Helen Oy is one of the largest electricity companies in Finland. Founded in 1909, the company generates and sells electricity, district heating and district cooling.

In recent years, digitalisation and data have taken on a key strategic role, as the transition from the old world of coal power plants to a decentralised energy system is increasing the amount of data by many multiples.

In addition to its energy business, Helen is fast becoming a data, software and artificial intelligence company.

This is a really interesting time to be working for an energy company. Helsinki has been heated by coal for over a hundred years, but this energy is being replaced by generation from thousands of sources. Data science is at the heart of the transition, and it has been one of the main factors enabling coal-fired power plants to be phased out rapidly, says Mikko Muurinen, Helen's Head of Data and AI.

Carbon neutrality will multiply the amount of data

Data enables a better understanding of energy generation and consumption, and it guides smart business and environmental decisions.

The shift from hourly data to 15-minute data alone will quadruple the amount of data that every electricity company collects. The fragmentation of energy generation also brings with it a huge amount of geolocation information. All types of IT architecture also include preparations for the IoT world, as various sensors will enable proactive maintenance, for example.

The move from traditional, retrospective, month-by-month reporting to real-time, cloud-managed overviews and forecasts is a giant leap in itself. However, the aspirations do not end there: in a few years' time, data-driven artificial intelligence may control the entire energy chain.

"We have a long history of good, flexible cooperation together. The Knowit team possesses wide-ranging expertise in user interfaces, visualisation and the cloud, and they also understand legacy issues."

A long shared history and diverse expertise

Knowit's Microsoft team has been keeping Helen's key systems up to date for 10 years. They are tasked with refining the data that flows from operational systems to mobile apps and online services such as My Helen.

A few years ago, AWS experts had the opportunity to help develop a solar calculator that allows anyone to calculate the solar power potential of their roof.

Today, cloud computing is increasingly focused on Microsoft Azure, Data Lake and Databricks. The Knowit team has been involved since the design phase of the data platform, carrying out architectural design and thinking about which components will be used on the platform. Thereafter, the team was called upon to build a variety of data pipelines from different sources and to refine the data for purposes such as production reporting and optimisation, as well as other support processes, such as sales and the electricity exchange and electricity and heat distribution.

Increasing demands for real-time data and the explosive growth in the volume of data are placing new demands on the data platform.

- We were not aiming to carry out a single large project. Instead, we have received important help in many areas from the Knowit team. We have a long history of good, flexible cooperation together. The Knowit team possesses wide-ranging expertise in user interfaces, visualisation and the cloud, and they also understand legacy issues, says Mikko Muurinen.

The Helen customer account is the responsibility of Henri Parkkonen at Knowit. He has been very pleased with the increase in collaboration in recent years.

- We provide Helen with experts who have worked on a wide range of data projects for different types of entities. We actively monitor the development of our offering and keep Helen aware of innovations in the field. We aim to be an important partner for Helen in their data strategy, says Henri Parkkonen.

Power BI helps to develop self-service analytics

One important area of cooperation between Helen and Knowit is the utilisation of Power BI, an analytics and reporting tool that supports business operations. Knowit's Maxim Tuovinen plays a key role in this regard.

- I guide Helen's analysts in their work, enhancing their competences and creating good practices. I am like a Power BI Personal Trainer for analysts, Maxim Tuovinen says.

In the last year and a half, Helen has created dozens of different Power BI applications and several reports. Among other things, Power BI has enabled operational reporting to support the everyday work of employees, not just senior managers. One application is used to monitor and steer the performance of customer service. Another is used to verify that Helen's Electricity Network satisfies the quality criteria.

Reporting applications are an important part of measuring and supporting everyday performance, both for internal employees and external partners.

Employee safety is paramount to Helen, and it is monitored using a safety dashboard built on Power BI. The aim is to minimise accidents on worksites and at power plants. All employees can view reports on the safety dashboard. Once a month, a safety toolbox talk is produced as a video for everyone to watch, and it presents figures from the dashboard, reviews them, and shares the lessons learned from safety incidents.

Images: Helen Oy

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Markku Haukijärvi
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