utility information pipeline

How do you justify an automated meter reading system?

Recently, a new newsletter subscriber emailed me and asked “We are searching for any information that would support (or not) investing in radio read meters. Our Board has already voiced the opinion they won’t pay for themselves. Can you offer any advice on various areas of savings/cost you have seen after purchasing and installing such a system?”


Having completed a business review and Return on Investment (ROI) analysis for a municipal water system, this reader’s question made me realize this is a great topic for a newsletter.

If you’ve already upgraded to an AMI or AMR system, please don’t stop reading. You can do me a favor as you’ll see below.

What is an ROI analysis?

An ROI analysis compares the expenses of implementing something new, in this case an automated meter reading system, to the increased revenue and cost savings achieved and derives a pay-back period for the system. Both one-time and recurring expenses and revenues are included in the analysis.

Costs of implementing an AMR/AMI system

The costs associated with implementing an automated meter reading system include:

Purchasing new radio read meters

The single largest cost associated with implementing a radio read metering system is, of course, the new radio read meters. Be sure to take a census of the meter sizes and types currently installed and insure that you are using the proper cost associated with each size or type of meter.

Purchasing new meter boxes or meter box lids, if required

When dealing with water meters, existing meter boxes may be too small or, in some cases, metal meter boxes or lids may interfere with the radio signal.

Labor cost to install the new meters

The second largest cost incurred with implementing radio read meters is the installation of the meters. Will you use an outside contractor or will your field service staff install them?

Purchasing the meter reading software

Don’t forget to include the cost of the new meter reading software. In addition, be sure to include the ongoing annual maintenance for the software as a recurring cost in your ROI analysis.

Upgrading your billing software upgrade, if necessary

Finally, if your billing software isn’t compatible with radio reading, or if you need to purchase an additional module, be sure to include that cost. As with the meter reading software, be sure to include any increase in annual maintenance as a recurring cost.

Increased revenues and cost savings

Increased revenues and cost savings associated with implementing an automated meter reading system include:

Sale of scrap meters

The only one-time revenue source from implementing a radio read system is the sale of the old meters (and meter boxes, if applicable) as scrap.

Revenue gain from new meters

The area most utilities rely on to cost justify a radio read meter system is the increased revenue from installing new meters. Especially with water meters, meters are known to register less usage as they get older. Remember, meters are like people – they slow down with age.

The revenue gain from new meters is also the area where your ROI analysis can be the most deceiving, if you assume revenue increases that don’t materialize. Two areas where your analysis can go wrong are:

  • unreasonable assumptions about how much your existing meters have slowed down
  • rate elasticity – as the price increases, usage decreases

One way to try to insure your assumptions about the inefficiency of your current meters is to conduct a pilot meter replacement policy. This would involve replacing a sampling of meters of different ages and sizes and observing the increase in usage over several billing periods.

If you’ve upgraded to an automated meter reading system and tracked the increased usage from new meters, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or email me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com. I’d like to schedule a time to talk with you about your experience.

Staff time savings from no longer reading meters

The biggest cost savings associated with implementing a radio read meter system is the reduced time involved in reading meters each month. If you are moving to an AMI system, you will save 100% of the current time, vehicle use, and gas. If you are moving to an AMR system, you will still incur some time and expense for meter readers to drive the routes, but it will be much less than walking the same routes.

Reducing time for re-reads

In theory, a radio read system will provide accurate readings, without the element of human error which is present when using handhelds or reading on paper. In reality, there will always be some meters that aren’t transmitting properly, which will require follow-up from your field service staff. Hopefully, the time to check these non-transmitting meters should be less than what is currently being spent re-reading meters with questionable readings.

Savings from not offering of leak adjustments

If you’re implementing an AMI system and plan to do proactive leak detection, I recommend adopting a policy of not offering leak adjustments. In this case, you will save the lost revenue associated with leak adjustments.

Completing the ROI analysis

Once you’ve arrived at all of your one-time and recurring costs, increased revenues and cost savings, you are ready to complete the ROI analysis. This involves calculating the net up-front cost (one-time expense less one-time revenues) and dividing it by the annual increased revenue and cost savings. The final number will be the payback period in years.

