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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