The Wire

Energy news from Omaha Public Power District

What It Takes

Data analysts’ roles increasingly vital

March 11, 2024 | Paula Lukowski | OPPD at work, OPPD employees, What It Takes
Data analysts like Doug Rathman and Kavita Poudel are playing increasingly crucial roles as OPPD undergoes a digital transformation.
Doug Rathman and Kavita Poudel agree that data analysts must be agile to work with rapidly developing technology. Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske

Different career paths led Doug Rathman and Kavita Poudel to OPPD, but a love of data lured both of them in the door. Now, they use their data analytics expertise to help business partners find solutions from a growing pool of data.

Rathman joined OPPD 10 years ago as senior data management analyst in Technology & Security. After receiving a computer science degree from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Rathman embarked on what now totals 37 years working in information technology. He worked in the consumer data, payments, construction and business data industries before joining the utility.

Poudel has been a data analyst for nearly five years. She landed her role as Customer Operations analyst at OPPD after moving halfway across the world and completing her second master’s degree, this one in economic science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Born in Delhi, India, and  in Kathmandu, Nepal, she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business studies. She worked in Nepal as a credit collection advisor. After marrying her husband, Dipesh Dhungel, a U.S. citizen, they moved to Omaha.

As part of its digital transformation, OPPD expects to unlock the broad potential of data  between 2025-2028 as several new systems come online. For data-lovers like Rathman and Poudel, that’s exciting news.

Digital transformation

“The data analyst role is critical within OPPD and the industry,” said David Whisinnand, senior director of Digital Transformation. Technology & Security added a Digital Transformation team in 2022 to guide technology transformation and solutions for the future.

“The work a data analyst does is advancing and will be in high demand as OPPD adopts technologies and delivers on digital transformation initiatives over the next decade,” said Whisinnand

“As we enable these new tools and data sources, we have a big opportunity in front of us,” he added. “How we think about and leverage data will continue to progress. Data analysts, along with data scientists and data engineers, will all help carry out our strategy, bring forth new insights, and position OPPD to evolve as a digitally driven organization.”

Today’s projects vary

As OPPD prepares for a future with enriched data, analysts continue to help management make good use of the data it currently has.

“I started on a mainframe that took up an entire room and have seen the evolution to all the new, powerful technologies today,” said Rathman. Packed into his personal data bank are skills and lessons from his days doing everything from application design to development, business intelligence, software engineering and project management.

In his decade at OPPD, Rathman has seen OPPD’s shift to more of a data-science environment.

“I get to wear a lot of hats,” said Rathman, who said the work revolves around understanding data and relationships with database structures. The job requires relating data between different systems, like the outage management system, customer systems, metering and more.

Basically, he and other data analysts transform data into a format easily understood by the users. It may take the shape of a report, dashboard or something else. Recent projects Rathman has worked on include a Technology & Security budgeting dashboard, corporate reports system upgrade, analysis of energy usage in a geographic area, as well as preventive maintenance and outage analysis reports for the power stations.

Work is changing quickly

For Poudel, a typical day has her gathering, organizing and interpreting data. This includes looking for trends and doing forecasts.

Projects range from routine monthly reports to customized reports seeking more specialized and specific information. Some examples include looking for economic trends that impact customers; pulling insights aimed at promoting affordability, assistance, and payment timeliness for operational excellence; and delivering operational metrics, reports and analysis for leaders to use data to make business decisions.

“My work has changed a lot in the last five years,” Poudel said. “It is much more customer-centric. One important project, Energy Burden Solution, includes understanding the household’s energy burden in granularity level. This includes finding the physical condition of a home, Federal Poverty Level, household size, customer demographics and more.”

Up for the challenges

Finding good, quality data proves challenging sometimes. So does keeping up with technology.

“You have to be nimble,“ Rathman said. Poudel agreed, adding that living and working in different cultures has helped her in her data analyst role.

“When you step into a different part of the world, you start analyzing things around you: culture, places, systems, technology and many more,” Poudel said. “You learn, compare and have different perspectives, and you discover the importance of adaptability.”

Poudel has found support in the network of 122 data-driven employees involved with OPPD DATA, one of four communities of practice groups at the utility. Anyone at OPPD, those who work with data or simply have a fascination with data, can join the group. Poudel serves as the group’s treasurer.

Advice for prospects

Whisinnand expects data analysts will be embedded into business units in the near future. That opens doors for others interested in the field.

Stephannie Van Scoy, interim manager of Data Management and Data Governance program manager, shared a few traits OPPD looks for in a data analyst:

  • Have a natural curiosity
  • Anticipate needs (ID number, dates, status, etc.) so you can fill in gaps for whomever you are working with
  • Anticipate the next three questions they might be trying to answer
  • Be creative in the way the data is presented
  • Have patience during the iterative process and the back-and-forth during the build

Both Rathman and Poudel have advice for those interested in becoming a data analyst.

Stay up to date on new database technologies, as well as hone skills in the mainstream data technologies, and get proficient in tools, such as Cognos, Tableau, Big Data and Microsoft Power BI, suggested Rathman

“My degree helped me gain confidence,” Poudel added. “There are many institutions that can help, with a growing number of computer science and data programs.”

Business units are embracing their own business analytics, said Rathman, and that’s going to power OPPD’s future.

Author Image

About Paula Lukowski

Paula Lukowski has more than 34 years of corporate communications experience. By far, her favorite aspect of that role has been profiling the great work done by OPPD employees and retirees. Paula and her husband, Mark, have two grown children, Rachel and John, a son-in-law, Josh, and two grandsons.

View all posts by Paula Lukowski >

Leave a Comment


How Does That Work?


Leading the Way

Powerful Life


Working for You