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Visualization analytics helps utility provider escape ‘Excel hell’

Clint Boulton | Nov. 2, 2016
Struggling to collect debt owed from customers, gas and electricity provider National Grid turned to Tableau visualization software to create a scoring model to target the deadbeats.

Analytics helps collections agents target deadbeats

When Abbazio joined National Grid earlier this year to revitalize the company's field service management operations he made an alarming discovery. IT was dumping data extracted from Business Objects, MicroStrategy and other BI tools into spreadsheets, which collections agents took with them on their routes so they knew who owed money and how much, as well as the age of the debt.

Yet National Grid had no formal strategy or calculus to recoup the tens of millions of dollars owed by some of its 3.5 million New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts customers. "I realized that we had a huge data problem," Abbazio says.

That’s when Abbazio turned to Tableau, which he had implemented while working in IT at Boston Scientific, where he helped sales staff perform ad-hoc queries. Using Tableau, which renders information in bar graphs and other digital charts, the company sliced and diced customer data by credit score, median income, geographical data and other attributes.

It then built a scoring model to rate customers on their ability to pay. For example, it learned from Tableau that customers who were anywhere from zero to 30 days late and who owed $100 were most likely to pay. The model showed the collections team which customers to prioritize.

Abbazio then funneled the Tableau insights into Salesforce.com's field service software, enabling him to "geocluster" customers to optimize the routes agents should take to collect money or shut off power for those who the data suggested had a low probability of paying.

"If we can't collect from them at least we know the meter is outside so that we can stop the bleeding," says Abbazio, who runs Tableau in Amazon Web Services, atop a data warehouse based on AWS Redshift and S3.

Tableau has been live at National Grid only since the summer so it’s difficult to quantify the financial impact on the business regarding collections. However, Abbazio says he expects the company will save money by shuttering its existing BI tools and making Tableau its enterprise standard.

Success breeds broader adoption

The collections use case proved successful enough that National Grid Executive Director Dean Seavers asked Abbazio to distill a 100-page report on the company's holistic business performance into Tableau. This enabled the company’s business leaders to analyze and present data on hiring, personnel attrition, budget, service delivery and other demographics.

"Now you have all of these executives telling stories with the data," says Abbazio. “It’s not just about delivering a project on time and on budget, it’s about delivering upon what the business wants and needs and delivering it to the customer,” Abbazio says.

 

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