CATEGORY: Data Mining and Visualization

REVIEWER: Nancy Fictum, senior systems analyst at Wisconsin Public Service Corporation.

BACKGROUND: Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPSC) is a gas and electric utility providing service to more than 450,000 large industrial and commercial enterprises and residences in northeast Wisconsin and upper Michigan. WPSC would like to offer its customers a better understanding of their energy usage patterns to help them forecast their energy use for the future and make better choices in energy consumption.

PLATFORMS: Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 Analysis Services, primarily on Windows 95 with a few Windows NT installations. In Q1 of 2001, we will upgrade to Windows 2000 and SQL Server 2000.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Our goal is to provide better customer service by providing our customers with an account of their energy usage patterns. Our challenge is to empower all our decision-makers, right down to individual account managers, with access to sophisticated data on customers' usage patterns and tools to utilize this information for the customers' benefit. To accomplish this, we need a multidimensional analysis tool that can quickly and easily analyze multiple aspects of our business and present information in an intuitive format. Max 3.0 from Maximal Corporation is an easy-to-use solution that allows us to access and analyze information in our data warehouses for the benefit of our customers. Max enables us to evaluate the profitability of the products and services we offer as well as our commodity gas and electricity products. This will continue to be a vital service to our customers, as our market will soon be deregulated.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Max 3.0, which works with our comprehensive data warehousing solution, enables us to aggregate large data sets to show average consumption per day, the high peak and low usage intervals. It allows our representatives to view the information from a historical perspective and immediately view customer charges online. Currently, our data warehouse group is using Max to evaluate how to better utilize our data cubes to provide access to a wide group of users and deploy the solution to managers in a useful way. Early in 2001, we plan to deploy Max 3.0 to account management representatives and supervisors as well as to our market research and planning department.

STRENGTHS: Max enables us to view and compare multiple sets of data on one screen. Being able to identify how items interact with each other and view the effect of changing specific elements (such as the rate or peak time) is very valuable. Using Max, we can now automatically identify hot spots and find specific values without using formulas and complex parameters. The flexibility to move easily from the graph view (colored bars) to a grid is important to us. Many of our users need to view specific numbers so they use the bars to show trends and the big picture. They switch to the grid view to compare specific numbers.

WEAKNESSES: Currently, Max does not have its own reporting tool. While it's very easy to export data to Excel and PowerPoint, Max would be a far stronger product with built-in reporting capabilities.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The major motivations in selecting Max were ease of use, deployment and value for money. Because Max is straightforward to install and easy to use, we can deploy it to our account managers and supervisors without investing heavily in training and support.

DELIVERABLES: Currently, we look at the dimensions of geography (districts), time (down to 15-minute intervals), account management representatives, rate, revenues and customer classification (e.g. farms, street lighting, commercial business, etc.). Being able to break each dimension down to the representative and customer level enables us to compare within customers, against similar customers and by geography. With this knowledge, we can easily see how demand is distributed geographically and by customer which enables us to help our customers forecast their gas and electric consumption for the future. The graphs allow us to analyze energy usage and revenue patterns by customer sector.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Maximal's sales and technical support teams are very knowledgeable and responsive. They have provided thorough answers to our questions and reacted quickly to help us.

DOCUMENTATION: Max is so easy to use, and Maximal Corporation's sales staff is very eager to answer our questions. We hardly needed the support documentation.

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