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How to manage 150,000 meters with a staff of zero. (Managed services, anyone?)

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By Jesse Berst

What if you could get all the benefits of advanced metering without buying a single meter or hiring a single person? That's the proposition put forth by SAIC's "Smart Grid as a Service."

 

The $11 billion, McLean, VA-based contractor provides a wide range of information technology services. It does about 90% of its business with the government and the balance with private industry. SAIC has decades of experience serving the defense industry. That gives it deep expertise in security, large databases and complex event processing. Although not as well-known as some of its competing systems integrators, SAIC also has a lot of energy and utility experience. For instance, SAIC manages a large swatch of Entergy's operations.

 

From start to finish

SAIC is going to market with a new offering under the brand "Smart Grid as a Service." Despite the name, the offering is really "metering as a service." Although SAIC doesn't claim that you can reduce your metering staff to zero, it does claim to manage all aspects. Targeted at municipals with 150,000 endpoints or less, it takes care of everything from planning the project to installing the meters to standing up the applications to running the operation 24x7x365. Key aspects include:

·         The meters

·         The communications system

·         Network management

·         Meter data management

·         Security

·         Utility and customer portals

·         Hooks into existing customer information systems

 

All of this and more for a set price per meter per month. Virtually all of the industry's major players – Accenture, Capgemini, General Electric, IBM– have managed services in the works. SAIC may be a bit ahead in selling a discrete package under its own brand name. SAIC is selling the service on its own today, but may later offer it via partners such as meter manufacturers.

 

Pros and cons of managed services

SAIC has built the system as a series of web services operated over an enterprise service bus. That makes it easy, in theory, for SAIC (or its partners or its customers) to add new modules as needed. In addition to this modular flexibility, a managed service approach claims several other advantages:

·         Avoiding big capital expenditures

·         Avoiding the need to find, hire and pay specialists

·         World-class security

·         Expert project management

 

On the downside, the utility loses some control. And, of course, investor-owned utilities (IOUs) lose the ability to put a big capital expense into their rate case. But even with IOUs, SAIC can theoretically build and operate the system as a managed service, then transfer ownership when the system is stable and fully operational.

 

Are managed services the future for municipals and co-ops? Use the comment form to explain why or why not.

 

Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com. He consults to smart grid companies seeking market entry advice and M&A advisory. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the US and abroad, he also serves on the Advisory Council of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Energy & Environment directorate.

Listen to SAIC Executive Vice President of Energy IT and Smart Grid Mark Fronmuller talk about SAIC's Smart Grid as a Service.