Utility Information Pipeline #20 discussed meter reading best practices (you can read it here if you missed it) for utilities that don’t use AMR systems. Today, let’s address another best practice that affects utilities using handhelds or AMR systems.

Many utilities I’m familiar with make it a practice to transfer all of the meter reading routes for a billing cycle (or for the entire billing if they don’t do cycle billing) from their billing system to the handheld (or AMR) computer at one time. Editorial note – for the benefit of ease of reading, I’m going to refer to handhelds throughout this article, so if you use an automated meter reading system, please feel free to mentally substitute “AMR” every time you read “handheld”.

It is understandable why a utility would want to do this – because it’s expedient. In one fell swoop, all of the meter readings are transferred to the meter reading system, even if they will be read over the course of several days, or even a couple weeks.

But is this the best practice…?

In my experience, it is not. Let’s explore why it isn’t…

To insure the accuracy and validity of meter readings, you want to be sure the meters loaded in the handheld are the meters the reader will encounter when he or she gets to the address. What happens if you’ve completed a meter change-out since the handhelds were loaded?

If you’ve performed a meter change-out, the reading that is entered in the field for the new meter will be linked to the old meter in the handheld, in most cases creating a meter rollover with outrageously large usage. This means that the billing clerk must correct the reading so that an accurate bill will be generated.

This is especially critical if you read meters with an AMR system because the radio read technology relies on the correct electronic meter ID being used by the AMR system to query the meter. If the AMR system has the old meter’s electronic ID, no reading will be recorded and this will require sending a technician back to the address for a re-read.

When an account moves out and the final reading is taken after the handheld file was created, the reading in the handheld will be linked to the old account, not the current occupant. For some billing systems, this causes problems because there won’t be a current reading for the new account, again causing the billing clerk to do extra work to determine the correct readings.

What is the better way to create the handheld file?

The preferred practice is to create the handheld file first thing the day the meters will be read (or the last thing the day before if the meter readers get an early start). This insures that the meters that are loaded in the handheld to be read will in fact be the meter that the meter reader will encounter and that the meter will be linked to the correct account.

Do you need to change the way you’re loading handhelds?

If you are still transferring all routes in a billing cycle to the handheld system once at the beginning of the billing cycle, I encourage you to change this practice and create the handheld file each day.

If you have questions about loading handhelds or other meter reading best practices, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com. I would be glad to discuss how a business review could help be sure your utility is adhering to best practices.

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© 2012 Gary Sanders