Utilities want to know if vendors are overselling their wares. Are vendors making commitments that that they really should not? Sometimes it’s hard to know what a product will actually do – or not do – until it’s installed and running. So most buyers will try to assure themselves that the product – hardware or software – will do what it says on the label.
But there’s another side that gets less attention: do vendors underplay the difficulty of living with a product? As Calvin once explained to Hobbes, there’s a big difference between getting something and having something. After the discussion session at a recent smart grid conference, I understand that having meter data management (MDM) can be more complicated than buyers may grasp during the acquisition cycle.
At the conference session, I joined five utility executives discussing their experiences implementing MDM. The group was given a preset list of questions to discuss. The first, “What have you learned from going beyond billing?” resulted in a bunch of blank stares. The reason: that’s all these utilities have done with MDM – generate bills. There is little “beyond billing” yet.
Perhaps the most common theme of the discussion was the difficulty of installing MDM and then integrating it with other applications. All of the participants felt that this aspect had been underplayed by their vendors during the MDM purchase cycle. Integration of MDM to other applications such as energy management, outage management, or customer information systems, has proven far more difficult than expected.
Response Times Slowed
All five utility officials were also dissatisfied with their MDM’s reporting capabilities. Several utilities had reinstalled legacy reporting systems, piping the data from the new MDM back to the reinstalled legacy systems. The group also wanted a separate replicated MDM database for reporting because running complex analyses against the online database significantly slows the response to real-time queries – usually driven by customer portals on the Internet or help desk agents on a call.
Everyone present agreed that MDM should be done before a smart meter rollout, or at least simultaneously. No one thought it a good idea to deploy smart meters before the MDM was in place. Some of the group felt that the holy grail of smart metering – interval readings every 15 minutes – is useless for residential applications, although useful in commercial and industrial applications. One panelist said his utility had activated remote disconnect for only 1% of its smart meters, although that was due to local regulations governing disconnect processes.
Navigant Research’s report, Meter Data Management, published 3Q 2012, stressed the need for detailed planning before installing an MDM system. These discussions reminded me how true that is!
Tags: Conferences & Events, Meter Data Management, Smart Grid Infrastructure, Smart Utilities Practice, Utility Innovations
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