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Smart Metering: CIS Gets Smart

Smart metering changes the back-office paradigm.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2009

a complete back-office system overhaul, though not solely for an AMI deployment. Such is the case at Jackson, Mich.-based Consumers Energy, which replaced a 30-year-old-plus CIS built in-house with an SAP for Utilities solution in 2008.

Consumers Energy is a charter member of the SAP AMI Lighthouse Council, an industry group SAP created in 2007 to integrate the end-to-end processes between smart meters and back-end systems. Consumers Energy is testing the first release of SAP’s AMI-enabling software in a prototype environment. The utility plans to begin deploying about 5,000 smart meters this spring for a smart-metering pilot program.

The SAP solution aims to accomplish two things. It integrates all of the utility’s back-office systems, and provides an enterprise-wide gateway to the smart meter that will support a multi-million smart-meter deployment scheduled to begin in 2011.

“You can buy a robust MDM with AMI capabilities to augment your CIS or buy a ‘thin MDM’ and add AMI capabilities to your CIS,” says Tom Harmes, Consumers’ AMI IT integration manager. “With SAP we’ve replaced more than 100 legacy applications. Now we’re working to add the AMI functions.”

The utility decided to upgrade its CIS long before it decided to implement AMI, but the CIS is integral to the program. This summer the utility is planning a pilot that will test the AMI network’s ability to support minimum smart-grid functions, collect energy usage data for upcoming programs and capture operational metrics for full deployment planning.

“We wanted to optimize the functions we already had with SAP, while the SAP solution also will allow us to implement our AMI functions going forward,” Harmes says. “For example, for residential customers, we’ll be able to collect hourly usage data one to three times a day, totaling 720 hourly-interval meter reads per month; remotely turn the power on; monitor and report on outages; and help customers monitor their energy usage and take advantage of new energy pricing options that are being proposed.”

Rapid Change

While some utilities might have put back-office issues on the back burner for now, customer-facing systems ultimately must accommodate the changes wrought by smart-metering infrastructure. According to Maureen Coveney, SAP’s senior industry director, the Lighthouse Council’s efforts demonstrate that some utilities already are putting customer systems front and center in their smart-grid strategies.

“Consumers Energy and other Lighthouse Council members are helping us take our CIS processes and essentially AMI-enable them,” she says. “By working together we’re determining which business process will most benefit from process-ready meter data, how they intend to interact with meter data, and how to handle handoffs between the systems.”

Though most AMI and smart-grid projects in the United States are either on the drawing board or just beginning to launch, Coveney says utilities should be assessing their downstream systems now, rather than later.

“If a utility is in the midst of a smart-meter program and it hasn’t begun implementing the back office to accommodate it, it’s going to be rushing to do so at the end,” she says. “If they wait, they’re going to find themselves behind the eight ball.”