Are you contemplating implementing an AMI system?

Are you wrestling with trying to decide if you can justify moving to an automated meter reading system? If so, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a customized ROI analysis or business review could help.

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© 2018 Gary Sanders

The case for proactive leak detection

I know of utilities with AMI (Automated Metering Infrastructure) systems who aren’t doing proactive leak detection. My question is why wouldn’t they?

Certainly, an AMI system is the most convenient way to read meters. Unlike using handhelds, or even an AMR system, AMI systems require no labor to collect meter readings for billing. But to view an AMI system as simply a labor-saving meter reading tool is a huge mistake.

Review of AMI technology

AMI systems are preprogrammed to read each meter at set intervals – sometimes only once each day, other times as frequently as several times per hour. These frequent meter readings calculate incremental usages, which can be compared to historic usage patterns for the account. When a large increase in usage is detected and does not return to normal, this generally indicates a leak or other situation requiring the customer’s attention, such as a hung toilet.

What is proactive leak detection?

Using proactive leak detection, a utility with an AMI system monitors the system outputs each day and immediately contacts the customer to alert them to the prolonged excessive usage. This places the responsibility for finding and fixing a leak on the customer. Logically, it only follows, if the utility has immediately notified the customer of a potential leak, the utility now shoulders no responsibility for providing leak adjustments of any sort.

Advantages of proactive leak detection

When potential leaks are being monitored on a daily basis, and the customer rectifies the problem promptly, water is conserved. This is especially important in times of drought or if your utility purchases water for resale from another utility.

Another advantage of proactive leak detection is not having to deal with leak adjustments. For many utilities, leak adjustments can be a time consuming process, involving contacting the customer to provide documentation the leak has been fixed, researching normal usage patterns, performing the calculation to determine the amount of the leak adjustment, and, finally, applying the leak adjustment to the customer’s account. Imagine never having to do another leak adjustment!

Is your leak adjustment policy up-to-date?

Have you implemented an AMI system but still offer leak adjustments? Or has it been a while since you’ve reviewed your leak adjustment policy? If your utility falls into either of these cases, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could help.

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© 2018 Gary Sanders

An interesting rate application…

Recently, during a sales presentation, I was presented with a rate scenario I’ve not encountered in my 35 plus years of working with utilities. Rather than billing new accounts activated in the same billing period starting at zero, this utility bills the new account by resuming where the old account maxed out in the rate table. For lack of a better term, I’ve decided to call this a block continuation rate.

For example, consider a hypothetical rate structure with three blocks – the first 3,000 gallons, next 7,000 gallons, and all over 10,000 gallons. If the customer who moved out used 4,000 gallons, and the new customer used 2,000 gallons, the new customer would be billed for their usage at the second tier, not the first tier, as is the practice for most utilities.

Rationale for the rate structure

In the 35 plus years I’ve been involved with utility billing, this is the first case I’ve experienced like this. Admittedly, this utility is a little unique. To provide some background, they only bill semi-annually (that’s every six months) and their rate structure is an increasing block rate as shown below:

They bill using this block continuation methodology so as not to lose revenue, given the length of time between billings and the number of potential new customers each billing period.

Revenue comparison

Below is a chart of the actual charges for two hypothetical customers at the same address, both with identical usage within the six month billing period, billed using both block continuation rates and traditional rates:

This revenue comparison is also plotted in the graph at the top of this newsletter. Up until 3,000 gallons, the two methodologies generate the same revenue, because the usage is all within the first tier. From 4,000 to 7,000 gallons, the rate structures start to diverge, maxing out with a revenue difference of $38.00 (the first 20,000 gallons for the new customer being billed at $1.90 more per thousand gallons using the block continuation rate). From 7,000 to 33,000 gallons, the difference remains $38.00.

I didn’t include it for illustration purposes, but the same thing occurs again with the second block at 34,000 gallons per month for each account, maxing out at 67,000 gallons for an increase in revenue of $248.00.

