A new Oracle survey suggests that utility companies want to more effectively use Big Data to deal with some of the largest issues facing the North American power grid. However, many of those companies still struggle with putting the infrastructure in place to capture and analyze that data in a speedy manner. Oracle surveyed 151 senior-level executives at North American utilities with smart meter programs. Some 45 percent of respondents felt that, despite the use of smart meters (or perhaps because of them), their utilities struggled to report information to business managers in a timely manner. In addition, 50 percent reported their company had missed opportunities to deliver “useful information” to customers. The majority of those surveyed said their utility companies used the flood of data from smart meters to determine outages, voltage, tampering, and diagnostics—all of which can help improve operations. Within the next five years, however, utility companies apparently plan to leverage data in more extensive ways, using it to do everything from forecasting demand to complying with regulatory requirements. Around 70 percent of executives whose utilities had a Meter Data Management (MDM) system in place reported being able to handle the data flooding their organizations, versus 51 percent of executives whose companies did not have an MDM system. “A vast majority of utility executives are working to enhance their ability to glean real intelligence from smart grid data—to ultimately create new opportunities to improve service reliability and deliver useful information to customers,” Rodger Smith, senior vice president and general manager for Oracle Utilities, wrote in a statement accompanying the survey data. “Utilities can benefit from establishing enterprise information strategies, and investing in the systems and people needed to make better business decisions.” Oracle has some skin in this game, of course: its Oracle Utilities segment builds software applications for the various aspects of utility management. But it’s also not the only tech titan interested in exploring how data can be used to make everything from individual homes to entire power grids more efficient: over the past few years, companies ranging from Intel to Google and Microsoft have all explored some variation on smart metering and home-energy monitoring and management. Many of those initiatives ended up discontinued (i.e., Microsoft Hohm). But the drive to save money and energy, combined with a new generation of analytics tools, could ensure that new ones continue to come to market.   Image: chungking/Shutterstock.com