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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.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2007

and work processes (see “Workforce Automation: Where Rubber Meets Road,” p. 68). All these applications theoretically are possible using today’s smart meters and distribution-automation technology. But making them all happen within a utility’s existing back-office infrastructure is another matter altogether.

“If the CIS doesn’t play well with others, you have to build a new integration platform to plug into the new data source,” says Greg Taylor, a senior manager with Black & Veatch Corp., working on Hydro One’s AMI project in Ontario. “The system mirrors the process. You really have to put on your thinking cap, and go through all the processes to see what the changes mean to the system.”

Even seemingly simple requirements, like getting the CIS to poll meter reads from a meter-data management (MDM) system rather than waiting for them to be manually entered, can confound existing back-office technology. Some newer CIS platforms easily might be configured to accept data from an MDM and produce bills accordingly, but others will require coding changes—perhaps significant ones, depending on the vintage and architecture of the system.

“Things like on-demand power-status requests and the ability to remotely disconnect services require a more sophisticated interface than has been needed in the past,” says James Strapp, an associate partner in the energy and utilities group at IBM Global Business Services in Toronto. “And currently no CIS is able to provide all the services needed for hourly interval data and TOU rates. That has to come from a separate application.”

MDM: Tail or Dog?

In most cases, the application that handles smart-grid data for utility CIS is some kind of MDM system. How it works depends on the types of metering systems involved and the functions required. For example:

• In Ontario, the provincial government owns the MDM system, which is designed around the eMeter platform. IBM built the system and operates it under contract, eventually as a central hub for all 90 retail utilities in the province, which are required by Ontario law to provide TOU billing. Customized “gateway” software will arbitrate between the data formats of the utilities’ diverse metering systems and the central MDM system, and between the MDM system and the utilities’ CIS and billing systems.

• At United Illuminating in Connecticut, the metering vendor, CellNet, hosts the MDM and provides validated meter data to UI’s back-office systems—including its SAP customer-information system, Nexus online customer-service portal, and Aspect interactive voice-response system. The utility recently began deploying remote connect/disconnect features.

• Southern Co. has deployed about 100,000 advanced meters and has issued an RFP for about 800,000 additional smart meters. An Itron MDM system supports TOU meter reads and provides data to Accenture, which hosts Southern’s CIS. Southern is working with Accenture and Itron to develop more advanced AMI features such as remote connect/disconnect.

• At SRP, a home-grown MDM application compiles data from the utility’s Elster EnergyAxis AMI system and presents it to SRP’s legacy CIS and billing systems. SRP already has implemented time-of-use rates and remote-connect/disconnect functions, and plans to integrate the system with Web-based customer services.

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