Next generation customer service: Western Power applies clever analytics to deliver proactive customer care

Managing public service infrastructure is a serious business. Outages are more than just an inconvenience – they can disrupt commercial operations, and affect people’s lives. So how does a company efficiently track and analyse outages in an electricity supply network spread across 250,000 square kilometres, servicing over 2 million customers?

Working with Ignia, Western Power implemented a solution to automatically collate, analyse and visualise the massive volumes of event data collected from millions of electricity meters every day.

The result was the Customer Service Outage Dashboard- providing graphical analysis of outages and at-a-glance KPIs and metrics. Staff can now easily explore and investigate outage data; the solution facilitates the identification of outage “hotspots” and the associated underlying trends. Hosted in Microsoft Azure and delivered by the Power BI platform, the solution gives Western Power a cost-effective, scalable, and accessible source of outage information, providing a solid foundation for more efficient and proactive customer service.

About Western Power

Western Power is an asset of the Western Australian State Government, responsible for building, maintaining and operating an electricity distribution network across the south-west of WA, contributing the majority of transmission infrastructure in an area covering over 255,000 square kilometres.

This vast network delivers electricity to nearly 2.3 million customers, all of whom rely almost entirely on Western Power’s management of the distribution infrastructure to avoid outages and literally keep the lights on.

The Challenge

Although Western Power had huge volumes of data available, collation and analysis was becoming increasingly difficult. Identifying regional outage trends and geographical ‘hotspots’ was a manual, time-consuming process, impacting Western Power’s service to customers and reducing the efficiency of customer communications.

Gino Giudice, Head of Customer Service at Western Power, was keen to introduce more advanced reporting capabilities to the business and use the data captured by affiliated systems more effectively.

“While we were able to manually collate the required reports, there was certainly room for improvement around this process, and opportunities to provide ‘next-level’, proactive service to our customers,” explained Mr Giudice.

Mr. Giudice tasked the Ignia team with creating a highly visual, interactive solution, able to display outage areas and trends, to enable Western Power teams to conveniently investigate the locations and underlying causes of repeated service interruptions.

Designing the Solution

Armed with the high-level business needs, the project team applied an Agile delivery methodology to rapidly identify and deliver the most appropriate solution, by incrementally refining the detailed requirements and aligning the architecture and technologies to suit.

Along the way, the team considered several potential designs for Western Power, before deciding to implement a fully cloud-based Power BI solution, hosted in Microsoft Azure.

A key design element was scalability. The solution needed to accommodate huge amounts of data being generated daily by the electricity distribution network, and then to rapidly process and visualise the relevant information.

“The project was certainly challenging,” recalls John Rampono, Lead Architect at Ignia. “We were working with a large and complex data set; the solution had to analyse event data generated each minute by millions of electricity meters from around the state. This was solved by leveraging the Azure Cloud infrastructure. Azure table storage combined with Azure SQL and Power BI provided the scalability to deal with the data load.”

Storage cost was also an important consideration, and a significant input to the final product design. Hosting the solution in Azure proved a more cost-effective way to capture and store the large volumes of data involved, compared with commissioning and supporting new infrastructure on-premises.

Outcomes

With supply data flowing into Azure and automatically populating dashboards and maps, Western Power staff can now easily explore and analyse service interruptions, gauge the direct impact on customers and act quickly.

Our team delivered a product which provides Western Power with:

  • At-a-glance visibility of areas and customers impacted by electricity outages
  • An automated process for identifying ‘hotspots’ and regions which experience repeated outages
  • The ability to drill-down into analytic data, to investigate and better understand contributing factors
  • Interactive maps and visualisations of geospatial data, for more convenient identification of location-based trends and patterns.
The Western Power customer service team now spend less time manually collating data into reports, and instead focus more on business activities, which ultimately leads to improved customer service. Accessible information provides capability for more efficient, and increasingly proactive communication, both to external customers and also across the Western Power leadership team.

Leveraging Microsoft Azure also directly translated into reduced storage cost, a critical factor given the volumes of data involved. Rather than commission new infrastructure, with the associated licensing and ongoing management overheads, an Azure solution provided Western Power with a scalable storage environment of guaranteed availability.

The final outcome is best summarised by Mr Giudice: “Western Power now has a modern, intuitive capability without the prohibitive price tag. The entire solution enables us to better understand the customer experience and therefore help our customers in a more proactive way.”