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Eskom takes strain

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ITWeb Business Intelligence 2014 Summit

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Eskom is a 90-year-old organisation that has seen several cycles of success and strain.

So says Lloyd Jones, executive manager: project delivery at Eskom Group IT, who adds: "We are currently under enormous strain."

Jones will discuss how operational challenges at the public utility are being met through business intelligence (BI) initiatives, at the ITWeb annual BI conference, next week. Eskom generates about 95% of the electricity used locally and just under half the electricity used in Africa.

"In South Africa, our national grid is under enormous strain as we struggle to balance demand and supply realities with an ageing fleet that needs to be maintained, while making sure that there is capacity for growth, with an economy that is undergoing rapid structural adjustments, which means that we still face declining revenues as energy efficiency and pricing policies shift how people use power. Add all sorts of regulatory reporting on top of this and then it is no surprise that it is critical to get our reporting right so that we have consistency across the reporting domains," says Jones.

"BI in Eskom is 10 years old and spans two dominant BI platforms - SAP BW and SAS. The aim of BI is to journey and transition the organisation through a BI maturity use curve so that Eskom consistently uses analytics in a predictive and, hopefully, prescriptive manner.

"Our most challenging analytic application reports on network asset performance and handles over 30 million records per day to report network performance."

According to Jones, BI plays different roles in forecasting, planning, operations and performance improvement.

"There are different levels of maturity in each of these business use cases. As with any organisation we are passionate about predicting our revenue streams and aligning operational aspirations to the cash reality. In a deeply regulated market, we have to be very good at a five-year plan, as this impacts our tariffs and determines lenders' interest rates, which in turn drives our tariffs. In this space, we have automated our regulatory reporting.

Among the various BI requirements the utility is working on is strengthening and simplifying its financial planning tools, and aligning its revenue and load forecast models to improve granularity and repeatability, says Jones. "These efforts allow us to report over 100 key performance indicators that allow us to consume coal and other energy sources, generate electricity, transmit, distribute and serve customers as well as get revenue in return."

Eskom's challenges include "an interesting skills gap", he says. "We have access to resources at entry level and there are excellent industry-wide interventions in place to skill and grow new entrants. There is an extremely small pool of highly capable BI practitioners, but there is a huge gap in the midrange skills pool. So far, we have used developer guides and standards, peer reviews and some coaching to try and close the gap, but this is an area where we are struggling."

Jones will unpack other challenges and some of the successes BI practitioners have had at Eskom, during his presentation at the ITWeb Business Intelligence 2014 Summit, in Johannesburg, taking place from 25-27 March. Click here to access the programme for the event and to book before registration closes.

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