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BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE: Eskom’s Road to Business Intelligence


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When South African utility giant, Eskom decided to rollout a business intelligence system the company didn’t realise that this decision would slowly start to change the face of the business.

In 2007 Eskom’s Distribution arm decided to implement a SAS system to assist the company meet its performance management aims. The project kicked off with the building of a complex data warehouse and a set of scorecards to assist the business with identifying firstly safety and security issues as well as help with aligning divisional KPI’s to the business.

“When we started with the BI project we had no idea what we were walking into and for the most part were at the mercy of the consultants who were installing the system,” says Dayalan Naidoo, Business Intelligence Manager at Eskom. “But it fast became evident to the business what true BI could do for the organisation as a whole and we took the strategic decision to centralise the BI unit into a single operation reporting to the business as a whole.”

Eskom generates approximately 95% of the electricity used in South Africa and close to 45% of the electricity used in Africa. The company generates, transmits and distributes electricity to industrial, mining, commercial, agricultural and residential customers and redistributors.

“After a difficult road where there was an initial disconnect with what BI could do for our business and a lack of vendor accountability across the board, we looked at our organisational objectives and started again. At Eskom our goal is to focus on improving and strengthening our core business of electricity generation, transmission, trading and distribution, the systems we put in place need to support and enhance this. And our BI objectives were no different,” adds Naidoo.

It is against this backdrop that the company decided that BI was of strategic importance to Eskom so it set up a Business Intelligence Competency Centre (BiCC). The BiCC team came to the conclusion that the technology needed to assist with performance management, create a view on safety and security, provide information to the executive at any given point on the health of the business, align with its business processes and streamline and improve the reporting process. In order to achieve this Eskom opted to merge the efforts of BI, Web Services, Business Process Management and Document and Data Storage management into a single Knowledge Management business.

“Our first project was done from a user perspective, but after we changed that view to a business process driven vision things really started to fall into place. We developed the system from a process view where BI now draws data directly from all of our source systems and is fed into the data warehouse and our business KPIs are built directly into the system,” he says.

In the past it would take seven to eight days for the business to compile a report, with the new system this is done one day after month end. Data is updated hourly and the team has built the solution so that data is appended when updated, and not completely overwritten each time, which has dramatically reduced information delivery time and bandwidth utilisation. According to Naidoo the company is now able to draw data in near real-time, which has significantly improved decision making.

According to the BI project team, Eskom is an excellent example of how BI can work for your business. They didn’t sit back and wait for the system to work for them, they took ownership, pushed the limits of the software, secured buy in from the business and built a solution that is making them a more efficient and effective business.

Eskom is now using its BI to assist it across all seven streams of the business, an example of how the technology is in its ability to maintain its safety targets and create a real view of its Lost Time Injury Rates and the financial losses it could occur in the unlikely event of an incident through a productivity monitor.

The view of the company is to combine a myriad of vendor solutions, leverage their core competencies, and build a single system. SAS is currently being used for organisational BI, and will soon be upgraded to the latest SAS 9.2 software. In addition Eskom is currently making use of the JMP and Dataflux tools of SAS.

“The BiCC has been briefed not to wait for business to suggest models, but rather to proactively build models and demonstrate how these will assist each unit. As an example we built a model for human resources where we could highlight the overall impact leave of employees has on the business. This has significantly helped with capacity planning as well as budgeting – when you expose it you can measure it,” states Naidoo.

To Eskom its BI solution must mitigate risk and it must serve the business. At the click of a button the executive must be able to see the whole business, in a language they understand, information that is up-to-date and accurate, and one that helps the decision making process. The company has also been able to dramatically improve its vendor management, contracts management and resource allocation.

The BI team has also started to bring live data feeds into the system such as Bloomberg, so that it has access to minute-by-minute global financial data and can make better business decisions as a result.

“The project was not an easy one, we knew we needed BI but its original execution was severely challenged. So we took the project back, made it a business requirement and called on SAS as a vendor to be accountable for their software,” he mentions. “They came back to us and with a plan we started to work together, now when I pick up a phone and call SAS to assist they immediately respond, and they are accountable for their software.”

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