System provides daily consumption reports

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) improved its customer service and operational efficiency following the roll out of one of the largest water fixed network meter reading systems in the USA.

Cellnet Technology’s fixed network advanced metering system enables the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to provide daily consumption reports, which helps industrial customers incorporate water usage data into their manufacturing schedules, detect leaks, and change business processes in order to make smarter decisions regarding their water usage.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) improved its customer service and operational efficiency following the roll out of one of the largest water fixed network meter reading systems in the USA.

PWSA moved from manual meter reading approaches to a wireless network approach over several years in partnership with the US company Cellnet Technology. Previous to implementation, PWSA used a quarterly meter reading schedule that resulted in inefficiencies. PWSA read only one-third of the meter population every month and a high level of estimated reads were required for system billing. The Authority was often forced to estimate billing for clients or to perform special reads requiring costly field crew visits. Despite the best efforts of field crews, a significant proportion of water bills were based on estimated or inaccurate data.

PWSA’s project goal was to implement an integrated, efficient data management system that would provide accurate monthly consumption data using their current metering investment in exact encoded meters. The initial focus was to improve billing and revenue collection processes while better serving customers with more timely information about consumption patterns. PWSA also sought to offer value-added services to customers in the future.

The resulting Cellnet deployment for PWSA is a long-term outsourcing contract that included consultation and system implementation. Cellnet operates and maintains the wireless fixed network automated meter reading system on behalf of PWSA. The contract between PWSA and Cellnet is in place through 2014 and this long-term approach has resulted in a close working partnership. Currently, the wireless fixed network automatically reads data from over 83,000 residential and commercial and industrial (C&I) water meters across PWSA’s service territory.

Gregory Tutsock, Executive Director of PWSA remarked, “Soon after the initial planning phase of this project we realized that the partnering approach with Cellnet would deliver a fully integrated solution. Our goals of streamlining revenue management and improving customer care have been well supported with this system.”

Meter data collected from the Cellnet National Operations Center (NOC) is verified before delivery to PWSA’s billing system. The integration of the Cellnet fixed network system with PWSA’s existing IT resources was a critical factor in this project. The network now gives PWSA access to a wide array of customer usage data such as monthly consumption, out-of-cycle reads, on-request reads, and a variety of alarms notification (i.e. tamper and low battery). PWSA’s customer service representatives are in direct contact with that detailed account data using the Cellnet web portal.

Tutsock remarked, “Our representatives pull out the most recent reading from an account or get historical information for 30 days. We can show water usage patterns-sometimes pointing them out to customers on a day-by-day basis. Often, we prevail in bill disputes because we have this documentation.”

For larger C&I customers, PWSA has the ability to provide consumption reports daily if necessary. This helps those customers incorporate water usage data into their manufacturing schedules, detect leaks, and change business processes in order to make smarter decisions regarding their water usage.

PWSA is now able to provide customers with bills based on accurate consumption data every month or on request. The outsourcing agreement means a rise in the level of customer service for PWSA without the allocation of any additional internal staff or equipment resources, and the nine meter readers that had manually serviced PWSA’s territory were all absorbed into other areas within the organization. The results were immediate gains in operational efficiency.

PWSA hopes to use the network to extend its business by offering meter reading and billing services to neighboring utilities. PWSA has a population of accounts where one party is responsible for multiple bills. Currently, these customers are receiving bills in multiple billing cycles because of how the meters were read in the past. Tutsock says that these customers would like to receive one bill, and PWSA would like to provide it for them.

PWSA also has a large number of customers with seasonal residences who go south for the winter. These customers have asked the utility to monitor consumption on their accounts. PWSA currently monitors against high/low thresholds, looking for consumption that may indicate leaks, meter issues, or theft. Tutsock says that data from the Cellnet network can power additional customer service offerings in this area. “We eventually want our customer information system to identify unusual usage patterns so that we can contact customers immediately when a significant change in usage occurs.”

This data also has future operational impacts. Tutsock estimates the utility may fix system leaks accounting for 10 to 15 percent of the 65 million gallons the utility produces daily. He also sees future applications with the sewer lines. Currently, PWSA sends personnel out each week to inspect and collect data from its sewer facilities. By metering the sewer lines, the utility could increase efficiency while using infrastructure that is already in place.


Authors’ Note

Director of Client Services Heidi Lewis and Product Marketing Manager Letha McLaren work for Cellnet Technology, Inc., based in Alpharetta, Georgia, USA.

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