Enterprises in the energy and utilities sector will increasingly turn to big data analytics in the coming years in order to improve their operations, cut costs, and cope with a rapidly changing environment.

It was noted by R&D Mag that these businesses are currently dealing with an unfamiliar landscape where they are expected to integrate alternative technologies, boost their situational awareness and improve relationships with customers. 

Advanced analytics services can play a key role in meeting these goals, enabling utilities providers to increase agility and responsiveness, reduce operational costs and improve asset reliability.

Figures from GTM Research suggest the market for big data in this sector is set to increase from $700 million in 2012 to $3.8 billion by 2020, as gas, electricity and water suppliers in all parts of the world look to increase their investment.

"Big data is a critical element to solving key business problems for utility companies," R&D Mag contributor Stephen Callahan said. "It can turn the information from smart meter and smart grid projects into meaningful operational insights and understandings about their customer's behaviour."

He noted that as smart grids and meters become more common across the industry, the amount of data available to be gathered and analysed will skyrocket – reaching hundreds of terabytes every year. When added to unstructured data from other sources, such as maintenance records and even Twitter feeds where customers can provide feedback and make complaints, this data will offer huge opportunities for utilities firms that have the capabilities to take advantage of them.

As well as improving their understanding of the most efficient ways of managing their infrastructure and becoming more responsive to periods and areas of high demand, big data analytics are also invaluable in delivering better, more personalised services to customers – something that's vitally important in today's connected environment.

"Becoming a customer-centric, information-driven organisation is no longer simply an option for most utility companies, it's a business imperative," Mr Callahan said. "With analytics, energy companies can make the shift to engage with customers in highly personalised ways that can increase customer satisfaction, lower the cost of service and promote new products and services."

However, he noted that despite the wide range of benefits on offer, some utilities companies are still holding back from fully embracing big data analytics. Key reasons for this include worries over the cost and complexity of deploying such a solution.

To avoid this, businesses need to take a structured approach, beginning with a realistic review of their goals and current level of maturity. Once they have an initial framework, this will help guide their development by providing a baseline for key initiatives, so companies can then identify the right data sets and the smart systems they need, invest in the right skills and implement the right data governance model.