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Monday
Aug132007

AMI doesn’t make much difference without fundamental process change

Few changes in the utility industries have generated more interest and discussion that Automated Meter Information (AMI). AMI is the ability to get digital readings from [electric] meters at a distance. Industry articles tout AMI as “the biggest change since….” In most cases these, articles are wrong. Too many plans for AMI were designed to prevent any fundamental change, and so end up merely paving the cow paths.

I began my career in information technology working in and around Boston. Local legend has it that the original paths between the scattered houses of the settlement of Boston were made by wandering milk cows as they neandered from barn to field.

People naturally walk along cow paths. The brush has been cleared and the way is smooth and packed. As the town grew, these paths were preserved as the roads were cobbled and then paved. The result is the winding mess of roads surrounding Milk Street in Boston’s downtown today.

Paving the cow paths is a classic source of failure in system design and a common pitfall of business process management. It is my sense that undue respect for preserving the cow paths is a significant cause of the failure of many large Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.

Universities have one of the lowest success rates in implementing ERP. Universities have an undue respect for the value of the way they have always done things. Universities run many businesses they have no idea how to run well; business managers have no respect for transparency or consistency even within their fiefdoms. At UNC, the new ERP project is already in trouble as units try to preserve the Carolina Way they have always done things. (Guys, let it go! If we really liked the old way of doing business, we wouldn’t have needed to buy a new one.) Some of my readers have observed this process within their own organizations.

Utility companies, used to state regulation of their business processes, and focused more on possible failure than potential success, make many of the same mistakes. By focusing almost exclusively on preserving and optimizing their pre-existing business processes, they are missing the transformative benefits of AMI. AMI is about driving slowly through the neighborhood once a month and having all meter readings without a single dog bite. In many areas, customers are by policy blocked from direct access to their own meter information because they might “misunderstand” or “misuse” it.

The real benefits of AMI stem from transparent immediate access to meter data by both the buyer and the seller. This information will create and drive new markets when it is also available to the buyer’s agents, including third party auditors and building systems operations specialists as well.

Human readable mechanisms are not enough. Personal web pages to get to your own meter data through the utility central office are designed to impede live response. Digital read-outs on the thermostat do not enable the buyer to develop their own automation strategies. We must demand that full information be computer accessible inside as well outside the building. All information formats should be compliant with e-commerce style standards. Only by doing so will the new mechanism for demand response flourish; only then will full markets for managing load flourish.

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Reader Comments (2)

I'd encourage you to check out AMRA (www.amra-intl.org). They are holding their showcase event from Setp. 30 - Oct 3 in Reno, NV. I think that you'd get a broader perspective with respect to what AMI is and what it hopes to accomplish. Within the industry, the term AMR refers to automated\automatic meter reading which essentially makes the old process of meter reading more efficient. AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) refers to more advanced systems that enable dyanmic pricing mechanisms, new payment and customer service options, and control of electrical loads within the home.

The simple automation of the meter reading process is technology that is well past its mature stage in the utility industry (even though there are several large utilities rolling out this basic level of technology). Two-way communication technologies that allow for more than the simple retrieval of a meter read are driving the market today worldwide. See Southern California Edison's AMI efforts (www.sce.com/ami) for a picture of what can be done in creating the business case for AMI. Benefits far beyond operational savings are being sought with new generations of technology.

September 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterS Dempsey

Thanks for the distinction between AMR and AMI - a critical one.

The SCE efforts appear to still be focussed on central command and control, that is, ways for Edison to control your house, or gfor you to read your meter as mediated by Edison. If so, this is still the big brother process, albeit a more advanced one, that I would decry.

September 4, 2007 | Registered CommenterToby Considine

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