The secret to unlocking the value of meter data (Hint: a new kind of workflow)


Editor's note: Smart Grid News is working with experts from Elster and other leading smart grid companies to create the ultimate guide to AMI -- a full-scale, start-to-finish, everything-including-the kitchen-sink compendium of best practices, lessons learned, and future directions. When it's complete, we will make it available to you as an eBook. In the meantime we're publishing select excerpts. In the first installment Michael Johnson of Elster revealed how to cash in on smart meters for smarter outage management.


Below he describes how integrating AMI data with new workflow solutions will transform day-to-day utility operations. Equally important, he describes the four things you MUST have in a workflow solution if you want this better future for yourself. - Jesse Berst


By Michael Johnson


In recent years, our industry has been awash in innovative technologies and the promise of business transformation. Indeed, through Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) we’re now capturing, managing and analyzing meter data that has the potential to empower utilities and customers like never before. The possibilities are virtually limitless.


But the challenge is to leverage new technologies to answer specific business opportunities - to convert vast volumes of meter data into intelligence that triggers timely and informed decisions across the enterprise.


Going forward, the utilities that thrive will be those with business workflow solutions that not only share information among numerous systems, but also across departments and applications. That is the secret to unlocking the full value of their meter data and enabling their employees to operate more efficiently, productively and consistently.


Elster's Callisto workflow solution shown here features embedded intelligence that helps lead employees through the steps required to solve problems.


Whether or not employees have ever dealt with a particular challenge in the past will no longer matter. In fact, they won’t even need to know where the data resides in order to leverage it. Future workflow solutions will have the embedded intelligence each worker requires.  Users will merely define the problem that must be addressed. The workflow will then lead them through the steps to solve it, using powerful, integrated applications driven by critical AMI data. The result?

·         Reduced employee training time

·         Higher productivity

·         Increased consistency

·         Improved reliability

·         Superior customer satisfaction


And it's all made possible by connecting meter data with business workflow processes. Let's drill down on how that's going to play out.


4 things to look for in a workflow solution

Clearly, a data-driven, application-integrated, business workflow solution can bring great rewards. However, specific features are critical to deliver maximum benefits with minimum disruption, That’s why it’s important to look for a workforce solution that:


1. Works the way you do. Too often, organizations must adapt to new technology. It is intrusive to business processes and cumbersome for users. The value of a workflow tool lies in organizing and standardizing the performance of predictable tasks that span multiple applications. As such, you want your tool to map to existing processes rather than the other way around -- rather than forcing your users to adapt to the workflow tool. Your workflow solution shouldn’t force you to change the way you do business. It should improve operational efficiency and make your most important resource - your people - more capable, confident and productive.


2. Turns every employee into a super-user. The ideal workflow solution draws upon best-practices to build optimized and standardized workflows. Employees are guided through those workflows via data-rich, integrated applications on their computer screens. This ensures consistency, improves productivity and reliability, and essentially turns every employee into a super-user - without the time and expense of intensive training.


Makes integrated applications easily accessible. Time was, "swivel-chair” integration was the standard in workflow, with employees moving from monitor to monitor and process to process to accomplish a task. Tomorrow will bring solutions that eliminate this inefficiency -- solutions that give employees everywhere in the organization everything they need to accomplish their work quickly and easily from a single screen. Better yet, it won’t take a complicated - and costly - IT project to implement these solutions. The application integration that makes these solutions possible will typically take place only "virtually."


Provides easily controlled and secure administrative oversight. The most powerful workflow automation tools will have limited success without the proper administrative controls to ensure consistency, ease of use and secure access. Designed and approved workflows need to be consistent across the organization (while still taking advantage of the creative abilities of your workforce).  The security of your enterprise and the distribution network demands tight controls on who can make changes. Do you have personnel from another utility helping with a storm event? They should be authorized quickly to work within your system on approved workflows. Did your employees collaborate to create an effective workflow for better managing customer billing inquiries? This workflow should be approved and shared for reuse across the entire organization. A mechanism for safely leveraging the talents of your workforce will ensure greater productivity, job satisfaction and an increased sense of "ownership”.


The continuing evolution of the smart grid will bring many exciting changes to our industry, some of which can’t even be envisioned today. What we can see now, however, is a way to transform day-to-day operations of utilities through the integration of meter data with workflow-driven business processes. There is no doubt we’ll be hearing much more about innovation in this area as more businesses begin to realize its benefits in the days to come.


Michael Johnson serves as product manager for RF Mesh Data Collection Solutions for Elster Solutions. In this role, he works on software strategy development, requirements management and strategic enterprise partner activities.


Click for more on Elster solutions for Advanced Metering Infrastructure and achieving value/creating value from meter data.

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