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Data Analytics as a Compass to Navigate the COVID 19 Storm

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Andrew Braeger's picture
Data Services Manager Tacoma Public Utilities

Andrew Braeger is responsible for leading Tacoma Public Utilities data management practice. He has been with the utility since 2017 and has played a key role in advancing strategic initiatives...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Dec 2, 2020

This item is part of the Data Analytics & Intelligence - Winter 2020/21 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

Written by: Joe Tellez, Andrew Braeger, and Luke Meier

How Tacoma Public Utilities rapidly applied data analytics to respond to customer needs produced by COVID 19.

A legacy of financial strength...

Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU) has been publicly owned since 1893, operating as one of the most affordable and reliable utilities in the United States. With an extensive service territory in the south Puget Sound in western Washington, TPU provides nearly 100 percent carbon-neutral hydroelectric power to approximately 180,000 customers. TPU has maintained a long-standing heritage of customer focus and affordability, providing some of the lowest power and water rates in the region.  

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Even before the COVID 19 pandemic struck, many TPU customers have experienced significant economic challenges with nearly 20 percent of Tacoma residents below the poverty level. In the spring of 2020, as the COVID 19 crisis began to intensify, TPU data scientists responded rapidly, publishing a variety of analytical products to help TPU leaders navigate the emerging storm.

A data-driven response to the pandemic

As the pandemic worsened, TPU customers began to experience numerous economic and health challenges. Knowing that TPU leadership would be closely tracking the impacts on the community to make informed decisions, the TPU data science team published a COVID 19 recovery dashboard.

Featuring live data connections of local, state, and national COVID 19 case counts, test results, unemployment figures, and numerous other community health indicators, TPU leadership leverages the dashboard daily to obtain situational awareness and understand the impact of the pandemic on TPU customers.

The data revealed that scores of TPU customers were experiencing financial challenges as unemployment claims surged. In response, TPU established additional emergency assistance funding for eligible customers, providing utility bill credits for those in need. The data team connected to TPU’s emergency assistance datasets and provided valuable customer segmentation insights.

As the pandemic continues, there are opportunities to apply these insights to better understand levels of customer impact and proactive steps that TPU can take to provide resources for customers in this challenging time. As of the fall of 2020, over $5 million of TPU emergency assistance funding has benefited nearly 20,000 unique customers.

Beginning to apply machine learning  

As TPU continues to navigate the COVID 19 crisis, TPU data scientists are working actively to publish a variety of predictive analytical tools to help inform not just what has happened in the past, but what is likely to happen in the future. Using the Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem of machine learning offerings, the team is diligently crafting an advanced analytics use case, coined the Customer Distress Early Warning (CDEW) project.

The CDEW project aims to provide a 360 degree view of TPU customers to better understand their needs and provide targeted service offerings. Seeking to integrate demographic, billing, payment, program participation, past due balance, and other attributes, TPU intends to leverage the CDEW project to better plan customer support programs and more intentionally target customers.

Continuing to navigate the pandemic

Moving into the holiday season of 2020, the near-term COVID outlook appears grim. Despite the challenges ahead, there are numerous opportunities to build off the data analytics work already completed, engaging additional use cases around high and overdue bill analytics, customer journey analytics, customer consumption modeling, and more.

Ultimately, advanced analytics has proven to be an essential compass for navigating the many storms posed by the COVID 19 pandemic.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 2, 2020

As TPU continues to navigate the COVID 19 crisis, TPU data scientists are working actively to publish a variety of predictive analytical tools to help inform not just what has happened in the past, but what is likely to happen in the future. 

This is fascinating-- obviously we hope that such a pandemic won't be happening again, so what type of future events do you think we can apply the lessons learned from COVID (on a data basis) in the future? 

Andrew Braeger's picture
Thank Andrew for the Post!
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