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.

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Future pathway for FC300 users opens

Migration strategies for the Itron FC300 hand-held units are emerging, as customers start planning for support of the product ending on 31 December 2021, while spare parts are becoming increasingly sparse and support sometimes slow.

Itron have announced end of support for FC300 by 2021, requiring utilities 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 with many utilities historically basing their meter data collection processes around Itron handhelds and MVRS.

For users of the technology, the FC300s have been rugged and reliable workhorses, enabling efficient collection of meter data. However, they also have a high cost to purchase and maintain, and are inflexible in adapting to 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.

It is also an opportunity to ‘take a step back’ and re-evaluate meter data collection and management strategies with the influence that IoT is likely to have on smart metering deployments.  Potentially with a greater range of technologies and at a lower cost, it might be prudent to see how the technology evolves and the benefits it could provide before joining the ‘bandwagon’ of mass deployments with technology that may or may not be fit for purpose.

Since Itron originally introduced the FC300 in 2009, hand held technologies have advanced considerably. Today, ruggedised devices are commercially available that run industry standard operating systems such as Windows Embedded Handheld. These devices are smaller, more user-friendly, offer greater flexibility while being significantly more cost effective and come with excellent support.

For utilities looking to replace MVRS, they have the opportunity to deploy new proven software which can enhance meter reading operations and become the platform that is ‘Power of Choice’ ready It can be an opportunity to change the ways ‘things have been done’ and implement new KPI focussed processes. DataCol can introduce new hand-held technology if utilities require a broader set of more modern functionality or, if FC300s are beyond economic repair.

The SevenX multi-utility (electricity, water and gas) meter data capture and management solution consists of an application running on commercially available, non-proprietary, ruggedised, IP67 compliant handheld computers communicating with SevenX, (DataCol’s meter data collection server based application) 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.

More than just improving the efficiency of a meter reading field force and providing strong contract KPI performance monitoring tools, SevenX provides a platform for introducing other field force automation initiatives such as meter maintenance and new technology deployments.

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.

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Reduce potential leak points by 60% with Strongcast

Water Main Leak

Non-revenue water losses through leaks is a challenge that councils and utilities across New Zealand face, with aging infrastructure and poor-quality fittings contributing to millions of litres of lost water every year.

Councils are looking to upgrade and replace water networks and infrastructure to take advantage of new technology and methods which will help them become more efficient and robust. While many councils and utilities race towards advanced metering solutions, it must be emphasised that even the smartest meters can be hindered by poor performing ancillary components. The meter is the heart of this setup, yet the neighbouring parts are just as critical to the success of this asset.

Strongcast have developed a solution that can help reduce the risk of water leaks. Its Complete Meter Assembly Kit has minimised the amount of componentry and connection points to reduce the risk of leaks compared to other solutions on the market.

The Tingalpa, Queensland, Australia case study, outlined in the video below, demonstrated that on a street with 15 properties, a typical assembly could have 11 connection points. Taken across all 15 properties, this would equate to 165 connection points. Using the Strongcast solution, this was reduced to 60 connection points, therefore decreasing the risk of connection point leaks by 60%. Having less connections helps reduce the time it takes to install each assembly, improving efficiency and driving down labour costs.

Watch the video below to see how this works.

Through the DataCol and Itron partnership, Strongcast’s superior range of products are now available in New Zealand. DataCol take an agnostic, multi-vendor approach, which enables them to work with multiple meter brands. It gives New Zealand water utilities and councils the flexibility to use multi-meter networks, rather than replacing any current meters with vendor exclusive equipment.

DataCol saves clients’ time and money, while still producing reliable, quality results. The open technology framework of DataCol also protects their client’s investment – if another type of meter is added to the infrastructure in the future, it would still be possible to read its data using the DataCol solution.

To find out more about the benefits DataCol, Itron and Strongcast  can bring to your New Zealand water utility infrastructure, give Mark from DataCol a call on 021 416 311, or send him a message through the contact page.

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