Everything in its place: the power of data collation

Data is a powerful tool, but only when it’s easily accessible. Companies these days generate terabytes of it, often from multiple sources, so it’s of vital importance to the success of the business that the data is collected and collated in one place. Unfortunately, more often than not, it is dispersed across hubs and inaccessible from headquarters, which could cause anything from a minor annoyance to a major setback to the company’s operations.

No one knows this better than Jim Kaveney, CEO of Volt Power, a leading provider of overhead and underground utility services in the power delivery industry.

Volt faced a big challenge with its enormous amount of data coming from multiple sources. Because the company had used a variety of software solutions across different departments, it was not an easy job to consolidate it all and glean a clear picture of the state of the business operations. 

We sat down with Jim recently to discuss this obstacle Volt faced at the time and how the solution Maestral developed made a positive impact on the way business was conducted.

Q: Jim, tell us about yourself and about Volt Power.

A: I started my career in the oil industry in 1980. I worked for Atlantic Ridgefield for 20 years, either operating or building power plants. My last job with them was in England, building a power plant in Great Yarmouth. Then I spent another 20 years at GE as a vice president in their maintenance services business for power generation plants around the world, and in February of 2019 I joined Volt Power.

Volt primarily works in transmission and overhead and underground distribution. We have roughly 250 crews, and we do about $300 to 350 million of business a year. It was a very broken business when I got here, and it’s been a turnaround job. When you look at the trends, we’re heading in the right direction. Not where we need to be by any means, but definitely the right direction.

Q: In 2019, we met to discuss your data processing challenges. Can you tell us a little bit more about your experiences with business data intelligence at the time?

A: We had just adopted a purely financial platform. The operational data was on spreadsheets, it was on everybody’s computer and it was all done differently. There was no visibility at all to the health of the business operations. The process was very manual, and people did their own thing to get reports. At headquarters, it was impossible. Although we had a lot of experience in Volt, we didn’t have the data that we needed in a clear format to make good business decisions.

Q: We talked then about how we could solve this problem. There was really no specific roadmap. Tell us about what you felt you needed at the moment.

A: Typically, the way operations work is that we look at financial metrics, and financial metrics are really a lagging indicator. They are a picture of how the operation’s going. When you’re doing poorly, everybody scrambles to figure out what’s wrong in operations, and when you’re doing well, everybody ignores it. The vision that I had was to look at the leading indicators and be more proactive instead of reactive to the financials. 

Let’s create a dashboard that looks at what the operational things are that we do within the business that impact those financials, then put them in an automated system that gives us visibility of that data and allows our people in the field to take action before we see the impact on the financials.

We created an operational dashboard that looks at a very broad spectrum of our operation, then we tied it to a financial dashboard that gives us the outcome, the lagging indicator. Now we have both the leading indicators that our people in the field use and the lagging indicators that our financial community uses to report on how we’re doing as a business.

Q:  What prompted you to collaborate with a partner to bring your vision to life?

A: As I said earlier, we had a lot of operational experience in the business, and I would say anyone that takes on a task like this needs to understand that they’re the expert of the operation. They know better than anyone else how the operation works and

how they make money and lose money. Unless you have that operational team engaged to develop something like this, it’s not going to work. It takes a lot of time and dedication to do that. 

On the other side, you need somebody that can take that vision, that operational experience, and translate it into a digital format that you don’t need a data scientist to understand, one that you can give to your operational people in the field so they can clearly see what’s going on.

After talking to the team at Meastral and understanding its capabilities, it was obvious to me that this is a company that understands the groundwork, the work that the guys do in the field, and that could translate that language into digital language to create the dashboard we needed.

Q: Now that we’ve built a platform, we continue to work to make it better so that you can make better sense of the data. How do you feel it’s helping your team and helping you make better decisions?

A: I think Maestral has done a great job of adapting with Volt to make those changes. 

We’re at a point now if I look at the headquarters dashboard my CFO and I view, we’re very happy with the results. Now we’ve taken it deeper into the organization to our field people who have to make immediate decisions on a daily basis. We’ve created dashboards from those parent dashboards specific to every member of the crew that we have in the field. They love it, and to get operations people to love anything is always a challenge. They see real-time where they can make changes in the field to  improve their financials. They can see where crews are performing and make adjustments there to levelize the field. It’s really taking off for us, and we’re seeing results.

Q: Would you recommend to executives of other companies to look into working with partners like us to solve their business needs through technology expertise?

A: Yes, I would. A word of advice, though: I’ve done this so many times in my career where you bring in a third party to help you through a challenge and you expect that third party to just take it and go build it. That’s not the way it works. It will fail 100% of the time if your team as the customer is not fully engaged and on board with making it work. The efforts that Maestral put in were extraordinary. They were very adaptable and flexible with us, which was great. I would definitely promote Maestral as a third party to build these kinds of systems and dashboards.

When business data is properly organized, the trickle down of benefits is evident almost immediately. As Jim noted in the interview, thanks to Maestral’s innovative solution, Volt Power is now seeing measurable results because data that was once scattered throughout the business has now been made centrally available. This in turn has markedly improved visibility of business operations, especially when it comes to performance of crews in the field, which is vital for an energy company. 

As we continue our collaboration, we look forward to optimizing the current platform we’ve built, as well as developing new features to help solidify Volt Power’s status as a market leader. 

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