May 4, 2019 • Chad Edens
Tips on How to Prepare Your Organization for an AMI Project
If you’re reading this, my experience tells me you’re already off to a good start; planning ahead on a transformational project like Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is incredibly important to its success. And based on the AMI projects I’ve led, you’re right to be cautious. As you may have heard, not every AMI project goes well. Of course, implementing AMI is no typical project. But the payoffs far outweigh the pain. And with the proper vision, planning, partner selection and internal communications, you will set your project—and your utility’s future—up for success. Read on for our foolproof tips on preparing your organization for an AMI implementation.
1. Develop a Solid Vision
While Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, may never have managed an AMI implementation himself, his prophetic words in Habit #2 apply: Begin with the end in mind. You must identify the end game for your unique utility. What do you want AMI to deliver to your organization today? And just as importantly, what should it deliver in the future? It’s ok if you don’t know exactly what tomorrow looks like for you. But do engage a partner to help lay out that vision. AMI implementations are not just a metering project even though that is how many organizations view them. They are not even a technology upgrade project even though that takes place. To maximize your value, AMI must be a business transformation project, so be sure it is viewed as such by all the stakeholders.
2. Plan for the Project
This tip may sound pretty obvious. Of course you plan for a big project. But an AMI implementation requires you to plan by looking across the organization like never before. Utilities like to work in their respective departmental silos, but that doesn’t work well with an AMI implementation. Create a collaborative and empowered cross-functional “core” team representing customer service, engineering, operations and IT to maximize the functional benefits and reduce those “oops, we forgot about _____” moments.
One of the more difficult parts of an AMI project is the coordination. You’re not only coordinating across utility departments but also can have an abundance of vendors, applications and client partners to coordinate as well. That’s a big job, so you must have a solid program manager. If you don’t have one internally, find one externally. They will not only help you navigate the planning but project execution as well.
Finally, do your homework and start planning early. Talk to reference clients about your potential vendors. Ask candid questions of executive sponsors and those in the trenches, because perception might be very different from reality. It also takes more time than you expect to work through all the technology and process changes, so give yourself plenty of runway.
3. Find the Right Partner
When embarking on a journey, which an AMI implementation can certainly be, you want to find a partner that has taken that journey many times and has case studies to share. They know where the potholes are, what you should and should not worry about and will keep you focused on the right things. What are some of the key decisions to be made organizationally, functionally or technically? Should you create new operational centers to keep your AMI network up and running? Do you want to use standard or custom integrations? How can you simply the architecture? What do these decisions mean to your organization? Partners should be candid and push the organization to embrace and walk through the changes that AMI will invoke.
Lastly, partners should help with long-term vision based on industry/segment trends, opportunities and your own KPIs. While the here and now is incredibly important, you never want to take your eyes off of the road ahead. Now that you have the foundation of AMI, where do you go from here? What insights and added value can AMI provide? How can that lead to new revenue streams, improved customer engagement, predictive solutions, etc. Oftentimes I see project fatigue set in after an AMI implementation. Having a good partner to keep you moving in the right direction can be refreshing and sustaining to your journey.
AMI is a disruptive technology; prepare your employees. Generally no one likes change, especially unexpected change so don’t keep your employees in the dark. Instill a “change is good” mindset in all your stakeholders. Job duties will change or be eliminated—and remember some these duties, like manually disconnecting meters, have been around since the start of the utility. It’s likely other positions will be created to support the new solution, which could create a chance for advancement or just some fresh learning. We can only get better if we are all willing to learn and change.
Be sure to let them know more collaboration is coming. We all hate the negative effects that organizational silos can have. No one likes failures that could have been avoided with a little more consciousness and a broader viewpoint. Or service that could have been first class if only more collaboration would have taken place between working groups. Just like the world we live in, a post-AMI utility should have fewer standalone or non-collaborative silos. Each department’s work will impact others like never before.
I recall one great example when I was working at a utility just wrapping up our AMI rollout. The telcom guys in the field typically worked on SCADA-controlled devices and if the weather was good, there was little coordination needed from other operational groups. They applied this same logic when servicing AMI backhaul points. Little did they know, remote reconnections for move-ins happened at 8 am which was usually when telcom started their workday. When customer service and the customers themselves started experiencing failures in getting their power restored remotely, the culprit was quickly uncovered. Telcom had to shift their certain work activities since they now could impact customers directly.
One of the most exciting parts of an AMI project is to see all the fear and apprehension that was the elephant in the room at the beginning of the project, fully dissipate as everyone sees the technology and business process changes take shape in the end. Everybody is nervous the first time they remotely disconnect a meter but your employees will soon be unable to imagine life without AMI. Don’t get me wrong, AMI projects are complex, expensive endeavors that often times are a grind. You have to be ready for it. Having a solid vision, proper planning, finding the right partner, transparent employee communications, and not being afraid to embrace the changes at hand will prepare your organization for success.