities is the need for an evergreen analytics strategy that will align the business need for analytics with their overall objectives and business strategy objectives and measure business outcomes for analytics projects that will support long-term success for utilities looking to serve their customers best.

Utegration offers advisory services in this area and would be happy to offer our expertise. Contact us today. We can provide a free consultation to discuss how to get started.