Enhanced customer satisfaction and optimal service delivery is being driven by the traditional utility’s transition towards an increasingly digital approach. With this in mind, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE)– a subsidiary of the Exelon Corporation and Maryland’s largest gas and electric utility – in conjunction with the other Exelon utilities,continues to develop and execute a long-term‘utility of the future’ strategy.
Building new capabilities for the future has included substantial investment in smart grid and smart meter infrastructure, introducing new real-time grid transmission and distribution data, where BGE’s smart meter infrastructure delivers interval usage information that can help customers understand their energy consumption profile.
As a result, increased unique operational data is generated, which is transforming opportunities across field operations to the front-office interactions with customers.
Recognising the need to put new operational data to work, and the realisation that advanced analytic solutions were finally maturing, BGE and Exelon Utilities launched a formal programme called Business Intelligence and Data Analytics (BIDA) in January 2017.
The BIDA programme focuses on five key domains with each contributing substantial impact across a variety of value levers including improved reliability, enhanced customer experience,operational efficiency (e.g. customer interaction),energy efficiency/demand response adoption, safety improvements and establishing the new capabilities to support the utility of the future.
The five domains represent over 120 key cases with many more being identified and assessed.
The data analytics platform (DAP) was built with modern analytic tools and infrastructure,supports the delivery of the BIDA programme,enables data scientists, and supports each of BGE’s operating companies.
Naturally, every large initiative has a number of key challenges and this project was no different:
Analytics architecture and vendor ecosystem: BGE not only focused on consuming the right data to enable advanced analytics algorithms and customer energy behavioural analysis with key strategic vendors but did this in a way that enabled their operations to deliver new use cases internally in the future. This required a fair amount of early solution design iterations upfront to get the foundation correct. In addition,during this project one of their strategic providers was acquired, which created some additional noise to manage through.
Data Ingestion: BGE’s ability to deliver new and relevant energy efficiency insights requires the ingestion of large volumes of data from a variety of source systems (e.g. advanced metering infrastructure interval data, customer billing systems, and interaction preferences).
Working closely with their IT analytics enablement team they were able to work through the timeliness of data requirements through significant tuning efforts.
Getting the customer experience right: This initiative pushes the customer’s insights from the various analytics outcomes in a relevant and impactful way, through BGE’s various customer channels (e.g. Web, SMS, and agent channels/engagement).
‘Utility of the Future’
Despite the challenges, as of July 2018 BGE’s customer satisfaction ratings, as measured by internal and external parties, have improved significantly from prior years. In addition, BGE was recognised as one of the top utilities for customer awareness through its energy efficiency programmes. These have led to customers reducing their usage by more than 221 GWh since the BIDA programme began in January 2017. That’s enough energy to power all the homes in College Park City, MD (Home of the University of Maryland Terrapins) for an entire year.
To enable the ‘Utility of the Future’, the BIDA platform will provide that premier customer experience that customers are familiar with through interacting with companies like Amazon,Google and Netflix. Customers will save money thanks to analytics-driven energy efficiency insights such as high bill alerts, intelligent tip targeting, optimised rate plan recommendations,normative comparisons and an end-to-end customer engagement strategy. In addition, power outages will be reduced due to improved storm response analytics and network connectivity.
When looking at implementing a similar model,top-down support is essential for any strategic programme and even more so in emerging areas like analytics. BGE and Exelon Utilities senior leadership understood the strategic importance of analytics as its central role in the company’s digital transformation, making the utility of the future a reality for all BGE’s customers.
Looking at analytic use case delivery as a programme with a defined start and finish should be avoided. BGE and its sister utilities are working hard to establish a sustainable analytics culture moving forward. They have recently launched the Analytics Academy to begin making that culture shift. The company’s analytics organisation is also charged with defining, prioritising and delivering high-value use cases that will improve the performance of thousands of employees and enhance the experiences of their 1.2 million customers.
This governance also enables future, yet-to-be realised forms of value. Under the philosophy that ‘we can’t understand what we don’t yet know,’ the programme has established a tool and a framework for identifying future use cases, a process for ingesting new sources of data, and an organisation to create new analyses on those new data sources.
The most unexpected project result has been the level of human interest in the full-scale data analytics programme. This has been a much welcomed surprise. From the CEO’s support and investment in the BIDA programme to data scientists creating advanced algorithms spanning multiple organisations and customer segments to business analysts volunteering to dedicate weeks of their time in an analytics academy to better serve customers, the amount of excitement and dedication inspired by this initiative has been great to see.