The smart meter elephant
The story of six blind men describing an elephant has been around for centuries. As each one touches a different piece of the elephant, they “see” and experience a unique aspect. When they all get back together they attempt to convince the others that their experience was truth. They are ardent that the elephant is like a wall, snake, spear, tree, fan or rope. So it is with smart metering.
From a distance, the description is fairly straight forward, but up close, where the texture is, we may miss how they all fit together, and if you only know one aspect of smart metering your view of the whole is lacking. A quick internet search returns over 19MM results and over 230,000 responses when searching for smart meter vendors. How is a utility supposed to understand how smart meters will or should work and the impact they might have on their business without getting trampled by the elephant?
First, it is helpful to get a guide, a mahout, someone who has been all around the elephant so they can give you a complete picture of what you are getting into before getting started or to help clarify that picture if you are already on your way. They should know, or help you determine, what the driving forces to implement smart meters are: government or regulatory, society, technology, corporate, etc. They should be able to outline how those forces impact wherever you are, from generation to transmission and distribution through retailing the utility.
Once you have an understanding of these factors, your guide can provide you with an overall business assessment that outlines costs: physical meters, rolling out those meters, staffing, and the multiple monitors, databases, and analytics you will need to be successful. They will also identify the benefits: more precise billing, load balancing, forecasting, potential new revenue streams, etc. In addition to these standard pieces of planning, your guide should also walk you through organizational changes that may need to occur and lay out a plan to transform the organization before, during and after. It is only then you see the whole elephant and understand how it might be put to work for you. Even if you’ve started touching the elephant, it is good to have a guide show you what you are doing well and where you can improve. Once you have the whole picture, you can take this plan to your board or regulatory body to show impacts on your customers, environment, society and business.
If you have ever been on a guided tour, you know there are good tour guides and those that are there just for the money. When selecting a mahout look for one that has done this before, preferably many times, so they can tell you what might be unique to your particular situation. Any good guide knows that every elephant has its’ own personality and will be able to see that ahead of time to make sure you have a good ride and get to your destination. Choose wisely and do your research so the elephant doesn’t throw you off before you even start.
Do not forget your consumer, commercial or industrial customers. Invite them along for the ride, show them the elephant and what it can do for them. You might even consider bringing them in on a Design Thinking session as we did in Copenhagen last March where teams designed a social media portal to help consumers understand daily usage rates and how they might reduce them. SAP has guides to do both, show you the elephant and run Design Thinking workshops when you are ready.
Finally, when you look at an elephant up close you are initially surprised and maybe even intimidated at the size, but as you become more familiar with it you come to appreciate what it can do for you. The same can be said with smart metering, initially surprising even a bit scary, but once understood it becomes a vital part of your business. A good mahout will make that ride more pleasurable.
Learn more about this subject and more by registering for the SAP Utilities Forum North America in Huntington Beach, California, September 15-17th