Meter reading is still one of the more labour-intensive utility activities. While the use of automated meter reading technologies (AMR) is increasing, most utilities are still reading the majority of their meters manually.

Clearly the meter reading organisation is evolving with the introduction of automation. The diversity of metering and AMR equipment, complexity of accounts and billing, the challenges of service territory, and needs of different customer classes dictate different solutions for different companies.

In this transition to automation and the quest for reduced operating expenses, most utilities are focusing on three approaches to meter reading improvement.

  1. Reducing costs of manual reads through contract negotiations, rerouting, more sophisticated handheld equipment and meters, productivity improvement, and lowering overheads.
  2. Contract meter reading to reduce overheads, tackle seasonal peaks, and as a strategy to move to AMR.
  3. Introducing AMR, including identifying strategies to pinpoint ‘high read cost’ meters, unsafe meter locations, and high-turnover premises. Some companies have automated key accounts and commercial accounts to accommodate real-time pricing and/or prepare for a competitive market.

BENCHMARKING STUDY IDENTIFIES BEST PERFORMERS

The Ascent Group recently conducted a benchmarking project to evaluate meter reading performance and practices. The main objective was to evaluate the tactics and strategies used today to read customer meters and to identify best practices or opportunities for improvement.

Participants were asked to share any system or process improvements leading to a gain in performance. We also asked utilities to include considerations, successes, and plans moving forward.

Forty-seven utilities participated in the research. Study participants ranged in size from 3,750 meters to be read to as many as 4.5 million. Company performance was evaluated on three levels – productivity, cost, and service. Companies delivering high productivity, low cost, and high service were identified as ‘best performers’ in this study.

WHAT DID WE FIND?

  1. Best Performing Companies Use Automated Meter Reading (AMR) Strategically to Address Access-Problem Meters. The majority of AMR implementations represented by utilities in this survey indicated an AMR implementation rate of less than 20%. Clearly, the majority of AMR implementations have been to address high-cost-read meters. Only three utilities reported AMR implementations of more than 50% of total meters.
  2. Best Performing Companies Reroute Continuously. The best performers identified in this study reported continuous or frequent rerouting and route optimisation to maximise productivity and reduce costs. Companies with AMR implementations also stressed the importance of route consolidation and optimisation throughout the transition to automation.
  3. Best Performing Companies Implement Clear and Concise Measures of Meter Reader Performance. The best performers were deliberate in their measurement of employee, group, and departmental performance, but nearly half our participants did not have a measurement programme in place for individual meter reader performance.
  4. Best Performing Companies Encourage High Performance through Incentives and Rewards. The best performers encouraged excellence through incentive programmes and/or informal or formal reward programmes.
  5. Effective Classroom and On-the-Job Training (OJT) Reduces Time to Standard. Best performing companies reported an average of 1 to 2 days of classroom training and 12 to 13 days of OJT. Best performers’ meter readers reach standard 20 days sooner than average. These same companies reported the fewest errors and skipped meters and the highest productivity, in combination
    with the lowest unit cost.
  6. Computer-based Training Plays an Active Role in New Meter Reader Training. More than one-third of respondents reported the use of computer-based training in the new hire meter reading training process, and over 80% of respondents who offer refresher training incorporate computer-based training.

For our participants, AMR implementation remains the top plan for the future, whether it’s a partial or complete implementation, or just investigating the technology’s potential.