How Water Utilities Use IT With AMI

Aug. 14, 2015

For decades, water utilities have had manual gatherings of meter readings every month. This information is recorded on computers for billing and other purposes. When Advance Metering Infrastructure (AMI) appeared, the amount of data from hourly readings changed the playing field, leaving utilities struggling to deal with an influx of data and even to figure out what to do with it all.

“When the volume of data is huge,” remarks Dan Pinney, global director of water marketing for Sensus, “the size of the server needs to grow.” But can water utilities handle that, and do they even want to? Many would prefer to simply use the data and let someone else manage it.

For decades, water utilities have had manual gatherings of meter readings every month. This information is recorded on computers for billing and other purposes. When Advance Metering Infrastructure (AMI) appeared, the amount of data from hourly readings changed the playing field, leaving utilities struggling to deal with an influx of data and even to figure out what to do with it all. “When the volume of data is huge,” remarks Dan Pinney, global director of water marketing for Sensus, “the size of the server needs to grow.” But can water utilities handle that, and do they even want to? Many would prefer to simply use the data and let someone else manage it. [text_ad] With the advent of technology- and information-intensive AMI solutions, the role of the water utility’s IT department—if there is one at all—is changing. AMI solutions include hardware, software, data management, data storage, and integration with the utility’s existing system, allowing the two to connect. These systems are becoming more advanced and complex all the time. Some utilities are struggling to keep up. Keeping up with the latest technology burdens an IT department, says John Sala, director of marketing for systems at Neptune Technology Group Inc. “It’s time-consuming and there are hidden, embedded infrastructure costs.” Most utilities have an IT department, although the size and skillset varies significantly, says Joe Ball, director of marketing, Itron Water North America. Larger utilities have more IT staff and capabilities, but it’s not universal, argues Randolph Wheatley, vice president of marketing at Sensus. Not all water utilities have an IT department, Sala agrees, or they may have only one person in it. “We live in an interesting time of speed and change. The complexity of systems is growing exponentially; the challenge is that technology makes it easier to use devices, but harder to develop, troubleshoot and support them. It’s difficult to keep up if you’re not a large organization.” A big city like Toronto, Ontario, Canada, has “hundreds of IT people” working for the water utility, Sala estimates, allowing them to be able to afford to “do lots in-house,” thanks to economies of scale. However, most water utilities are “doubly challenged because even the largest is typically smaller than other major utility verticals such as electric and gas, and they almost certainly have no data analysts with the necessary skill sets to support the technology.” “The size of the IT staff depends on the size of the utility,” says Jim Hurley, director of software services for Aclara. “The bigger the staff, generally, the more expertise—but they may have no expertise in these platforms, so it’s still easier for the vendor to deliver updates overnight.”
The lack of IT resources held back San Jose, CA, when considering AMI, notes Kristie Anderson, marketing manager for Badger Meter. Similarly, although Sunnyvale, CA—located in Silicon Valley—was surrounded by IT companies, its limited IT resources were an obstacle. “Not having an IT department wasalways an obstacle for AMI systems, but there’s much less barrier now with hosted systems.” Water utilities are not the drivers of these big technology shifts we see, says Sala. However, they have to respond to the them and support them. For example, upgrades to the software and supporting it are just some concerns that can push a utility to a hosted system. “They’re in an untenable position. They must comply with regulations, but they can’t raise the rates. For many of them, hosting is a relief.”

With the advent of technology- and information-intensive AMI solutions, the role of the water utility’s IT department—if there is one at all—is changing. AMI solutions include hardware, software, data management, data storage, and integration with the utility’s existing system, allowing the two to connect. These systems are becoming more advanced and complex all the time. Some utilities are struggling to keep up.

Keeping up with the latest technology burdens an IT department, says John Sala, director of marketing for systems at Neptune Technology Group Inc. “It’s time-consuming and there are hidden, embedded infrastructure costs.”

Most utilities have an IT department, although the size and skillset varies significantly, says Joe Ball, director of marketing, Itron Water North America. Larger utilities have more IT staff and capabilities, but it’s not universal, argues Randolph Wheatley, vice president of marketing at Sensus.

Not all water utilities have an IT department, Sala agrees, or they may have only one person in it. “We live in an interesting time of speed and change. The complexity of systems is growing exponentially; the challenge is that technology makes it easier to use devices, but harder to develop, troubleshoot and support them. It’s difficult to keep up if you’re not a large organization.”

A big city like Toronto, Ontario, Canada, has “hundreds of IT people” working for the water utility, Sala estimates, allowing them to be able to afford to “do lots in-house,” thanks to economies of scale. However, most water utilities are “doubly challenged because even the largest is typically smaller than other major utility verticals such as electric and gas, and they almost certainly have no data analysts with the necessary skill sets to support the technology.”

“The size of the IT staff depends on the size of the utility,” says Jim Hurley, director of software services for Aclara. “The bigger the staff, generally, the more expertise—but they may have no expertise in these platforms, so it’s still easier for the vendor to deliver updates overnight.”

The lack of IT resources held back San Jose, CA, when considering AMI, notes Kristie Anderson, marketing manager for Badger Meter. Similarly, although Sunnyvale, CA—located in Silicon Valley—was surrounded by IT companies, its limited IT resources were an obstacle. “Not having an IT department wasalways an obstacle for AMI systems, but there’s much less barrier now with hosted systems.”Water utilities are not the drivers of these big technology shifts we see, says Sala. However, they have to respond to the them and support them. For example, upgrades to the software and supporting it are just some concerns that can push a utility to a hosted system. “They’re in an untenable position. They must comply with regulations, but they can’t raise the rates. For many of them, hosting is a relief.”
About the Author

Lori Lovely

Winner of several Society of Professional Journalists awards, Lori Lovely writes about topics related to waste management and technology.

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