Southern Company is recognized as a bellwether utility in the United States and around the world. This leadership position is owed not just to its size – it’s operating companies serve over nine million electric and gas customers, generate more than $21 billion in revenue, and employ 28,000 employees – but also because its leaders apply technology to improve operations for employees, customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders. In fact, analytics technology has helped Southern Company leaders better understand the effects COVID-19 has had on its operations and guide them in taking steps to effectively ride COVID’s fluctuation waves.
Analytics uncover meaningful trends from mountains of energy forecasting data
Cre’Shannon Reuven, Operations Analytics Manager at Southern Company, epitomizes leadership for the company and its use of advanced analytics. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics and operations research, she has the academic foundation necessary to confidently bring Southern Company’s analytics work into the new decade.
“We needed to analyze mass amounts of data, and we knew we needed to use advanced analytics modeling to get at the insights that we were expected to deliver,” Reuven said. “There was a desire to move away from a ‘gut instinct’ standard toward a standard where managers throughout the enterprise could rely on deep data insights to solve business challenges.”
To get to this level of insight, Reuven knew they needed not only the “cool” analytics capabilities found in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, but also the ability to manage massive data sets and provide needed granular insights.
“Our team has been doing analytics for a long time, but over the last 10 years we have seen our use of analytics expand,” said Kenneth Shiver, Southern Company’s Director of Planning and Regulatory Support. “We have done a good bit of dashboard work in the past but are now getting into deeper analytics – building models and using data to answer difficult questions.”
Pivoting analytics platform from marketing to industrial load forecasting
Southern Company has been a SAS customer for nearly 30 years, but Reuven’s team only recently acquired access to the SAS® Viya® analytics platform. Southern Company originally used SAS Viya for marketing analytics, but Reuven and her team pivoted to use SAS Viya for insights into COVID-19 era commercial and industrial loads.
“Prior to our using SAS Viya, we simply didn’t have the capability to ingest massive data sets,” Shiver said. Reuven and her team worked with Southern Company load forecasters and energy traders to determine how the global pandemic shrunk Q2 commercial sales by 11% and retail sales by 8%. The team provided game-changing insights that ultimately led to insights that helped determine the over $300 million dollar impact to revenues that the company needed to navigate due to the effect of COVID.
Analytics powers the future of Southern Company
The Southern Company team will further leverage its analytics capabilities across the enterprise in the future. It will apply analytics to the utility’s Smart Neighborhood initiative being piloted in Alabama and Georgia. The Smart Neighborhood initiative puts analytics to work on a variety of tasks from managing neighborhood microgrids to optimizing the use of renewables and storage at each home so residents can make intelligent choices about energy consumption.
The Southern Company team also has its eyes on the future workforce required to keep its analytics efforts rolling for years to come. Reuven takes an active role in engaging students attending University and Colleges within the Atlanta Metropolitan area. For example, she enthusiastically brings Clark Atlanta students, one of her alma maters, into Southern Company as interns so they can apply what they’re learning on campus in the real world. She also works with students to prepare them for careers after graduation.
In fact, Southern Company and SAS have helped the university improve the technology available to students to ease the transition from college to work, critical for keeping the utility’s and the entire utility industry’s forward posture in leveraging analytics to meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.
Mike F. Smith is an Industry Principal at SAS; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-smith-b501a739/. Laura Brumley works in communications at SAS and can be reached at email@example.com.