Mobile meter data collection takes another leap into the mainstream

With the upcoming release of an Android version of its SevenX meter data management solution, DataCol Group is helping the utilities sector push further into the mainstream of mobile technology.

In a sector which has traditionally had the majority of its workers in the field, mobile computing devices have always been a logical way to improve efficiency for energy and water utilities. Being able to collect metering data, engineering or customer service activities empowered with mobile devices has been critical.

The nature of those devices is changing as the technology evolves. Ruggedized ‘bricks’ like Itron’s FC300 have been reliable workhorses, but they also have a high cost to purchase and maintain, and are inflexible in adapting to rapidly changing technology.

One of these changes is the inexorable rise of the Android operating platform from Google, which has become the defacto standard for smartphone and tablet devices, with most sources putting it at 85% of the global smartphone market. According to ZDNet, there are over 1200 companies making around 24,000 different types of Android devices (smartphones and tablets).

The depth and breadth of this market offer makes it attractive for large field forces like those in the utility sector. It gives them choice and flexibility, from a simple commercial level phone through to highly ruggedized options, at a lower price and with far greater capability than a proprietary device like the FC300.

For DataCol, providing an Android version of our SevenX meter data management software is a logical pathway for our utility customers. Android devices are often ideal meter data collection tools, with good quality cameras, GPS, WiFi and 3G built-in. It gives utilities wider choice for device procurement, while providing all the features that make our product so useful to manual and AMR field forces.

For utilities in Australia, access to an Android SevenX platform provides an opportunity to deploy proven software which can enhance meter reading operations and enable them to be ‘Power of Choice’ ready. It can be an opportunity to change the ways ‘things have been done’ and implement new KPI focussed processes.

The SevenX meter data capture and management solution consists of an application running on commercially available, non-proprietary, ruggedised, IP67 compliant handheld computers communicating with SevenX, over cellular networks. It also integrates data from other transfer modes such as web, IVR and AMR. In addition, SevenX provides a single interface to the utility billing system (e.g. Gentrack, SAP, Agility) for timely, accurate and consistent billing.

If you are evaluating your mobile device strategy for your utility field force, then contact DataCol, who have over 15 years of experience in this field, to schedule a discussion about your meter data management strategy.

Posted in DataColGroup Blog | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Webinar: Itron FC300 alternatives

Itron will be ending support for FC300 by 2021, which means utilities will need to rethink their meter data collection strategies. As FC300 replacements are introduced, they are not compatible with MVRS, so by default, MVRS may also become a non-supported software package. This could be a challenge for many utilities because they have historically based their meter data collection processes around Itron handhelds and MVRS.

FC300 users have found the technology to be rugged and reliable workhorses, enabling efficient collection of meter data. However, they were expensive investments and maintenance costs were also high. Their biggest downfall is their inability to adapt to support rapidly changing technology in the utility sector.

With the end of FC300 support looming, it is an opportunity for utilities to consider the best replacement platform to support meter data collection. There are both transitional and full replacement options, that enable utilities to take a more modern approach to migrating from their FC300 fleet.

Michael Dennis, Business Development Manager at DataCol, is hosting a webinar to discuss some of the concerns, challenges and issues raised by Itron’s announcement, as well as some alternative solutions.

He’ll be covering:

  • opportunities to implement positive changes at utilities
  • potential metering solutions to replace FC300
  • case studies of what some of DataCol’s customers have done to achieve efficiency gains of over 20%.

FC300 alternatives webinar details

The webinar will be approximately 25 minutes in length, with an opportunity to ask questions at the end.

Time: 2:30pm – 3:30pm AET

Date: Thursday, 15 March 2018

Cost: Free

To find out more about the webinar and to register your interest, click here.

Posted in DataColGroup Blog | Tagged | Comments closed

FC300 sunsetting putting you between a rock and a hard place?

For utilities contemplating the end of support for Itron FC300 handhelds, while preparing to respond to the Power of Choice reforms, can feel like they are being forced to make technology strategy decisions. There are less risky migration paths available.

Companies using Itron FC300 hand-held units, and the MVRS software that supports them, are planning for support of the product ending on 31 December 2021, with spare parts already becoming increasingly sparse and support sometimes slow.

At the same time Australia is entering a new era of faster adoption of smart meters under the ‘Power of Choice’ banner, ushered in on 1 December 2017 by the Australian Energy Market Commission’s changes to national metering rules.

For some utilities it can feel like being stuck between the rock of having to make decisions about smart meter rollouts, and the hard place of fast approaching FC300 handhelds/MVRS obsoletion ,making manual and semi-automated meter reading (AMR) no longer feasible.

From DataCol’s deep experience in the New Zealand market, we know the smart meter roll out process can take upwards of 10 years to fully implement, meaning a staged and strategic approach is required. Manual meter reading and AMR will continue to be valid strategies for some years to come, so simply turning off your field force once FC300 sunsets is not an option. A more nuanced pathway is required.

What most utilities need is some breathing space while they assess how quickly the market is responding to the Power of Choice reforms. They need a safe pair of hands around the important business of ensuring customers are looked after and billing accurately through manual and automated meter data collection.

Whatever direction you take, a key consideration is not having to make significant changes to your billing system as you migrate off FC300 to a more modern alternative for driving MMR and AMR. The implications of a significant integration to your billing system, or even worse a billing system change, are huge for most utilities.

DataCol’s approach is to be able to offer the same file format they have now, i.e. the MVRS file format. This makes for a very light touch with the migration, with little change required to your billing engine and the interface with your meter data collection.

Our SevenX solution can provide a much broader range of data than MVRS, acting as a tool of change, but simply matching what you already have is a low risk way to start. DataCol goes through a discovery session with our new clients confirming the best strategy, either simply mapping existing process or immediately looking for opportunities to streamline processes and find efficiencies.

If a low risk strategy is the best approach, DataCol works to build a roadmap for introducing new data formats. The approach influences roll out time: to do an out-of-the-box implementation with minimal variation typically takes around three months, to introduce a broader range of new features the timeframe is more like 12-18 months. Utilities can replicate their existing approach and have a pathway to introduce more over time.

Sydney Water is a DataCol customer that has had quality improvement and cost reduction by using SevenX. It didn’t immediately address all their challenges, but it fixed a significant number and then gave them breathing space to work on other ones. The insight for Australian electricity companies is that you don’t have to make big calls on smart meters right now – you can have time to make the best decisions for your business and your customers.

They are other considerations when migrating off FC300/MVRS, such as ensuring whatever new pathway you take fits into your existing IT infrastructure. DataCol enables you to choose whatever hosting approach fits your strategy – whether that’s some form of on-premise approach through to a fully hosted option. For the hosting option it’s also important that your data sovereignty is protected, i.e. that customer data is stored on servers in Australia not offshore.

Pricing flexibility should be the same, in terms of being able to choose a pricing option that fits your strategy, whether it’s CAPEX, leasing or pay per use. Again DataCol takes a customer-focussed approach.

The key as utilities contemplate the complexities of Power of Choice, is having a sensible and low risk pathway, and not being forced into making strategic decisions before time, before the situation plays itself out. DataCol offer a low risk path to change.

If you are considering a replacement FC300 solution that is proven to take costs out of the business and is Power of Choice ready, then contact DataCol, who have over 15 years of experience in this field, to schedule a discussion about your meter data management strategy, and your migration options from FC300s.

Posted in DataColGroup Blog | Tagged , | Comments closed