AMI systems go beyond the benefits of AMR to improve system reliability and enable operational efficiencies. Water utilities can take it to the next level by making the AMI a strategic tool.
By Joey Mitchell
When utilities deploy an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project, they are preparing their infrastructure for the future to improve the lives of their customers. AMI integrates equipment, communications and data management systems, reducing costs and improving operational efficiency.
Properly deployed AMI helps utilities transform their operations. AMI provides real-time remote data exchange from control center to meter and back. Since smart meters are read remotely, there are fewer vehicles on the road, which translates into an overall ecological footprint.
For customers, AMI provides more transparency on their water usage, which improves their customer experience and helps build trust.
Core Benefits: Streamlines meter reading, customer service and collections
Deploying an AMI program provides the immediate benefit of streamlining tasks such as meter reading, customer service, collections, theft management, and related activities.
Leak detection is much more efficient with AMI. With a more transparent view of water usage, customers quickly spot potential water leaks or usage spikes. Rather than having to wait to notice unusual usage at the end of a monthly bill, customers can be alerted to a potential problem and fix the source of the problem in days, not months. When leaks occur, utilities are better able to implement and manage their leak fix programs. AMI allows these leak adjustment policies to be based on data that was not previously available.
Utilities also improve operational efficiency with AMI, eliminating truck deployments, reducing billing complaints, and conducting outage investigations remotely. Obsolete manual data collection tasks are eliminated with AMI.
Existing IT systems can leverage AMI data to reduce or eliminate information silos between teams. This sharing of AMI data between departments such as engineering, planning, customer service, billing and distribution will support intelligent decision-making to ensure effective, up-to-date and accurate information is included.
Accurate and detailed water metering capabilities with AMI improve customer confidence in billing accuracy. Customers can expect their bills to be more consistent month over month. Instead of measuring consumption monthly. AMI systems track hourly usage and can report irregular activity quickly and efficiently. With AMI, utilities can increase transparency by providing customers with a portal to monitor their usage patterns and adjust their activity accordingly to save water. This transparency builds trust when customers see they are being charged exactly for what they use.
Strategic tool that drives business goals
Deploying AMI is a major feat for any water utility. However, it is important that staff do not consider the project complete once the fundamentals are in place. AMI systems are an enabling technology for strategic opportunities for years to come outside of core benefits.
AMI systems can fundamentally transform existing cash metering processes in ways that support a water utility’s long-term business goals. They can also improve customer relationships in profound new ways.
And after? Building on initial advantages
Like a cell phone, AMI technology won’t be optional any time soon, so don’t get caught thinking too much about all the reasons why your utility needs AMI before you start. Just start. Also, don’t dwell on all the benefits until your solution is fully implemented. Start, and then take advantage of these initial advantages. The completion of a system-wide AMI upgrade is a major achievement. Once your AMI program is fully upgraded, start thinking about what’s next.
Spend some time getting to grips with the technology, all it has to offer, and then start focusing on how your future operations will look. How can your AMI system improve other parts of your operations? What would this improvement look like? Leaders asking these questions are pushing technology beyond reducing labor costs to delivering more comprehensive process improvements that unlock strategic advantages.
Collaboration at the heart
As your staff gets used to working with AMI systems, opportunities for improvement tend to arise. Doing more with an AMI system requires not only this collaboration between utilities, manufacturers, and implementers, but also across departments – something that often becomes apparent as staff become familiar with the AMI data they receives.
When this happens, future innovations are spurred because many AMI system improvements are a direct result of utilities requesting or suggesting new features that streamline operations. Manufacturers often develop and roll out these improvements to all customers.
Build a shared understanding of how work is done
There are meter-to-cash processes that involve more than 100 steps across five departments, and the entire process must be completed correctly before the utility can issue a bill to a customer. To get the most out of the AMI, utilities need to review and redesign these processes to take full advantage of what the system has to offer.
For this to happen, utilities need to find a facilitator (internal or external), who can bring everyone together, to have these candid discussions and make the decisions that are best for the organization. The best way for organizations to achieve what they box do is understand what people currently do.
The goal of these lively discussions is to build a common understanding of how work is done. This should be collaborative to ensure quality information is received and natural resistance to change is minimised.
Utility managers should review existing process maps and standard operating procedures (SOPs) with their department heads or, if not already available, have them created. Departments should assess all cross-departmental activities in the counter-to-cash workflow to ensure they are accurate.
From this analysis, the team can create more streamlined and efficient workflows. The improved information provided by AMI systems will generate a range of opportunities to eliminate duplicate and redundant work. This helps reduce costs and work smarter at the next level.
Proactive problem prevention
Smart meters can send more than one meter reading. Many meters can track multiple data points, including water quality, water pressure, and water temperature, which can help utilities proactively prevent issues that are more important to their customers. communities.
An understanding of water pressure in a system is valuable. If customers are complaining about low water pressure in a certain area, a major leak in the distribution system could be the cause of the low pressure. With this data, the utility is able to target and then fix these issues faster to avoid customer downtime or a major water loss.
Similarly, temperature monitoring through smart meters can help prevent water quality issues. Warmer water can attract disease-carrying bacteria. If staff know the temperature at the end of a line, they can prevent contamination before it happens by flushing that line. Utilities can base flushing and similar maintenance decisions on hard data rather than rules of thumb.
Data-Driven Pipe Replacements
Today’s utilities face multiple challenges, requiring them to solve multiple problems at once. Beyond aging infrastructure and leaky pipes, water utilities are looking for ways to fund capital improvements and make their infrastructure more resilient to natural disasters.
Water utilities also strive to consider upstream and downstream systems. Planning smart water systems for the future involves understanding the interdependencies of these related systems. In most established communities, water pipes have been in place for decades or more. It is essential to ensure that this infrastructure is properly maintained with pipe replacement programs.
Traditionally, utilities have aimed to replace pipes every 50 years. However, these age-based policies are not necessarily the best course of action. Sometimes older pipes do not leak into the system and it is newer pipes that cause serious leaks. AMI data can help utilities make better decisions about pipe replacement programs.
By aggregating data from the AMI system, managers can make more objective and accurate decisions about pipe replacement. Staff know the flow rate, water levels and pressures throughout the system accurately. This allows them to target and replace known faulty components and not just those that are over a certain age.
Through internal collaboration and public education, your utility can go beyond cutting costs and working smarter. You can make your AMI system a strategic resource that makes a real difference to your long-term business goals and to the community.
Joey Mitchell is vice president of UMS and has held that position for nearly a decade. It has a history of successful meter implementations across the United States and developed the industry’s first Metering-as-a-Service (MaaS) solution.