SEDC is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and provides comprehensive enterprise solutions and support services to approximately 300 electric distribution utilities across the United States.
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Southeastern Data Cooperative (SEDC) provides comprehensive enterprise solutions and support services to approximately 300 electric distribution utilities across the United States. Founded in 1976 by original member co-ops, their goal has always been to think about the future of utilities and the communities they serve. Throughout the years, they have evolved their solutions and services from hardware to software and now offer solutions for everything from financial applications, meter data management, GIS / mapping, advanced analytics and reporting to work management. The purpose behind such an exhaustive list of solutions is to give their members a 360-degree view of their utility and workforce data, which in turn can help them make better business decisions. This is especially salient for smaller utilities that don’t have the same resources as their larger peers.
Breaking the Utilities Mold with Tableau Software
As an industry, utilities often lags behind when it comes to investing in modern analytics solutions. Reasons for this resistance vary from organization to organization. Security and control are of the utmost importance, and it can be difficult to persuade some organizations to shift from legacy technologies that aren’t familiar to their own people. For others, it’s a simple reluctance to change from a “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality to something better. The point is that there are generally more barriers when moving from legacy systems to modern systems.
The wheel broke, however, when Robert Basaraba, VP of Strategic Projects at SEDC, began looking for a better way for the SEDC membership to interact with and share data as part of their software solutions. As an organization that provides robust billing and accounting reporting to its member co-ops, SEDC needs to deliver data in an efficient and clearly understood manner. Like many utilities at that time, they were reliant on custom-coded programming and legacy systems like Access or Crystal to carry the weight of reporting. After internal discussions about the need for more efficient and robust solutions, conversations emerged weighing DIY options with Hadoop and Cassandra vs. more market-ready options from external vendors. Because SEDC didn’t want to wait eight months to develop a single model, burning countless man-hours in the process, they began laying the groundwork for a feasibility study on vendor solutions.
To help them sift through the “technobabble” coming from many different directions, Robert reached out to InterWorks to help declutter the noise and zero in on the most important aspects of each potential solution. This expedited the study, and Tableau Software soon emerged as the clear frontrunner. The real sticking point of proving Tableau’s value to the rest of the organization, particularly those still in the DIY camp, was when it came to something as simple as changing chart types for a given data visualization. The effort to do this in a more DIY manner with Cassandra and a Jaspersoft frontend was significant, involving multiple work orders and a two-to-three-day turnaround. In Tableau, by comparison, all it took was one click and a matter of seconds. These types of prove-it examples directly demonstrated Tableau’s value to them, which ultimately helped them make the decision to move forward with the platform.
“InterWorks helped us accelerate our learning curve, meet deadlines that were otherwise unattainable, and shorten the time it took us to get a solution into a production environment.”
– Robert Basaraba, VP of Strategic Projects, SEDC
The Big Data Explosion
Once SEDC made the decision on Tableau, they immediately set to the task of building a more defined business practice around their data. To assist in this endeavor, they again sought the help of InterWorks who provided Tableau training and ad hoc dashboard design as needed to give them an excellent start. Bringing in this type of help early on greatly accelerated their timelines of delivering value to their membership via Tableau, which they were now embedding within their member-facing software solutions.
- Early success with Tableau accelerated project timelines
- Tableau effectively handled increasing data volumes
- Query performance streamlined with Snowflake
Early success with Tableau allowed SEDC to begin pursuing more data-driven initiatives. The new capability afforded to them by Tableau to quickly analyze their data dovetailed nicely with new technology transformations occurring with their customers, specifically with electric metering. Prior to this technological shift, electric utilities would physically visit their customers’ meters once a month to manually record their register reading on a piece of paper. For a 50,000-meter utility, this would generate about 600,000 manual readings per year. Now, thanks to automated “smart grid” infrastructure, utilities can measure meter readings remotely in sub-hourly (or 15-minute) intervals. For that same 50,000-meter utility, that results in 1.7 billion readings per year.
