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August 19, 2016
Smart meter rollout and operations: think big, start small, scale fast
By: Rick Hanks

With many smart metering installations programs in progress or about to get underway around the world, utilities’ attention needs to start shifting to how they will realize the promise of smart meters and deliver the benefits of the business case created for their deployment. Doing so depends on achieving operational excellence, from the process of installing meters in customers’ homes to setting up and running ongoing effective, business-as-usual operations. This transition to the new era of smart metering generates a number of challenges, and planning is critical. While no two roll-out programs will be exactly alike, our experience suggests that drawing on and learning from others’ experiences could prove invaluable.

Deploying millions of new devices across a market in a relatively short space of time creates a unique scheduling challenge. As meters need to be installed in or on customers’ homes, they cannot simply be delivered to the door. Each has to be installed correctly, and every customer has to provide access to their property which requires engaging customers effectively. Any errors could prove extremely costly and erode trust. With businesses cases for smart metering tightly defined around costs, avoiding unforeseen expenditure must be a primary goal. Throughout the deployment, it is essential to confirm that comprehensive monitoring is in place, with analytics and dashboards that can highlight and enable remediation of faults quickly before they are allowed to arise across the meter estate.

But even with a successful installation program, the transition to effective business-as-usual operations is far from secured. Data in new forms and in unprecedented volumes will suddenly be flowing. There’s likely to be a rush of work, dealing with exceptions as new services and data are available. To prepare for those types of events, advanced planning is needed to ensure the appropriate resources are in place to effect an immediate response to this flood of new data. That may mean thinking about outsourcing services to manage the sudden influx. Similarly, customer service teams need to be fully briefed and prepared to deal with customer inquiries and questions arising from the mass deployment of unfamiliar devices in their homes, or new services that the meters will enable. The availability of new types of customer data may trigger concerns about security and privacy that need to be understood and managed before that data starts to flow. Failure to do that could cause unplanned work, impacting the business case and requiring costly remediation.

To avoid costly errors and setbacks, utilities should consider learning as much as possible from others’ experiences. Successive waves of smart metering in the United States offer plenty of lessons for those beginning their own programs. In Europe, some markets are moving on to consider the next generation of technology. Italy, for example, first deployed smart meters 15 years ago and is now considering how a second wave could create additional benefits. The Nordics, too, are looking at how to benefit from refreshed technology. All offer utilities about to embark on programs of deployment valuable insights to help maximize success. By incorporating those lessons, they can move from pilot to full deployments with greater confidence and efficiency, guided by the key principles of starting small, thinking big and scaling fast.

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