The fundamental demands of the changing market remain consistent from state to state-improve customer service and reduce costs through competition. Applied to meter data collection and aggregation, should companies seek to grow their metering business in the increasingly eccentric markets or get out of meter reading altogether? The answer, of course, is cost of operation and the drive towards ever-greater efficiency.
Great strides have been taken in recent years in the quest for greater efficiencies with the introduction of handheld terminals, radio and cell communications, automated meter reading, and off-site (drive-by) meter reading.
Until recently, the drive for improvements came internally and narrowly focused on the collection processes. Now more and more utilities are look downstream on data aggregation and storage requirements. This data represents a strategic asset as companies strive to learn more about customers in markets where the customer has choice.
The competitive questions
If you intend to compete in the metering market there are a number of questions that need to be answered quickly. For example:
– How many systems are used across your company to process and store meter data?
– Where do you store residential meter data?
– Where do you store commercial and industrial interval meter data?
– Where do you store data from load research sample meters?
– Do you read or store meter data from more than one type of utility, and are these data stored in separate systems?
– Do your systems support the concept of meters belonging to more than one company?
– Where do you store information about meter asset data?
– How well documented are the interfaces between those systems, and how many reside on legacy platforms shared with other systems?
– Who are the business owners of these systems and platforms?
– Will the systems and/or the business owners even be part of the same company in a year`s time if vertical unbundling occurs?
In the past, meter data have been stored in many places within the typical utility company, depending either on the type of data or the method of collection. Now more companies are implementing new central repository systems able to consolidate all meter data in a single system. However, a vital requirement of these systems is that the implementation does not create barriers to possible future unbundling of the metering business from the distribution business. Here, for simplification, I make no distinction between a meter owner/operator and a meter reading company.
Competitive supply businesses also need access to customer meter readings and a competitive metering business is ideally placed to offer a service to store and provide data for these companies.
Centralized data repository
The successful metering company of the future needs a repository system today that addresses customer choice issues and designed to underpin the strategic strategy. The primary function of this system should be to provide a system of record for meter data collected by the organization. With meter data in a central place it can then be extracted in different formats for market research, and use in settlement, billing, load profiling and the support of other systems.
A central repository for metering data should have the following characteristics:
– Multiple commodity metering: The repository should support the reading of electricity, gas, and water, heat (steam), including the different commodity units of measure.
– Multiple interval sizes: The repository should support variable interval sizes. Irrespective of settlement rules and the interval for market pricing, the system should be able to store readings at multiple interval sizes. Recognizing that different states can have different rules for data collection intervals, this will allow the metering company to operate a single system across several jurisdictions.
– Collection for several utilities: The repository should support a business, which collects data on behalf of other companies as a revenue-earning service. The system should merge meter-reading schedules from different companies into a unified schedule, for reading by a single company.
– Support for multiple concurrent suppliers: As the markets mature, it is likely there will be overlapping supply contracts, for example, different suppliers for weekend and weekday or peak and non-peak. The repository should support these and other potential supply changes.
Aside from the requirement for a central repository, other areas that will benefit from the impact of technology are data collection (mentioned earlier) and data presentation using the Internet as competitive metering companies reach out to their customers.
A repository should support third party decision tools to allow the true value of this consolidated data to be realized. There are only three things we need to do with meter data: (1) acquire it, (2) store it, and (3) access it. The biggest question is: how well architected are your current systems to support these apparently simple requirements in an evolving market?
Mark Knight is Director of Service Delivery for Logica`s (www.logica.com) Energy Solutions Center located in Lexington, Mass. Contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org