Deploying advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is complex, whether a utility is large or small. In the case of the nation’s largest natural gas utility, the problem was especially thorny. The utility, with 22 million customers distributed over 24,000 square miles, took a two-prong approach to deployment – realize benefits throughout the 7-year project and keep customers informed and in the loop.
Here are 8 best practices that helped them keep their project on track:
1. Make sure project management is centralized
It is important to ensure the project proceeds in a cohesive and integrated manner with clear goals understood by all. AMI projects will benefit from a centralized project management structure, with all groups reporting to a single director, rather than a matrix organization with multiple chains of command.
2. Focus on benefits
A key to success when deploying AMI is to have a strategy to regularly report both the operational gains for the utility as well as advantages for customers and the communities served by the utility.
3. Have a system integration strategy
Any new AMI solution should fit in with the utility’s existing systems and data management. An emphasis within any project should be the smooth transitioning of the AMI technology into the broader operations structure of the utility.
4. Employ the meters after the network
This simple advice guarantees that benefits from new smart meters are immediately realized. This means that network deployment plans must be coordinated with those for putting in meters.
5. Engage employees in the process
It is important to keep all employees informed of what to expect when AMI is deployed, to ensure they understand any new business process changes and how their jobs are affected. Utilities also should involve employees in designing these new processes.
6. Keep customers and the community informed
Engage a grassroots effort to educate the customer base as well as community leaders and legislatures on what the project is about and what changes are coming, as well as the benefits once the AMI system is deployed.
7. Identify future benefits
Plan for ways to add value to the AMI network, such as using it to backhaul data from devices that monitor for problems. For example, a gas utility could deploy detectors in its service territory to detect methane gas.
Finally, once you have deployed AMI it is important to right-size your AMI deployment, operations, and IT groups for post deployment. One important area to plan for, considering the amount of data that will be collected via an AMI network, is data analytics. And it is never too early to plan for deployment and technology upgrades post project.