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AMI doesn’t make much difference without fundamental process change

  Posted on Monday, August 13, 2007
at 02:03AM by Toby Considine
About New Daedalus

Few changes in the utility industries have generated more interest and discussion than Automated Meter Information (AMI). AMI is the ability to get digital readings from [electric] meters at a distance. Industry articles tout AMI as “the biggest change since….” In most cases these, articles are wrong. Too many plans for AMI were designed to prevent any fundamental change, and so end up merely paving the cow paths.




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I began my career in information technology working in and around Boston. Local legend has it that the original paths between the scattered houses of the settlement of Boston were made by wandering milk cows as they meandered from barn to field.

People naturally walk along cow paths. The brush has been cleared and the way is smooth and packed. As the town grew, these paths were preserved as the roads were cobbled and then paved. The result is the winding mess of roads surrounding Milk Street in Boston’s downtown today.

Paving the cow paths is a classic source of failure in system design and a common pitfall of business process management. It is my sense that undue respect for preserving the cow paths is a significant cause of the failure of many large Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.

Universities have one of the lowest success rates in implementing ERP. Universities have an undue respect for the value of the way they have always done things. Universities run many businesses they have no idea how to run well; business managers have no respect for transparency or consistency even within their fiefdoms. At UNC, the new ERP project is already in trouble as units try to preserve the Carolina Way they have always done things. (Guys, let it go! If we really liked the old way of doing business, we wouldn’t have needed to buy a new one.) Some of my readers have observed this process within their own organizations.

contemporary Utility companies, used to state regulation of their business processes, and focused more on possible failure than potential success, make many of the same mistakes. By focusing almost exclusively on preserving and optimizing their pre-existing business processes, they are missing the transformative benefits of AMI. AMI is about driving slowly through the neighborhood once a month and having all meter readings without a single dog bite. In many areas, customers are by policy blocked from direct access to their own meter information because they might “misunderstand” or “misuse” it.

The real benefits of AMI stem from transparent immediate access to meter data by both the buyer and the seller. This information will create and drive new markets when it is also available to the buyer’s agents, including third party auditors and building systems operations specialists as well.

Human readable mechanisms are not enough. Personal web pages to get to your own meter data through the utility central office are designed to impede live response. Digital read-outs on the thermostat do not enable the buyer to develop their own automation strategies. We must demand that full information be computer accessible inside as well outside the building. All information formats should be compliant with e-commerce style standards. Only by doing so will the new mechanism for demand response flourish; only then will full markets for managing load flourish.



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