Across most industries today, data is king, and utilities firms are no exception. By 2025, there will be 175 zettabytes of data in the global datasphere – this equates to every person on earth producing at least 1.7MB of data every second. From humans, machines and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to edge systems and beyond, data is everywhere. It’s the fuel powering everything we do, and if used to its full advantage, has the potential to greatly improve operations and services for energy providers.
However, with different approaches to data – namely utilizing data products or approaching data with a project mindset – which is it that enables energy companies to make the most of their data investments and build greater resilience in global supply chains?
Limitations and challenges of the traditional data project methodology
With a project mindset, each time a business function has a problem that it wants to solve with data, an organization must start a project to acquire the data, cleanse and prepare it, then analyze it for that specific use case. And each time a new business problem or use case arises, it follows a similar process for its specific need. This approach, however, has significant drawbacks across the breadth of the energy industry supply chain. Not only is it often slow and leads to duplicated work, but the outputs from each project typically can’t be repurposed to solve other use cases.
Despite these obvious limitations, many utilities firms still approach data this way, which can result in a lack of integration between different data sources and tools – not to mention make it difficult to get a complete picture of operations and customer needs.
This methodology can also hinder collaboration and communication, and limit scalability. As new data sources are added, it can become difficult to manage and analyze the data effectively. This approach can be costly, with each project requiring dedicated resources and tools, and can slow down the pace of innovation. This makes it very difficult for utilities firms to respond quickly to changing business needs.
Is managing data like a product the answer?
In comparison – and taking a bird’s eye view for the moment – a data product delivers a high-quality, ready-to-use set of data that people across an organization can easily access in (near) real-time and apply to different business challenges. Teams using data products don’t have to waste time searching for data, processing it into the right format, and building bespoke data sets and data pipelines.
What’s more, one of the top benefits of managing data like a consumer product—be it digital or physical— is that it paves the way for more informed and effective decision-making thanks to real-time insights and recommendations. This reduces the risk of costly mistakes, and can also lead to general cost savings and improved reliability simply by optimizing operations, reducing downtime, and improving asset management.
The product approach can also improve customer service, which is essential for the prosperity of energy firms. By helping companies better understand their customers’ needs and preferences, data products can lead to personalized services, improved communication and help retain customers in what is a highly competitive sector. And it’s that competitive nature of the industry that makes data products so valuable; helping utilities firms identify new business opportunities and develop innovative products and services is key in a rapidly changing environment.
What does this mean for the energy industry supply chain?
Those valuable insights and optimization opportunities made available through data products can indeed drive efficiencies in the oil and gas supply chain. For example, data products can be used to analyze sensor data from equipment and predict when maintenance is required. This can help reduce downtime, minimize maintenance costs and extend the life of equipment. And because data products can help track assets and monitor asset management usage, companies are able to make informed decisions about when to replace or upgrade equipment.
On the safety front, data products have the power to monitor safety and compliance metrics in real-time, helping companies to identify and address potential issues in the supply chain before they become major problems. Specifically, they can reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities and prevent damage to equipment and infrastructure, simply by identifying potential hazards. Again, this allows firms to take corrective action before accidents occur.
The true value of the data product approach, however, is not so much to solve the use case itself, but the advantages that come from doing it as a product; repeatability, ease of use of the data generated and scalability.
In working with international energy infrastructure firm Enagás, for example, the development of a data product on one of its plants allowed it to be easily extended to all plants worldwide, scaling in an unlimited, fast and coordinated manner. Other benefits included cost reductions, which were possible by intervening only in those cases where necessary, and not from a review based on time criteria and by doing it preventively to a shutdown. And in addition, the generation of anomaly patterns helped to improve the accuracy of the models.
Overall, the benefits of utilizing data products far outweigh the more traditional project mindset approach to data, despite the latter being more commonplace in the utilities industry.
With data becoming more powerful by the day, now is the time for energy firms to start viewing data products as truly valuable assets. By leveraging data effectively, there is real opportunity to drive growth, efficiency and innovation, while reducing costs, and enhancing safety and compliance.
For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor.
Pablo Ríos is Business Manager for Manufacturing and Energy industries at Keepler Data Tech, a full-stack analytics services company specializing in the design, construction, deployment and operation of advanced public cloud analytics custom-made solutions for large organizations.
The company has a portfolio of more than 450 projects developed for key accounts across Spain, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, as well as the US and UK. Keepler helps large enterprises to improve their bottom line and streamline operations by integrating data-driven intelligence into their key processes and deploying public cloud technology.