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Embedding Analytics from the Ground Up: Training and Projects

By December 20, 2019February 5th, 2020No Comments

In 2018, UAI, published Ensuring Success in Analytics:  A Playbook for Utility Executives, which provided advice to utility leaders on how to de-risk analytics deployments. The findings, based on interviews with analytics stakeholders at leading utilities, delivered insights on talent, process, organizational learning, architecture and governance.

Since that time, utilities have made good progress in some areas; less in others. This blog series will revisit that study. First up, how have utilities fared in finding and grooming talent?

A grassroots approach, combining coursework and “learning by doing” has helped two utilities to embed analytics into the work culture. These efforts are worth a look.

Utility 1:  Coursework Plus Learning by Doing

Exelon Utilities committed to creating a data-driven company. With the backing of executive leadership – the utility has a chief analytics officer – three levels of analytics training were developed:

  • Level 1 – awareness. Offers a basic understanding of how analytics applied to data can be used to solve utility business problems. Access to a self-serve video-based learning program that can be done in parallel with the enrollee’s “day job”.
  • Level 2 – adoption. Teaches methods and techniques to leverage data. University level coursework is tailored to specific personas – data visualization, product manager, data engineer, modeler, data general specialist, and programmer.
  • Level 3 – leading. Application of advanced analytics. Provides the opportunity to work in “pods” to address complex Utility challenges using analytics methods learnt during previous levels.

The program, piloted in 2018 with 120 employees and a graduation rate of over 90% in Level 1, was considered a success. A quarter of Level 1 graduates were expected to move on to Level 3; almost half did. Now, these employees are engaged in analytics projects that have already contributed significant value to Exelon. Level 1 has now been offered to nearly all of Exelon’s employees, and current enrollment is 700+ employees.

Utility 2:  Storytelling Helps Spread the Word

Consumers Energy is also committed to embedding analytics within the organization. After initial development of cases and investment in analytics platforms and IT architecture, employee participation was lower than expected. IT, in partnership with Learning & Development, led an effort to stand up an analytics university with three modules, with mentorship available in each:

  • Module 1 – online courses. Introduces data science, data ethics, visualization, analytics tools (R, Python).
  • Module 2 – hands-on training. Familiarizes enrollees with utility datasets, includes hand-on exercises and culminates in a hack-a-thon focusing on utility use cases.
  • Module 3 – storytelling. Teaches the art of storytelling, preparing graduates to act as mentors and ambassadors for the program.

In the first round, over 145 employees completed all three modules. Immediately after graduating, employees were tapped to work with pre-existing agile analytics development teams. For example, a graduate who worked in customer operations helped with the backlog of the marketing analytics team.

What utilities’ efforts have in common

As in most initiatives, the key is executive leadership. In both examples, leadership clearly demonstrated a commitment to analytics. Employees get leeway from their superiors to participate, plus the completion is a visible “feather in one’s cap”.  Self-paced online courses also help enrollees keep up with their studies when work is particularly busy.

Each utility has identified analytics use cases. Use cases are suggested by customer and grid-operations related business units and prioritized by utility leadership. The well-defined use cases provide “real life” applications, helping enrollees understand how analytics can be used in their work.

Both utilities offer an opportunity for employees to “plug into” the analytics community after completing their courses.  For example, each utility has agile analytics teams along with defined organizational models that help propagate analytics.

From project to continuous improvement

According to the business lead of one utility’s initiative, creating a truly data-driven utility requires making a transition from a project mentality to embedding analytics into every-day work, through visualization and/or advanced analytics. There is still work to be done.

At this point, top-down defined use cases are the focus. The next step is to create a feedback loop that can float up new ideas that emerge during analytics work, making analytics both top-down and bottom- up.

So far, there are no career ladders associated with completion of these programs. The jury is still out as to whether to develop new roles and responsibilities as a follow as an additional incentive to encourage participation.