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4 keys to successful AMI implementation

Sometimes, the key to the success of an advanced metering infrastructure project is not the technology, but project management and implementation. The way an implementation is conducted can make all the difference in the world in terms of meeting success factors of performance, budget, and schedule.

Typically, AMI projects are more challenging than most utility projects because they involve multiple technologies including meters, network equipment, and software. Many times these critical elements come from different vendors. What’s more, project management services, as well as implementation services, may be provided by different companies.

According to FERC, “the total capital costs of deploying AMI include the hardware and software costs (meter modules, network infrastructure, and network management software for the AMI system), as well as installation costs, meter data management, project management, and information technology integration costs.”

If the implementation costs related to project management and installation are out of control, the success of an AMI project is in jeopardy.

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The consulting firm McKinsey and Company offers insight into the requirements for a successful implementation in a white paper, Best Practices in the Deployment of Smart Grid Technologies.  The report describes the steps that utilities should take to avoid false starts, cost overruns, and subpar results.

“The first stage of a smart grid rollout is generally in the deployment of smart meter technology. Here the record of companies has been mixed – unsurprising given the level of complexity involved,” states the report.

Starting with a strong business case and employing lean business operations and change management are a must. The paper also identifies four factors that should guide smart grid implementations:

1. Set up the architecture for implementation

Utilities must determine whether it will act as the prime contractor, how many vendor contracts will be required, which contractors will perform tasks on the project and how much risk they can manage.

2. Select technologies for the long-term and use pilots

Utilities should look to use proven technologies that conform to industry standards and will not become obsolete. Pilots should demonstrate the technical feasibility of vendor solutions and validate cost and benefit assumptions in the business case.

3. Use strategic sourcing to optimize providers’ capabilities 

Utilities must do as much as possible to minimize risks to ensure that vendors can deliver on their timelines and volumes as outlined in contracts.

4. Maintain a significant business focus on IT integration.

Utilities must focus project management on critical path activities, stage implementations properly, and carefully map automation appropriate for each process step in a test-and-learn approach to reduce the chances of cost overruns.

Every step of the implementation process is fraught with risks, but using workforce management software can significantly reduce those risks.

Aclara’s unique workforce management software brings the field into the office, providing product status visibility in real-time, at all times. By providing real-time updates, any issues arising in the field are addressed immediately, before they become problems. Safety and efficiency goals are achieved proactively.

The system’s open architecture integrates with existing enterprise systems. We estimate that ProField® mobile workforce yields 50 plus percent higher productivity and 20 times more accurate field data — creating unprecedented value for electric, water, and gas utilities. Read more about Aclara’s electric rollouts at Con Ed here.

Keys components of the solution are:

  • An OpsCenter collaborative workspace to manage projects in real-time.
  • A safety management system that handles safety meetings and reports from handheld devices.
  • A call center that manages communications between the utility, its customers, and the deployment company.
  • A cascading inventory system that ensures utilities know the location of all assets at all times.
  • A training and certification module to ensure all employees are fully trained and certified.
  • Real-time observation of the work of field technicians to verify the safety and quality of work.
  • Optimization of routes for installation crews that take into account factors such as blackout dates and travel times.
  • Precise sequencing of work to ensure it is complete and conforms to best practices.

ProField is deployed at electric, gas, and water utilities nationwide, and most recently at DC Water. Learn more about DC Water’s implementation.

This blog was originally published in 2018 and was updated on August 31, 2020

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