Everything that could possibly go wrong in AMI rollouts already has
? and we?ve learned from it
New mobile workflow optimization approaches are rewriting smart meter deployment best practices
By Shashi Gupta Problems associated with poor installations of advanced meters have done tremendous damage to public perceptions about the utility industry. To those familiar with the challenges associated with advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) deployments, it comes as no surprise that significant quality and process issues, such as hot meter sockets and other safety and reliability problems, have come to the fore. AMI can present customer-facing issues too, including customer billing errors from improperly registered meters and poor handling of utility customers by an inexperienced, hybrid workforce. Lost meters and poor inventory tracking, schedule overruns and inefficiencies in a range of processes can drive up project costs. Utility executives are demanding new processes, tools and strategies to confront these risks. To withstand regulatory and media scrutiny, AMI rollouts require fail-safe programs and processes that ensure automated process compliance and tracking. Utility executives know that when it comes to batch errors, hot sockets, and billing mix ups that ?one such incident can stall the whole project.? In an environment where every public mistake is magnified, best practices are beginning to emerge, and workflow optimization systems are playing a pivotal role in ensuring adherence to standards and structures providing documentable audit trails.
What Can Go Wrong? ? Identifying AMI Deployment Risks
System-wide advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) deployments represent an unusually substantial resource commitment for a utility. A highly varied workforce that includes relatively inexperienced field personnel often carries out AMI rollouts. Problem areas generally relate to installation processes and personnel, rather than being specific to a particular meter manufacturer. AMI deployment problems include: 1. Hot meter sockets and associated fire hazards 2. Meter registration, batching, and pairing installation errors 3. Meter inventory errors (lost meters and/or inefficient tracking) 4. Inefficient processes (for workers, managers and/or administrators) 5. Safety, reliability, or customer-facing process deficiencies 6. Liabilities arising from a lack of audit/photo trail of standardsbased activities
The New AMI Best Practices
Early smart meter deployments yielded some hard lessons, and that knowledge has become the basis for metering specific approaches that draw on business process management approaches, particularly mobile workflow optimization. Utilities today can apply these practices to avoid pitfalls and ensure success. No.1 ? Think Processes, not Features To find the right approach, utility managers accustomed to evaluating software solutions on features and functionality will need to look at workflow optimization solutions in a holistic, process-centric way rather than in a fragmented ?module centric? fashion. Doing so will reveal the powerful common business process management principles as the source of dramatic improvements across different workflow scenarios. What are your productivity objectives? Workflow optimization can address a variety of challenges in AMI deployments, including: ? Ensuring proper work assignments are given and that new team members are assigned work based on their skill set as soon as they are badged ? Allowing the rapid update of assignable tasks after completion of new training. ? Managing the life cycle of a project?s inventory ? Integrating bar-coding and GPS data into process steps (e.g. tracking meter movements from a pallet being opened, to boxes being moved, to individual meters being installed, with workers scanning their badges so status and location of each meter is traced) ? Guiding workers through each step in various workflows, using interactive questions or prompts, from the moment the meter is removed from the box ? Providing a single system rather than multi-system integration for time sheet and payroll system data tracking In the early days of AMI deployment, there were no mobile workflow optimization solutions built specifically for this purpose. Those who recognized the role that business process management (BPM) could play had only generic tools that needed to be adapted on an ad hoc basis. Today?s solutions incorporate the lessons of the past, building workflows that address the needs and challenges of AMI deployments. Whereas legacy enterprise software solutions often lack native ability to process photographic records, perform job assignment changes based on new certifications, or integrate time sheet and payroll system data, new AMI solutions achieve lasting productivity gains because they are infused with hard won knowledge and purpose built to avoid systemic inefficiencies, process bottlenecks, and common errors. ElectricEnergy T&D MAGAZINE I MARCH-APRIL 2014 Issue 49