November 30, 2020

Leading NZ power company generates fresh, accurate insights with new modern data warehouse

Trustpower’s history dates back to Tauranga’s first power station in 1915. As one of the largest leading energy and telecommunications companies in New Zealand, they remain driven to deliver top quality service as they continue to grow.

Today, they supply electricity to approximately 270,000 customers nationwide, provide 91,000 telecommunications customer connections and own/operate 36 stations across 19 schemes.

Selecting the Data Vault methodology

Before engaging with Theta, Trustpower had carefully selected Data Vault as a preferred methodology for their data warehouse. Data Vault offers the capability to store multiple sources of data over time in a layered approach. With its ability to manage the single source of truth and highly suited to their incremental growth needs, it was the perfect fit. Chris Jenkins, Data and Information Manager at Trustpower, explains the main driver behind the project,

“A ‘single source of truth’ seems like another buzzword, but it was essential for us to gain. We needed to combine information from multiple places to answer the simple but crucial questions. The ones that would have the same answer no matter who is asked.”

Other key motives for Data Vault had also been identified:

The Oracle on-premises data warehouse included both operational and non-operational data. They needed to separate this data and reduce business risk.

With a high level of data literacy in the organisation, they wanted to support self-service capabilities.

As an enterprise-sized organisation, Trustpower wanted to fully understand each business unit and model the data so that it was more relevant to users.

There was a need for a modernised data platform.

With existing in-house advanced knowledge in BI and analytics, Trustpower had the skills to complete the build themselves but sought an analytics partner to support the journey. Having several individuals who are skilled and certified in Data Vault design at Theta, we were selected as this partner of choice.

Business-focussed workshops

Theta was engaged in delivering a series of Data Vault workshops. The first set of workshops were highly collaborative and iterative thanks to the range of stakeholders and team members that participated, as Jenkins elaborates,

“We aimed to get the broadest knowledge in the smallest group we could. We weren’t looking for hierarchical authority; we wanted people who had experienced multiple contexts inside the business.” He adds, “A more robust picture is created when you gain perspectives from people who can contextualise using the various ‘hats’ they’ve worn from previous roles.”

As well as encouraging the team to be highly engaged from the get-go, vital questions were asked,

“We wanted to establish what’s going on and why it’s going on,” says Jenkins. “After doing this, we could look at what happens when we change something – that’s when we can start delving into Data Science”.

In the next series of business-focussed discovery workshops, the process flow and business concepts for the entire organisation were mapped. Our Theta Data Vault specialists then transitioned into design-focused workshops with two main Trustpower stakeholders in the project – both Chris Jenkins and Jo Newcombe Cook (Data Management BA).

“We identified the big things we care about at a macro level – and there were hundreds of them,” Jenkins states. “Location was one example; critical for a service business like us. By starting to build out the spider web at this level, we created a model that allowed us to dive into particular areas. It meant we could do a really good job of delivering something like ‘location’, whilst also knowing what will be connected to it in the next piece. Doing this allowed us to ‘build for now’ but with the context of the whole organism in the future.”

It also helped to develop the bigger picture.

“We learnt a lot about ourselves as an organisation. Getting the right people in the room and a huge volume of post-it notes on the wall was a win in itself.”

In a follow-up workshop, concepts around Data Vault with the development team were explored. This workshop allowed the team to look at logical structures in Data Vault and how to use them to solve specific challenges. Theta also encouraged and taught team members how to run this style of modelling workshop within the business. As Trustpower already has a highly skilled analytics team, it helped to sharpen their workshop delivery skills; enabling them to pass on this knowledge effectively.

Finding the right tool for the job

Data Vault is highly suited to incremental growth, and Trustpower used this to their advantage. We initially modelled one subject matter together, education and training, and then their own internal team moved onto the build. Doing so allowed them to see results immediately whilst moving onto modelling the next part of the business. To drive maximum growth and value during this ongoing capability project, Jenkins is a big supporter of finding the right tool for the right job.

“We’ve tried different tools in a few areas to solve various challenges – including data replication, Data Catalog and transformation tools. We test for robustness and look at commercial viability. When there are significant benefits and the key users have provided good feedback, it’s a tool that we’ll be interested in.”

Driving internal capability

Team upskilling is a big focus. Jenkins comments,

“In a project, you bring in experts and deliver something by a deadline. The world can move in that time. Our approach is to drive an ongoing, internal capability with the help of IT partners.”

On the topic of the partner-led workshops, he adds,

“You can read books and watch videos to learn technical theory. However, facilitating a group is a different matter. We pulled in the people who are well practised at it. It gave us a big head start. From a personal perspective, I really enjoyed seeing how Pascal and Martin [Theta Data Vault specialists] observed the group and how it supported the continuous improvement cycle.”

Once Trustpower had completed the design phase, they were able to have the satisfaction of carrying out the build in-house; creating a sense of ownership and improved individual capability along the way. About Theta’s continued support, Jenkins says,

“It’s great to be able to jump on a call with someone like Steve [Theta Data Vault specialist] who’s done it all before. Someone who knows the theory but is also very adaptable.”

The future growth

Trustpower continues to bring more and more business units into the Data Vault, and the reusable component design makes it simple to apply them to other scenarios. As a reflection of project success and satisfaction, Jenkins has also presented on his experience within the broader business community.

“Data Vault is great for enterprises and wide-businesses. It’s the right approach for us. We’re here now, and we’re delivering something that has significant value.”  

With a genuine desire to help others on their journey, he also shares his recommendations,

“If you go with Data Vault, read the books and understand why things are done in a certain way, but make your own path. There’s a pragmatism that can make it much easier for you.”

With new areas being incorporated into the Data Vault model, Trustpower is edging closer to establishing an enterprise-wide single source of truth and eliminating data siloes. Doing so has allowed them to uncover rich insights with peace of mind that their information source is trustworthy. We continue to work alongside each other in what has become a close partnership, with further tech projects, including Snowflake performance optimisation, already underway.

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