A utility company moving to smart meter technology needed a path to build a modern data platform that would accommodate streaming data and decision science capabilities.
- Current state assessment
- Technology and skill set gap analysis
- Roadmap to a modern data platform
- A flexible action plan forward that can adjust to new components and needs
- Scalable, future-proof data platform that internal teams can maintain and update
- A bridge to advanced data engineering and decision science capabilities
The Challenge: A Desired Future, An Unclear Path Forward
Like many industries, energy and utilities companies have been shifting to technology especially internet-of-things (IoT) to improve efficiency and customer service. One utility company with nearly two million customers began this process to move to smart meter technology. This new IoT system allows the company to remotely collect a lot more information about utility usage and, ultimately, garner insights on their customers. However, as they collect all of this data with IoT devices, the organization also needed a platform to store all of that data and make it meaningful.
The company knew where they wanted to go: a modern data engineering infrastructure that could handle the amount of streaming data they would now have and a way to continuously extract insights from that data. But they were not sure how to get to that state and internally didn’t have the expertise or bandwidth to figure out the right path forward.
The Solution: Building a Roadmap to the Future
The utility company partnered with 1904labs to help answer this question: how do we get there?
To establish the right path to the organization’s goals, our team started by determining the current state of their architecture. Interviews with key stakeholders helped determine the pain points and future limitations. Data storage and processing were near capacity within the on-prem data centers and there was no provision for a data modeling environment (needed to enable many of the desired business capabilities). We analyzed this current technology against a data maturity model.
Because the utility company was considering Microsoft Azure for their cloud provider, the team proposed a modern architecture built on Azure. Understanding the need for flexibility, quick wins, and early insights, we advised that the company build a separate architecture in Azure, while retaining their existing data platform. With this set up, they can quickly enable a variety of new business capabilities while not affecting the existing system. Internally, this gives project stakeholders the ability to demo these modern capabilities in the cloud to gain buy in while maintaining the status quo. As buy in is obtained, those capabilities can be promoted to staging and then cloud production. This setup also allows the utility company to make the transition as quickly or incrementally as needed, with the ability to turn off existing infrastructure when ready.
In addition to the technology roadmap, the team performed a gap analysis of client skill sets and provided a plan for how to train their existing staff, with the option to train alongside our teams as the platform is built.
Our Process: Human-Centered Design Agile
Leveraging our HCDAgile process, we conducted extensive interviews with employees within the utility company to gain an accurate picture of the current state of their data platform and the needs of the future state. The team spent a lot of time understanding the current architecture in order to build a plan that would be sustainable and not burden or constrain existing operations.
While the client had some idea of where they wanted to go, they were not clear how to get there. The stakeholders also didn’t have a strong understanding of the problems in the gap between their current state and desired future. To answer those questions, our team of designers and technologists framed the problem as their own: what would we do? How would we want this platform built? We focused on understanding their challenges in order to build a roadmap tailor-made to meet those challenges. For example, one internal dynamic project stakeholders faced was that early roadblocks could kill new initiatives within the large organization. With that, flexibility became a critical feature of the roadmap to easily make quick adjustments as its progress encountered roadblocks.
The Outcomes: A Future-Proof Action Plan
A flexible, actionable plan forward
The utility company now has an actionable plan to their end goals. While they knew where they wanted to go, the roadmap provides a step-by-step process for them to get there. Built with flexibility in mind, it also gives them the ability to adjust as future goals and needs may change. With the new architecture, they can try out new ideas at low risk and cost.
Roadmap for a scalable, future-proof data platform
The platform roadmap accounts for the utility’s current technology and skill constraints. The new platform is one that their current staff can easily be trained on and can maintain themselves internally. It is also built to grow with the company. As they add new data sources from potential acquisitions, the system is designed to support those additions.
A bridge to advanced data capabilities
Most importantly, this roadmap gives the utility company a bridge to the advanced data capabilities they were looking to achieve. The platform will enable them to process streaming data and extract meaningful insights.
Ultimately, once implemented, the organization will be able to provide better customer service with capabilities like real-time utility usage metrics with comparisons to similar households or businesses, cost savings with usage alerts, remote accessibility, and flexible billing. Operationally, the platform will allow the company to save a significant amount of money with accurate forecasting, enhanced safety, proactive system planning, and streamlined customer sales and retention.
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