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Integrating Metering & Information Systems

Fortnightly Magazine - February 1 1998

metering company acts like Visa. It provides the IT infrastructure to process the data but does not take a financial position in the transaction.

Will consumer metering go the way of the credit industry, operating with just a few large players? The answer may depend on the size of the customer.

For large customers or for large, special-purpose suppliers, branded metering will exist analogous to supplier-specific credit cards, such as those offered by large department stores, oil companies, and the like. Large ESPs may even tie value-added services to branded metering (em the equivalent of frequent-flyer miles, or the American Express corporate card with its special usage billing reports. However, most retail establishments that offer their own branded cards will also accept stand-alone credit cards, such as Visa, MasterCard or American Express, and it is likely that residential meters will follow this pattern (em a few large metering companies, unaffiliated with any ESPs.

The UDC, meanwhile, is a bit like the retail store: It sells goods (energy) under the manufacturer's (ESPs) branding and linking into the credit (metering) system. There is, of course, a subtle difference. The UDC must "carry" energy offered by all interested suppliers, perhaps including other UDCs, whereas the retail store can select the goods it offers, leaving the customer the choice of which store to patronize.

Thus, the UDC operates like a shipper, as does the ISO. Their customers are the ESPs (em not consumers. This role change will lead to different supplier relationships as consumers learn to take service problems to the ESPs. And, just as carriers such as FedEx allow shippers to access their IT systems to identify problems, UDCs will have to allow ESPs to access systems (like trouble call management) to identify and handle customer problems. The meter then looks like a key part of the seller's IT system, which functions like the point-of-sale terminal. It has automatic links to the credit (metering) systems and to the store (ESP and UDC) systems. The retail store uses its POS terminal to drive inventory management and ordering. The UDC and the ESP will use the meter to drive scheduling, forecasting and value-added services. The metering companies use it just as banks and Visa use POS information.

This analogy implies that standards will come along for metering data exchange that will allow any meter to be read by different metering companies or "store" systems. Meter manufacturers will focus on ease of use and consumer features just as POS terminals have focused on bar-code reader design and check clearing and checking systems. Metering systems companies will focus on the information they can provide to ESPs and UDCs.

Finally, note that the store no longer has to buy the card reader from the credit card company as they used to with American Express. Today, the store is free to buy the card reader as part of its IT systems, adapted in many cases to the type of store (i.e., groceries have different bar code readers than hardware stores, for instance). This pattern suggests that at the end of electric