By Rob Rickard

Many of today’s utilities are no longer satisfied with receiving only meters or data collection systems from their suppliers. Some utilities are expecting their suppliers to offer the complete value chain solution, putting forward scalable, multi-utility systems and services that fit to their needs. Actaris’ maxim “Create, Collect, Manage, Utilise” highlights its ability to offer not just meters and systems that generate and gather the raw meter data, but also the Meter Data Management (MDM) system and knowledge applications to manage and leverage the meter data throughout the utility’s organisation.

As the emerging advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) segment develops, it will increasingly be considered in the context of the smart grid in many countries. The complexity of implementing and managing a smart grid is great but it is clear that an effective MDM system will be central to achieving the objectives. The smart grid is ultimately about an increased level of real time control of the electricity network and being able to influence consumers’ behaviour to better manage the limited resources. Therefore, valuable interpretation of reliable, accurate and meaningful data will be essential.

Utilities will face many common challenges when implementing an AMI system.
Without the proper management of meter data, its value is limited within the organisation. So, for the potential benefit of AMI to be realised, the availability of a robust, reliable MDM system is a critical component in the future growth of the smart metering market. The MDM system must be able to interface relatively easily with multiple meter data collection systems, across numerous communication platforms, and manage very large volumes of meter data (interval, register and events i.e. tamper and outage data) into manageable and usable information.

In order to deliver the appropriate technological solutions, metering and software solution providers need to develop their levels of flexibility, allowing them to contribute at different levels of the utility value chain. Furthermore, providers must be able to leverage their past knowledge and experiences to deliver an optimised solution for each utility’s specific needs. This is easier said than done and requires a portfolio that offers not just advanced metrology, meter data collection and meter data management solutions,but also analysis tools such as forecasting, meter data web presentment, load management and revenue protection applications to leverage this data throughout the organisation. All these functions add more value at a lower cost to the utility and their customers when the solutions are appropriately integrated into a complete smart metering solution.

Meter data management
There are many elements of an MDM system, however the minimum a utility should expect from such a system is the ability to manage all meter data. This will include utilityspecific business logic for processing the meter data, and interfaces with multiple meter data collection systems. It should also evaluate the quality of data and highlight errors or gaps whilst delivering the data in the appropriate format to the billing system. Critically, it must be able to process very large amounts of meter data and integrate with upstream systems.

The primary focus of existing Customer Information Systems (CIS) is typically the customer billing function. However, there is a growing interest in the “extra” data that can be introduced by an AMI system such as the collection and storage of raw usage, tamper or leakage information, as well as key AMI functionality such as remote connect and disconnect, etc. A population of 1,000 smart meters reading at hourly intervals to support time-of-use billing will produce just under 10 million readings per year. This is a phenomenal amount of incoming data that will saturate many existing CIS systems on the market today. The implementation of a suitable MDM solution allows the utility’s CIS to focus on billing whilst simultaneously offering a scalable, flexible IT environment.

The implementation of a new CIS would pose its own challenges for the utility. Many of those who take this route would have to “unplug the cash register” during the switchover process, deferring or backlogging revenue. A well thought-out and executed MDM system is an enterprisewide solution that not only processes and manages meter data, but also isolates business processes and business systems from meter data collection in this multi-technology environment. All meter data are processed and stored in a fully versioned database, allowing the utility constant access to the data when needed.

By ensuring that the system has comprehensive capabilities the utility can be assured that its processes will be applied consistently, no matter how, when or where its metering technologies are deployed, including any that are AMI. This important aspect of an MDM reduces the chance of errors occurring in business areas where data integrity is a must.

meter data management

The meter data management system manages and leverages the meter data throughout the utility’s organisation

Data and communication across systems
The extensive nature of the information supplied by AMI means that utilities will expect to keep abreast of nonrevenue data such as diagnostic alarms, power cuts and tampering attempts, none of which were available from traditional CIS. Further still, the implementation of an MDM solution allows utilities to consolidate interfaces through this system rather than relying on point-to-point interfaces. An MDM solution contains multiple systems, each of which works independently, gathering, processing and distributing their own data. This synchronicity of data across numerous systems means that MDM offers efficiency and reliability.

As well as the systems-within-a-system approach to controlling the data, MDM communicates between the CIS and the data collection systems (be they AMI, commercial and industrial or manual). This solution ensures that the requests for data and the command controls sent from the CIS are transmitted to the appropriate AMI meter data collection system, so that the correct results are returned. Such a well-controlled interface is vitally important in the smooth running of the CIS/AMI interactive process, especially with regard to the provision of accurate billing information upon request.

For instance, the CIS initiates a request for revenue relevant data based on specific on- or off-cycle business processes. The MDM system then forwards this request to the appropriate collection system. Upon receiving the raw meter data from the AMI system, MDM edits/validates the information and then delivers the service point-level billable values back to the CIS.

With the MDM system acting as the collection point for meter data from numerous time horizons and collection systems the CIS can trigger on-cycle and off-cycle activities, whilst still owning the billing cycles. It is also possible to allow the MDM to be responsible for two-way commands between the CIS and the data collection systems. This facility leverages the MDM system’s Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and is especially useful when the utility needs to verify power quality, re-programme meters or issue remote connect/disconnect instructions.

Conclusion
With the rapid increase in AMI system activities, utilities will need to interface as reliably and cost effectively as possible their CIS and other upstream solutions and potentially their various collection technologies from multiple vendors.

Meter data is emerging as the utility’s greatest asset. As utilities adopt MDM solutions to manage their ever increasing volumes of meter data, the industry will witness the revolutionary impact MDM and AMI can have on operational efficiencies, customer service, energy forecasting, distribution system reliability, regulatory compliance and more.

An extensive, scalable and benchmarked MDM system will be able to work with both new and existing technologies to maximise revenue and help provide the best possible customer service.

Since the acquisition by Itron in April 2007, Actaris has the knowledge and expertise to provide Itron Enterprise Edition (IEE) MDM to the world’s utilities, whatever their size. IEE MDM is a proven, multi-utility system with over 40 customers globally, and is able to scale up to meet the needs of utilities that deploy increasingly wide-ranging AMI solutions. IEE’s features also include extensive validation, estimation and editing capabilities; advanced time of usage, aggregation and calculation services and auditable change tracking.

Selecting the right MDM solution that can manage very large volumes of meter data and interface with AMI and upstream solutions, is not only important to achieve a reasonable return on investment, but critical for achieving the transformational changes that can position utilities for success in a rapidly changing business landscape.