How a Major Electric Utility Customer Improved Business Agility
Today’s utilities are facing a lot of uncertainty about the future direction of their business and industry. Market forces such as the democratization of energy, the popularization of solar energy, the impact of decarbonization, and changing demand patterns caused by electric cars and fluctuating gas prices could mean new business models or regulator environments for electric utilities.
Staying Competitive Through Business Agility
With all of these challenges, utilities need to find a way to remain competitive. Enter the growing concept of business agility, or the ability to quickly adapt to changing market and customer needs. A key component of business agility in this environment is partner relations. Utilities will need new technology and energy acquisition partners and will need to manage those relationships efficiently to improve their business agility and keep pace with industry changes.
Data is a Bottleneck
But here’s a situation that happens all too frequently. A company wants to do business with another company, executives do the negotiations, promises are made, a deal is struck. Then it comes time to integrate data and the process slows to a halt because bringing third-party data into a business system gets very complex. If the business analyst can’t do it using a spreadsheet and macros, then the IT team is called in to manipulate the data. All the while, the clock is ticking and the partnership is not moving forward. The partner becomes frustrated and may choose to go elsewhere.
Data integration is a growing solution to this problem that allows utilities to more smoothly and quickly – sometimes within hours – integrate external data files into a business system. Data integration is powerful, but it’s no easy task and therefore has historically been in the realm of IT. But as utilities seek to expand their agility, there has been a movement to simplify this technology in order to provide software that can be used by the data analysts or customer integration teams that are close to the customers.
Energy Acquisition Partnership Example
Acquiring electric energy assets is a great example of the data integration challenge facing utilities.
An energy company and other energy vendors have a heavy need to integrate each vendor’s uniquely formatted data into the main system in order to finalize an acquisition. Too often, energy companies have home-grown or manual systems for this data integration that dramatically increase the time involved in onboarding a new acquisition. However, they also carry the risk of inaccurate information.
This was the case for an Astera energy corporation customer with nearly 400,000 ratepayers. The company received information formatted according to each of its energy vendors’ own systems, which meant manually copying that data into the company spreadsheet. Macros then had to be run in order to produce an output file sufficient for the company’s current acquisition system. The inefficient process was consuming valuable time and resources.
The company’s IT staff wanted to build a uniform process that would import vendor data directly into the acquisition system. The solution had to be able to handle each vendor’s file format, as well as translate some of the vendor-specific terms. The new system would have to be flexible and scalable, because new vendors and their proprietary formats are added all the time.
After evaluating available technologies on the market, the energy company chose Centerprise Data Integrator because it provided an easy-to-use interface that enabled users to quickly map the vendor fields to the company’s own fields.
Centerprise allowed the energy company’s partner team to convert the data, taking a project off of the plate of IT without sacrificing the flexibility, scalability, and functionality required for the energy company’s complex application. At the same time, the team was able to quickly and easily map new vendor data to the main system.
The company was also able to take advantage of the software’s static lookup functionality to translate vendor-specific codes.
Now, any time data needs to be integrated from an existing vendor, the energy company can open up the transfer setting corresponding to that specific vendor file format. For new vendors, a new transfer setting can be created in a matter of minutes and saved for reuse.
Business agility is a macro solution for many of the challenges that face utilities, but data and data integration are the foundations for making the whole effort successful. Data integration technology is a major step forward and should play a key role in the data processing infrastructure of all utilities.