Lynn Barnes, VP, Data Analytics & Insights, Ameren
To deliver safe, reliable, and affordable energy, Ameren relies on the hard work and dedication of our 8600 co-workers to manage and operate a variety of energy centers, tens of thousands of miles of wiring and gas mains, nearly one million utility poles and an ever more complex customer service and IT system. In the utility industry, business never stops. Ameren’s electric and natural gas subsidiaries power the quality of life for 2.4 million electric and 900,000 natural gas customers across 64,000 square miles in Illinois and Missouri, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Its transmission subsidiary also facilitates the reliability and capacity of local and regional electric transmission as a member of the Midcontinent Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc. (MISO).
This complex infrastructure covering tens of thousands of square miles and serving millions of people offers the potential to gather vast amounts of data from which to develop insights to increase operational efficiency and better serve customers. However, the information is only as good as the insights that can be extracted; it isn’t uncommon for energy utilities to be rich in data but lacking in a robust analytics staff with the proficiencies needed to unleash its potential.
To better leverage data’s potential for game-changing innovation, Ameren has dedicated a team of professionals to collect, secure, analyze, and develop new tools to transform information into actionable insights to benefit the customers, communities, and shareholders we serve.
"Ameren invests in new tools and partnerships to maximize business value, increase reliability and leverage future technologies"
Successful implementation of advanced data analytics means more than just crunching numbers. It begins with collaboration and communication with co-workers and community stakeholders to understand needs, identify appropriate data sources, and finally, develop the right tools to extract and provide data driven insights that lead to actions. Ask important questions at the beginning of the journey, such as: What business problem needs to be solved? What are the data sources? How and where will the data be stored and kept secure? And how will you ultimately use the analysis?
Working in close collaboration with Information Technology is also vital to developing successful advanced data analytics. The proper amount of pre-data collection research should be completed before engaging in building tools. Because the models used in data analytics, as well as the end-user interface, can be developed from many different types of software programs, and data storage options may vary based on the type of data being accessed. Moreover, a strong partnership with IT from the beginning is critical.
At Ameren, the advanced data analytics team is working with IT and other stakeholders to assess and improve vegetation management. At an annual cost of $100+ million to maintain the vegetation around our assets across our service area, analytics will help ensure the proper balance of environmental stewardship and maintaining safe and reliable service. Gathering data such as rainfall patterns, tree canopy and soil makeup, in addition to historical cost and outage data, provides a more complete picture of the landscape to optimize vegetation management spends. Ameren’s newly developed analytics tool will allow us to optimize vegetation management crews while also increasing reliability for our customers.
Data analytics can also provide meaningful customer insights. The acquisition and analysis of customer segmentation data continues to be valuable in developing the demand landscape from which to prioritize products and services development. Data and related insights from customer surveys, phone and email interactions, and social media are used to develop customer service enhancements. This information is even more meaningful when combined together to build predictive models to develop insights about customer preferences.
Ameren is spearheading numerous initiatives and partnerships to find innovative solutions to meet our customers’ future energy needs and expectations. The technologies identified will provide even more data sources, resulting in a growing need for advanced data analytics to isolate the insights and drive more data-driven decision making. It’s one of the ways we are leading today to transform tomorrow.
One example of a new technology that will provide more data is Ameren’s recently announced partnership with Atomation-an Israeli-based technology company who moved their U.S. headquarters to St. Louis to partner with us on a pilot program.
Atomation is installing small, low-cost sensor packs on dozens of our utility poles. The packs will remotely monitor the integrity and health of the poles, allowing us to pinpoint issues in real time and respond more quickly and efficiently to operational issues. The program is being conducted at our Technology Applications Center in Champaign, Illinois, a testing facility dedicated to innovation and smart-grid improvement. This program has tremendous potential for enhancing service to our customers as well as for cost-effective monitoring and operation of the energy grid. As this and other technologies like it mature, more data will become available, increasing the demand for advanced data analytics to extract actionable insights from the data to drive business value.
As technological advancements impact traditional utility business models, Ameren and energy companies across the country are focusing on the need to mine meaningful data and leverage that data for better forecasting and data-driven decision making to bring greater value to our customers and our shareholders.
The solutions we discover will enable us to continue to efficiently deliver the products and services our customers most value, today and for generations to come.