4-minute read

Quick summary: 9 essential strategies for utilities to successfully implement and leverage asset image analytics for enhancing operational efficiency and predictive maintenance capabilities

As utility providers increase their reliance on digital technologies to enhance operations and maintenance strategies, asset image analytics stands out as a promising tool, poised to transform the management of vast, complex infrastructures. The ability to automate analysis of visual data and extract valuable insights offers profound implications for enhancing grid reliability, safety, and efficiency.

Yet the path to integrating asset image analytics is complex, requiring careful attention to the existing data infrastructure, potential technological barriers, and other factors. Recently I led a panel at the 2024 Utility Analytics Summit in Nashville, where we explored nine essential steps and considerations to help utility leaders ensure they are well prepared to harness asset image analytics to its full potential.

The ability to automate analysis of visual data and extract valuable insights offers profound implications for enhancing grid reliability, safety, and efficiency.

1. Establishing strategic data foundations

For utility companies venturing into asset image analytics, the cornerstone of their success lies in establishing a robust data infrastructure. Merely collecting data is not sufficient. Infrastructure must be designed to support not only the vast amounts of image data, but also the continuous updates and iterations of data models that these technologies require. When utilities make this investment in data foundations, it needs to be made accessible for appropriate data users using principles of least-privilege to be integrated into analytics and application initiatives. 

2. Treating image data as a strategic asset

Adopting a data-centric mindset is essential for utility companies aiming to harness the full potential of asset image analytics. This approach involves recognizing image data as a strategic asset that can drive operational insights and inform business decisions. By valuing this data for its ability to provide actionable intelligence, utilities can more effectively address challenges such as predictive maintenance, asset management, and the safety of their communities. Beyond raw image data, image labels and model outputs need to be served as data products to be leveraged as assets for other teams while maintaining adherence to enterprise governance standards. 

Adopting a data-centric mindset is essential for utility companies aiming to harness the full potential of asset image analytics.

3. Overcoming technological barriers

Unlocking the full potential of asset image analytics presents unique technological challenges that must be skillfully navigated. One potential hurdle is the integration of high-resolution image data into the existing IT infrastructure, which often requires substantial upgrades to handle the increased data volume and processing needs. Additionally, ensuring real-time data processing capabilities can be a challenge, requiring more sophisticated hardware and software solutions that can handle complex algorithms with minimal latency. 

4. Planning and prioritizing analytics projects

Effective planning of asset image analytics projects begins with a strategic assessment of potential ROI and operational impacts to identify which initiatives will deliver the greatest value. Utilities need a framework for evaluating and prioritizing use cases, considering factors such as feasibility, required resources, and potential to enhance operational efficiencies. This targeted approach ensures that projects align with broader organizational goals and address key areas like predictive maintenance and network management. 

Ensuring real-time data processing capabilities can be a challenge, requiring more sophisticated hardware and software solutions that can handle complex algorithms with minimal latency.

5. Piloting and scaling analytics capabilities

Starting with pilot projects allows utilities to test the practical application of asset image analytics on a smaller scale, providing valuable insights and identifying potential challenges without extensive upfront investments. These initial projects serve as a proving ground for refining technology deployments and workflow integrations. In scaling up successful pilots, the utility can incorporate lessons learned during those early stages, ensuring that the expansion supports larger business objectives and incorporates necessary adjustments for broader rollouts. 

6. Focusing on the labeling process

In ML analytics projects, Labeling Operations (LabelOps) involve systematically labeling data to train machine learning models, often by subject matter experts (SMEs). For utility companies, focusing on developing scalable processes is crucial to producing high-quality labeled data. Implementing blind quality control processes, such as having multiple SMEs label the same image, can help identify variations and potential performance ceilings for models. Consistently high-quality labeled data is where companies often find the highest return on investment for model performance. Achieving this consistency and quality requires an explicitly defined taxonomy and process for labeling images. 

Starting with pilot projects allows utilities to test the practical application of asset image analytics on a smaller scale, providing valuable insights and identifying potential challenges without extensive upfront investments.

7. Implementing Agile development practices

Adopting Agile development practices in the deployment of asset image analytics enables utilities to be more responsive to changes and challenges. This iterative approach supports the rapid adjustments and continuous improvement that are crucial for integrating complex technologies. Beginning with a minimum viable product (MVP) allows utility companies to manage both costs and risks while maintaining the flexibility to evolve the project based on real-world feedback and operational needs. 

8. Fostering collaboration and nurturing cross-functional teams

The success of asset image analytics projects relies heavily on synergies across cross-functional teams, combining the expertise of data scientists, IT professionals, and operational staff. Enhancing collaboration through regular integration meetings and shared performance metrics ensures that all stakeholders are aligned and can contribute to the project’s success. A collaborative environment not only speeds up problem solving, but also fosters a culture of innovation within the organization. 

9. Monitoring as a foundation for iteration

Systems should be designed with monitoring and iteration in mind, especially considering the pipeline from image collection, labeling operations, and governance, to modeling and deployment into decision support systems. Measuring value is crucial throughout the entire process. The ability to identify areas for improvement and prioritize them to optimize value in a machine learning system provides structured input for future iterations. 

The success of asset image analytics projects relies heavily on synergies across cross-functional teams, combining the expertise of data scientists, IT professionals, and operational staff.

Harnessing asset image analytics: a strategic path forward for utilities

Asset image analytics is transforming the way utilities manage and maintain their infrastructures, enabling the automation of visual data analysis and unlocking new opportunities to improve grid reliability, efficiency, and safety. By addressing potential challenges through strategic planning and collaborative efforts, utilities can effectively leverage asset image analytics to achieve their operational objectives and prepare for future technological advancements.

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Alex Johnson
Alex Johnson is a Senior Developer in Logic20/20’s Advanced Analytics practice.

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