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All right. Your smart meters have been installed, and they're working well. Now, what do you do with all the data they collect?

According to Michael Godorov, senior project manager of distribution operations at PPL Electric Utilities, establishing meter data management (MDM) is the natural next step.

Speaking at the Autovation conference last week in Long Beach, Calif., Godorov said it only makes sense to bring advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and MDM together in order to both store and serve the data.

The conference session, titled “Real-World Lessons in Project Management, Deployment and Operation of Your MDM,” featured Godorov and fellow presenter Alvin Jackson, vice president of professional services at Aclara.

PPL and Aclara are no strangers to MDM or each other. In 2005, the Pennsylvania-based utility chose Aclara as its MDM vendor. To boot, Aclara was also PPL’s AMI vendor.

Within two years, the companies implemented a basic repository MDM system. PPL is now utilizing MDM to collect daily and hourly energy-usage data from its meters. The utility uses that information for distribution-planning efforts, load forecasting, and collecting and verifying billing information.

According to Godorov, the deployment went smoothly. However, both speakers cautioned utilities about the possible challenges of MDM.

Walk before you run
The main issue, the presenters said, is that some utilities want too much too fast. MDM, demand response, outage integration, real-time communication, theft analysis - many companies want to implement it all in one fell swoop.

A utility can essentially get whatever it wants, Jackson said, but it’s very expensive and risky to do a give-me-everything-now MDM deployment. He explained that utilities must understand their limitations and prioritize accordingly.

“Pick your battles,” added Godorov. “What’s the most important information you need? You can’t analyze all the data - it’s important to know that.”

Indeed, both presenters emphasized that the amount of data analysis any MDM system requires can be overwhelming for utilities, leading to inefficiencies.

Jackson said staying on course, on time and on budget can also prove difficult for utilities.

“The best practice around staying on schedule is to create a realistic one to deliver the solution,” he explained. “Don’t create an unreasonable end date without looking at what steps are necessary to get you to that end date.”

Know thy stakeholder
With a typical MDM deployment, the initial stakeholders are the operations and information technology (IT) teams. They must be aware of what the utility plans to do with the data and how the interfaces need to be built, according to Godorov. Customer service representatives and revenue protection departments should also be in the know.

Jackson stressed that determining project stakeholders - and properly communicating with them - is critical to having a successful project.

“Make sure that they’re on board,” he said. “Sometimes, a stakeholder won’t even be aware of the deployment.”

To ensure a project’s message is clear and well known, utilities and project managers should create weekly status reports and hold meetings that communicate progress. They must be engaged throughout the entire process.

And although it’s important to make sure stakeholders are happy, Godorov noted, utilities should limit customization whenever possible.

“That’s where the cost comes in,” he said.

Develop a solid plan

Jackson admitted it may sound like a “no brainer,” but he stressed the importance of devising a transition plan for when the MDM is ready to go online. The move from planning to real-time operation requires involving the maintenance team early, providing proper training and clear instructions, and defining roles.

According to Godorov, those who will be operating the system should take part in the ramp-up. This ensures that they are acclimated with the application and understand how it works.

Once the project is complete, utilities need a staff to support the MDM system. However, despite the plethora of data such a system may gather, PPL has only five full-time personnel on its MDM team: three workers from the business side and two from the IT side. The utility has a total of 17,000 employees.

“It’s amazing, when you think about it, that things kind of run on their own,” said Godorov. “As long as the application has been embedded well with our IT folks, it will continue to run without a lot of involvement. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t take time to make sure the application functions well.”


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