During interviews for this month’s cover story, “Customer Service: 2020,” leaders in the world of back-office information technology (IT) spoke with Fortnightly about customer service and...
CIS: Middleware Mashup: Smart Grid and the Back Office
Utilities are learning how smart-grid data will interface with CIS and other back-office systems. Meters and middleware are rapidly evolving in this brave new world.
case, the MDM system is designed primarily for meter-reading and billing processes. To what degree utilities’ MDM systems will serve real-time operational functions, however, is still an evolving issue. In some cases—such as United Illuminating’s CellNet-hosted system—the MDM system interfaces with outage-management processes, sending trouble flags to back-office systems to trigger a service response.
“In the past when you lost a phase or had an alarm, you wouldn’t know until the following month’s meter read,” Thomas says. “Now we know within 24 hours or less. We know about outages within 15 minutes, and we can ping a meter to report its status in 55 seconds. The criticality and timeliness of information is becoming more important.”
Similarly, Southern is working to integrate data from its Itron MDM system into its OMS. “Our plan is for the MDM to be the hub,” says Duane Wright, customer-service manager for the business-applications support team at Southern in Atlanta. “When a meter loses power it will send a last gasp back to the MDM system, and from there the data would go in near-real time to our OMS. Right now we are looking at writing a program to get the information out of our MDM system.”
In such models, the MDM system serves as the universal translator between various metering systems and distribution-operations systems, including OMS and asset-management. And in these models, MDM is the logical process to perform a central-hub function.
“That’s the role of MDM,” says Eric Miller, vice president of software solutions for Itron in Oakland, Calif. “To provide a single and consistent interface that minimizes back-office changes. It also involves separating out the operational data from the billing data, and sending different data to different places at different speeds.”
Not all utilities will use MDM systems in this way, however. Some might build parallel systems to manage time-sensitive operational data, such as outage and power-quality flags, outside the MDM system. So far, such a system has not been christened with a widely accepted moniker.
“We’ve been calling it an operational data manager,” says Debbie Henderson, business development executive for the energy delivery group at OSIsoft in San Leandro, Calif. “AMI is bringing back-office systems together in one picture, but the MDM systems that exist today are designed to take meter data and process it for billing—not for operational purposes. The operational data manager would take distribution-system and substation data and make it useful for the operations side of the business.”
This parallel-system model would allow real-time operational data from AMI systems to be processed in a common environment with SCADA and other distribution-automation information. Such an approach might better serve the needs of outage-management processes, which need connectivity with devices on the distribution system to occur as close to real time as possible.
“I’m not sure every operation needs to go through the MDM system,” says Raymond Kelley, director of software development and test at Elster in Raleigh, N.C. “For example, if the OMS needs to poll meters in the AMI system, it needs a rapid answer. If the OMS is based on