Texas utility deploys operational intelligence, improves 'on-boarding'

TXU Energy applied Vitria operational intelligence software to gain a better customer view. Careful processes selection ensured quick performance.

TXU Energy turned to innovative operational intelligence software to obtain a more complete view of its customers' experiences. During the implementation and deployment process, designers focused on a narrow set of business processes to help ensure solid performance and to prevent information overload for dashboard users.

Near-real-time dashboards were created to show TXU Energy Retail Company LLC personnel the status of key customer enrollment or "on-boarding" and other processes, according to Terry Coots, a senior manager of IT business applications with the Dallas-based electric company. Those processes are seen as crucial to TXU Energy's overall business strategy.

"You have to figure out what is most important for your business," said Coots, who spoke earlier this year at the TDWI BI Executive Summit in Las Vegas. "Don't bite off more than you can chew."

Operational intelligence software -- which is sometimes referred to as business activity monitoring software -- enables organizations to perform near-real-time analytics and gain greater insight into business processes. Companies can set Trigger alerts on business process events or have them fed into live dashboards that executives use to make important decisions. Operational intelligence software is primarily used for its monitoring capabilities.

Software vendors that offer operational intelligence software include ExtraHop Networks Inc., IBM, JackBe Corp., SQLstream Inc. and Tibco Software Inc.

TXU Energy opted to go with the Operational Intelligence (formerly "M30") platform from Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Vitria Technology Inc. A few days after the application was rolled out, it began paying off dividends by alerting workers to unwanted service delays that were occurring when TXU signed on a new customer. As a result, TXU was able to quickly address the problem.

The system's benefits also come in the form of near-real-time customer intelligence. For TXU, an end-to-end view of the customer experience helps uncover problems and notify a workforce management system that can set up people to work on solving problems with power hook ups and reconnects, said Coots.

The working system helps meld actual business practices with newfound operational intelligence, said Coots. Such capabilities are important in utilities, especially in Texas, he said, where electricity deregulation has enabled customers to pick and choose between providers.

Figure out what is most important for your business. Don't bite off more than you can chew.

Terry Coots, 
TXU Energy

TXU's setup starts with source applications that feed events from SAP customer relationship management and utility-focused enterprise resource planning systems into the M30 system. The result is an end-to-end, near-real-time view of several key processes affecting the customer.

The end-to-end view has to have a focus, according to Coots. That is why his team emphasized several narrow business events for this monitoring. But even that can be a big task for system developers. Based on his experience, Coots advices others to begin by capturing the first point of a process and the last point in a process and decide if any of the "middle" parts of the process should be monitored as time goes on.

"There is a lot going on, but you have to concentrate on [a handful of] things. People will come in and try to get [pet processes] monitored," he warned. But, he said, it is crucial to monitor the critical process elements first and then "expand as you learn."

Operational intelligence provides a panoramic view

"Customer onboarding and customer disconnect-reconnect is one of the most popular kinds of operational intelligence projects today," said Roy Schulte, analyst, Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn. He called TXU's work a "quintessential example" of such operational intelligence.

While they may be focusing on just a handful of processes, operational intelligence systems can provide comprehensive views, he said. That is a distinguishing characteristic between operational intelligence system dashboards and more traditional forms of reporting.

"What the system is doing is giving you panoramic visibility. You are not just looking into a keyhole. With some monitoring, you just see what one app is doing," Schulte said. Operational intelligence applications "sweep across a larger scope."

This was first published in June 2013
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