Multiply these differences by a few hundred new customers in a semi-annual billing period, and this begins to make a difference in revenue for the utility! This utility experiences a significant increase in revenue from using block continuation rates for two reasons – the length of time between billings and the large increases from one rate tier to the next. Billing more frequently with smaller increases between rate tiers wouldn’t have nearly the impact it does in this case.

Do you have unique or creative rates?

If you have seen similar rates, or other unique rate structures, please leave a comment at the end of this post. If you’re wondering how you effective your rates are, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could help.

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© 2018 Gary Sanders

How do you deal with public rumors?

If your utility is like most, you’ve probably had to deal with rumors that surface on social media or in general conversation among your customers. If you are employed by a utility that is part of a municipal or county government, you likely have even greater occasion to deal with rumors because your jurisdiction is responsible for more than just utilities.

Does your utility have a way of dealing proactively with rumors?

LinkedIn post

No organization wants false information about them circulating among the general public. So, when I recently saw a LinkedIn post (if you’re a frequent reader of my blog, are active on LinkedIn, and we’re not connected, please send me a connection request) highlighting how a municipality in Georgia deals with rumor control, I was intrigued.

Roswell’s Rumor Page

The City of Roswell, Georgia has a page on their website, entitled Roswell’s Rumor Page, specifically to “eliminate false information and misconceptions by providing our citizens with the facts about issues and concerns within our community.”

Much like popular fact-checking websites, Roswell’s Rumor Page labels each rumor as true or false with an icon and gives a brief explanation on the page. Clicking on each rumor opens another webpage with a fuller explanation.

Do you have a creative way of dealing with rumors?

If you’ve come up with a creative way of dealing with rumors, please leave a comment at the end of this post, so others can learn from your experience.

If you have questions about how your website could improve customer relations, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could help.

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© 2018 Gary Sanders

GDPR – what is it and do we need to be concerned about it?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been inundated with emails over the last few weeks with privacy policy updates from what seems like every site you’ve ever visited. Of course, this isn’t a random occurrence – it is related to the GDPR becoming effective last week.

I recently received an email from a newsletter subscriber asking if I had any information about the GDPR and compliance by local governments. This newsletter is a more in-depth response to what I replied to her.

DISCLAIMER: I am not an attorney and the information here is not intended to serve as legal advice. If you have legal questions concerning compliance with the GDPR, please consult with your attorney. This also is targeted at utilities outside the European Union, specifically in the United States. If your utility is located within the European Union, this may not apply.

What is the GDPR?

GDPR is an acronym for General Data Protection Regulation. The GDPR was passed by the European Union (EU) on April 14, 2016 with an implementation date of May 25, 2018, after which organizations found to be out of compliance can be fined.

The GDPR deals with safeguarding personally identifiable information (PII) and applies to organizations inside and outside the EU. According to the official GDPR website, it applies to “a company established outside the EU offering goods/services (paid or for free) or monitoring the behaviour of individuals in the EU.”

Do we need to worry about the GDPR?

The above cited website goes on to explain that the GDPR does not apply if “your company doesn’t specifically target its services at individuals in the EU, it is not subject to the rules of the GDPR.” Clearly, utilities target their services at customers who live or own property within their service area, not based on where the customer resides.

This article from Government Technology clarifies the issue even better, explaining that, even if your utility has customers who reside in the EU, information you collect for online bill pay or applying for service, for example. would not be subject to the GDPR.

Still responsible for PII of your customers

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have no responsibility for safeguarding personal information of your customers, only that, if my interpretation is correct, you aren’t subject to fines for violating the GDPR.

If you aren’t sure if you are adequately safeguarding your customer’s personal data, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could help you determine this.

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© 2018 Gary Sanders

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Gary Sanders

I am the Senior Consultant with Logics, LLC in Raleigh, North Carolina. I have over 35 years experience developing and implementing utility billing and financial software and consulting with utilities and municipalities. My bi-weekly email newsletter draws from my experience in working with over 200 utilities and local governments to offer insight into how utilities can improve operations and better serve their customers. If you have a comment or a suggestion for a future email, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320 or sending an email to gsanders@logicssolutions.com



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