In less than a decade, three powerful trends will converge on gas distributors.
The EDI Solution: Help of Hindrance in Billing and Metering?
over incoming energy service providers, she says.
"From the consumer perspective, if a utility goes out and buys a network to automate meter reading, the cost to all market participants is much lower. Putting in metering technology on a customer-per-customer basis could cost energy service providers $1,200, otherwise," adds an analyst.
"In a lot of cases, meter reading is not a core skill for energy service providers. They will continue to use the utility to collect meter reading data. This is why EDI standards are needed," Neilson explains.
Tom Lofgren, director of application software development at CellNet, a rival to Itron, agrees, adding that varying EDI standards in different states has been expensive.
"We are re-implementing systems in states that we have already worked on. [Furthermore], CellNet is implementing systems that are unique to six states," he says.
It is not uncommon to see the same EDI transaction doing two different things in two different states, adds Bill Vogel, vice president of marketing at CellNet.
Furthermore, due to competition in metering, CellNet has had to adapt its systems to interface with 90 format classes of meters.
A standard meter design would make setting EDI standards and meter reading cheaper and easier, says Lofgren. Moreover, CellNet has published its design and sent it to meter manufacturers, he says.
"We have given them electronic and physical designs for a standard to evolve," Lofgren says. "Three data providers are building our compatible devices," he says.
Meanwhile, the Edison Electric Institute in mid-August launched an industry-wide, collaborative effort to develop consensus on uniform business practices around the country.
"We hope to have established uniform business practices by the end of the year," says Mike McGrath, group director, customer and energy services at EEI.
McGrath notes that a separate organization, the Coalition for Uniform Business Rules, is nearly done with the formation of its uniform business rules. CUBR is a coalition of marketers and vendors.
"The CUBR consists of 25 companies representing a diverse cross-section of the industry, including energy marketers, meter service providers, meter data management agents, billing and collections companies and other mid- and back-office service providers," says Jeff Brown, director of government affairs at Enron and a member of CUBR.
The CUBR's goal is to develop a consensus document based on best practices in the industry by September 1999. According to Brown, the document will include two parts: (1) the business rules and processes, and (2) the standard electronic transaction for each business process.
The EEI effort will include regulators, regulated companies and customers that have not been a part of the CUBR process. "We would like to put a process that includes everyone," McGrath says.
McGrath says his process will focus on the how and not the what when it comes to uniform business practices, "otherwise you will never get anywhere." Furthermore, there would be separate business practices for states that have competition in metering and those that do not. It is McGrath's hope that PUCs around the country will rubber-stamp the uniform business practices developed by EEI.
Of course, not everybody will