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July 31, 2008: TDWI FlashPoint - BI on a Limited Budget: A Case Study from the Trenches

JEA, northeast Florida’s not-for-profit, community-owned utility, won a TDWI Best Practices Award and has advice for other organizations trying to deliver BI on a limited budget.

Welcome to TDWI FlashPoint. In this issue: JEA, northeast Florida's not-for-profit, community-owned utility, won a TDWI Best Practices Award and has advice for other organizations trying to deliver BI on a limited budget.


  • FlashPoint Snapshot
    BI Best Practices in Operational BI: Converging Analytical and Operational Processes
  • Column
    BI on a Limited Budget: A Case Study from the Trenches
  • FlashPoint Rx
    Don't Ignore the Enterprise’s Culture

FlashPoint Snapshot

FlashPoint Snapshots highlight key findings from TDWI's wide variety of research.

Does your group support operational BI as defined by TDWI?

Based on 423 respondents.

Source: Best Practices in Operational BI: Converging Analytical and Operational Processes (TDWI Best Practices Report, Q3, 2007). Access the report.


BI on a Limited Budget: A Case Study from the Trenches

Jill Dyché, Baseline Consulting

Providing electric, water, and sewer services to customers in northeast Florida is already a complex business, but with the recent focus of both public and private sectors on more efficient use of energy resources, it's become a high-pressure one as well. Add to this the fact that the utility industry has never been known as a technology early adopter, and winning a TDWI Best Practices Award is all the more notable. As the winner in the hotly contested "BI on a Limited Budget" category, JEA has become a bona fide success story, not only for its utility industry peers, but for any company encumbered by resource limitations in its quest to deploy business intelligence.

As with many best-practice BI programs, JEA's was born out of a pressing business need. In 1995, the company made the decision to phase out human meter readers—an expensive, resource-intensive, and often error-prone process—in favor of a new automatic meter reading (AMR) system. Apart from the promise of operational efficiencies, AMR promised improved customer service and satisfaction levels, a major strategic objective for the utility.

"Storing AMR data on a data warehouse would be our first opportunity to look at usage patterns at a lower granularity than just monthly, which is what we've been doing in the electric utility industry for years," says Faye Chatman, director of enterprise business intelligence at JEA. "We really had no idea what usage patterns were."

Faye's boss, Wanyonyi Kendrick, CIO at JEA, chimes in. "Particularly now with all the talk around the energy crisis, wouldn't it be great to know on a daily basis if you were having spikes in your service, and what you could do to potentially lower your electric and your water bill? That's the intent of AMR: to put the tools in the customers' hands so they can better manage their service."

JEA's enterprise data warehouse houses AMR data plus 11 different subject areas. Its 3.4 terabytes provide an authoritative view of the business across customers, regions, services, and transformers, among other categories. JEA business users, both at headquarters and in the field, can analyze transformer loads, which can pinpoint problems that may lead to outages as well as reveal under-loaded transformers that could serve additional customers. If a business customer is planning to expand operations (thus increasing transformer loads), JEA staff can accurately project additional load capacity without jeopardizing system reliability.

"This is similar to what other industries are doing with their data—segmenting their customers and using the results to serve them better," says Kendrick. "Many of our customers are newly interested in how they can help the environment and decrease the cost of their service, and we have others who are low-income and fixed-income customers. We can identify the best customers for various programs—for example, helping them weatherize their homes or changing out their light bulbs to CFLs [compact fluorescent lamps], which use less energy."

It's a tall order for any BI environment, supporting a company's need to drive operational efficiencies while enabling its customer-focused strategies. Imagine accomplishing all this with limited resources!

"Once we decide to do something," says Chatman, "we'll put our best and brightest forward." Chatman began the initial data warehouse with just four people who attended conferences and courses to learn the nuances of BI development. The team began with a proof-of-concept project that had minimal impact but through which they chose their tools (JEA has an Oracle data warehouse and BI tools from Business Objects) and honed their skills. "It was a commitment early on," Chatman says. "We didn't really expect to get a return on investment for a couple of years."

The payback period turned out to be closer to 10 months. Chatman and Kendrick both credit a tight alignment with the business for driving the success. "I think it's made a big difference that my main counterpart on this initiative has been a vice president," says Chatman, "and that we work hand in hand. There's a business awareness of how important the data warehouse is in delivering value."

The commitment of the business to BI isn't just talk at JEA. Business intelligence is now seen as a built-in component of many of the company's major initiatives. "For every one of our large capital projects, we have a commitment from the business that a portion will go to our data warehouse and BI [work]," says Kendrick, "and that's started to reap benefits."

What advice would they give to other companies that may have similar resource or budget constraints, but nevertheless need to deliver a BI program? Chatman and Kendrick answer almost in unison. "Think big, start small," they say. "Make sure you have an interested business executive who is willing to work with you," adds Kendrick. "We've been doing this for a few years now, but we're really just at the beginning."

Jill Dyché is a partner and cofounder of Baseline Consulting. She is the author of three acclaimed books, the latest of which is Customer Data Integration: Reaching a Single Version of the Truth, co-authored with Evan Levy. Baseline nominated JEA for a TDWI Best Practices Award and will join them to accept it on August 18 at the TDWI World Conference in San Diego.


FlashPoint Rx

FlashPoint Rx prescribes a "Mistake to Avoid" for business intelligence and data warehousing professionals from TDWI's Ten Mistakes to Avoid series.

Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Creating a Center of Excellence

Mistake 4. Ignoring the Enterprise’s Culture

To be effective, the COE must be structured to function well within the organization’s existing culture. While it is possible to change an organization’s customs through effective change management (strong leadership, proper training and communication, targeted metrics), it is difficult to effect any change that is not in keeping with the basic culture of the company. Existing levels of cooperation between business units, relationships between IT and the business (for example, does the business often do an end-run around IT?), historic technology funding and cost allocation methods (cost-center or charge-back), and the strength of the governance committee must all be taken into consideration.

If your organization is one where business buy-in is high, cooperation is good, and resources are scarce, you might want to start with a model where the COE provides training, templates, guidance, and deliverable reviews, but the actual project work is done locally. On the other hand, if you can’t ensure cooperation across units, you might focus on developing strong governance to secure authority for the program while also building a central COE that takes responsibility for doing the work as well as developing the templates and best practices.

This excerpt was pulled from the Q4 2006, TDWI Ten Mistakes to Avoid series, Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Creating a Center of Excellence, by Jonathan G. Geiger, Claudia Imhoff, and Lisa Loftis.


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