With data volumes increasing by thousands of percentage points, SEDC was soon faced with mountains of data that Oracle data warehouses simply struggle to handle with the efficiency they need for timely reporting in Tableau. This resulted in a less-than-ideal user experience due to the length of query response times and the iterative nature of Tableau. On top of that, SEDC was working with a statewide organization where mutual members desired simultaneous access to meter data to better manage their power delivery infrastructure and energy management programs.
To help them forge a path ahead and find a solution to their new big data challenge, SEDC once again turned to InterWorks. Having navigated this challenge with various clients in the past, InterWorks knew the perfect cloud-based data warehousing platform that SEDC could leverage for better performance over large volumes of data: Snowflake. Together, SEDC and InterWorks developed a plan to stand up a POC in Snowflake. Three days later, they were loading data into their pilot model. Within 30 days of start, SEDC completed their objectives with their statewide organization partner and were opening up a high-speed cloud option to all of their membership. Massively streamlining query performance in such a short timeframe proved the value a cloud-based data warehouse could bring to SEDC.
User Adoption Leads to New Use Cases
As SEDC began to mature in both their application knowledge and their newest technology platform, their membership began to recognize many new benefits. This resulted in a string of exciting and new use cases for SEDC’s analytics-focused solutions. In particular, they delivered a lot of value through their High Bill Detection dashboards built in Tableau. These dashboards allow utilities to immediately alert customers of potential problems if their bill is abnormally higher than normal. Because this data is reflected in a clear and visual manner, they can proactively identify potential problems ranging from hot water heater leaks to low refrigerant or heat pump sequencer malfunctions in air conditioning units. In a random sampling of 200 site visits that were strictly based on data analysis using the platform SEDC provided its membership, they found an actual issue hit rate of 87%. This is transforming their membership’s customer service model from being reactive to proactive, enhancing the customer experience and saving money.
Example Use Cases
- High bill detection
- Hot water heater leak detection
- AC heat pump sequencer malfunction detection
- Low refrigerant detection
With practical results manifesting across SEDC’s membership, more and more people began asking questions of their data and Tableau. As more people took an interest in the platform, and self-service discovery became the norm, an internal user group among SEDC’s membership began to emerge. This was a place where Tableau users within SEDC’s membership could share knowledge, help each other and even collaborate on new projects. People became so interested in data that the data-focused sessions at SEDC’s 2019 User Conference were absolutely packed. This new mode of data analysis had officially caught on within the SEDC community and began spreading outward.
New Frontier, Same Collaborative Spirit
When SEDC began this new chapter of data discovery, they did so in full knowledge of the numerous challenges that awaited them due to the nature of their industry. But with great risk often comes great reward, and SEDC and its Analytics team worked through these challenges with the help of InterWorks.
“When we tried to form committees internally, we usually wound up being a divided group. InterWorks helped present an unbiased view when assisting us in technology assessments, giving us clarity in what a future direction would look like if we went down each of those roads. We feel like we made better decisions because of it.”
– Robert Basaraba, VP of Strategic Projects, SEDC
By combining perseverance with proof, SEDC was able to show the value of advanced analytics to its customers. When they began utilizing this technology stack at greater scale, they began to boost performance and enhance user experience further. These bold investments resulted in their membership asking more questions of data and spurring them to expand their knowledge base. Today, SEDC and its thriving data community are uncovering insights previously thought unattainable with legacy systems, and they’re doing so with remarkable agility. In the end, this means that SEDC as a core enterprise software provider and its membership can make better business decisions to benefit them and their customers. More than that, they’re proving that positive data change can happen in some of the most change-resistant industries. The beauty in data is that the results speak for themselves.
“InterWorks are the first technology consultants I’ve worked with that take an interest in getting you started down the right road and then letting you travel it. When you come to the proverbial fork, they’re there to offer guidance. I come from an IBM-partner background and have seen consultants that manufacture a situation where they never leave. They build so much complexity into a solution, that you never get rid of them. InterWorks is a fresh approach to business helping business.”
– Robert Basaraba, VP of Strategic Projects, SEDC